The Gardens at Monticello

When we finished the HEAV conference in Richmond, Virginia, I spent Sunday with my daughter Megan touring Monticello. I learned so many things about Thomas Jefferson. I didn’t realize that when he sent Lewis and Clark to explore and map the Louisiana Purchase territory, he also instructed them to send back examples of plants and animals that aren’t found in the eastern United States. Lewis and Clark carefully bundled plants and saplings and sent them back to Virginia. Jefferson had these planted at Monticello. He also instructed the sailors of the US Navy to send him unusual plants they found in other countries. Many of these plants and trees are still thriving at Monticello.

Jefferson was also a naturalist and studied the natural healing qualities of plants. Many of the trees at Monticello are imports from other countries and were chosen specifically for their therapeutic qualities. Our tour guide told of a delegation from China that was in awe when they saw trees that they consider essential for health and well being. They quickly gathered up the fallen leaves and flowers, which were very expensive in China and had been left on the ground at Monticello. The Chinese delegation quickly told their guides of the plants’ importance and the gardeners helped them gather extra fallen leaves and flowers. I must admit, I don’t remember the names of all these plants. I hope to learn more this winter. If you have the chance to visit Monticello, please take the garden tour. It’s fascinating.

Thomas Jefferson built Monticello on a mountaintop, his little mountain. Before his home could be built, the mountaintop had to be leveled. So while you drive up to Monticello, it’s level once you are there.

Jefferson considered himself foremost a farmer and was very interested in weather changes. He had the weather vane on the roof of the portico connected to a device that allowed him to check the wind direction without leaving the front porch. Here you can see the white weather vane on the roof and the bronze disk under the portico where he could read the directions.

Monticello was a self-sufficient farm, with a garden the length of three football fields. Jefferson ate little meat. His meals were primarily the vegetables, fruits, and herbs grown in his garden. He wanted to preserve plants gathered from other countries and brought by Lewis and Clark. To protect the plants, he placed the garden on the south side and cut down into the mountain. This kept the cold winter winds above the plants.
Monticello was a self-sufficient farm, with a garden the length of three football fields. Jefferson ate little meat. His meals were primarily the vegetables, fruits, and herbs grown in his garden. He wanted to preserve plants gathered from other countries and brought by Lewis and Clark. To protect the plants, he placed the garden on the south side and cut down into the mountain. This kept the cold winter winds above the plants.

You can see how much lower the garden is than the road above.
One of Jefferson’s dreams was to have Virginia wines that compared with those he’d tasted in Europe. He didn’t see this happen during his lifetime. But he created the vineyard and had it cut even lower in the mountainside, along with the fruit orchard.When Jefferson traveled in Europe, he developed a taste for French figs and returned to Monticello determined to grow them. Normally, the figs would freeze during a Virginia winter, especially if planted on a mountaintop. He also had a rock wall built next to the delicate plants. At its highest the wall was twelve feet. The winter sun warmed the rocks and the stored heat warmed the plants at night. Builders refer to this as geo-thermal mass, using rock and solid building materials to store heat from the day and warm the areas at night. Part of the stone wall is visible at the lower left of the photo above.

The Blue Ridge Mountains sure earn their name. The fig trees are visible just beyond the upright pole trellis.

My knowledge and information is admittedly limited and largely based on the stories told by our tour guide. More photos of the gardens are coming. Until then, check out more information on Jefferson’s Monticello at www.monticello.org. It’s a wonderful site to learn more about Jefferson and his home.

Madon

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