Thomas Jefferson built a grand manor which he named Monticello which means hillock or little mountain in Italian. It was the mountain of his youth and he had inherited it from his father. There is a larger mountain, Montalto or high mountain,just beyond and above the estate.
Jefferson had ornamental and useful plants. We’ll talk about his vegetable garden and orchards in another post. His flower beds lined the perimeter of his front lawn. He had visited English gardens in the late 1700’s and was inspired by their nonconforming appearance. He liked the winding paths and flowing nature which invited you to continue on exploring the blooms in season.
He used his flower beds as a botanical lab to try new varieties that would be useful in Virginia. He and his groundskeeper kept meticulous notes. The flower beds were almost solely attended to by his daughter and grand daughters. Jefferson traveled a great deal and once wrote home to tell them how a new garden was to be planted. He said the present gardens would not hold the vast amount of varieties they wished to plant. So they created the winding flower walk and several oval beds between the walk and the external perimeter of the lawn.
Earlier pictures of Monticello do not show a manicured lawn as is the case today. It was a natural lawn and at times very overgrown. It is suspected that it was cut with long knives about twice a summer. So I pictured it as more of a meadow like scene with flowers of all sorts and varieties growing around the edges.
The gardens were also used a seasonal calendar. The children would run out daily in the Spring so they could be the first to report the bulbs pushing out of the soil. Each season had a display of beautiful flowers and textures. You always knew what season it was by glancing at the garden. This was important to Jefferson. He concentrated on always knowing what time it was and encouraged something productive going on at all times.
He did not believe in idle minds or bodies. He also had a clock on his front portico and it would loudly chime out the time of day so the workers knew where they needed to be at that particular hour.
So it was in the summer of 1808, the garden walk began. Several times throughout that year, parcels would arrive which contained interesting and exotic plants. Jefferson’s daughters and grandchildren would anxiously open the packages and wonder at the foreign names and descriptions.
Jefferson kept detailed written observations of bloom times and fruit and flowering seasons. He wrote about pests and fertilization methods. He was a very accomplished man. From the website Monticell.org:
(Born April 13, 1743, at Shadwell, Virginia; died July 4, 1826, Monticello) Thomas Jefferson — author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, third president of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia — voiced the aspirations of a new America as no other individual of his era. As public official, historian, philosopher, and plantation owner, he served his country for over five decades. Notice that he died on July 4th!
Jefferson was such a visionary personality and we owe much to his purchase of the Louisiana Purchase which acquired the land between Virginia and Colorado! Jefferson was a voracious reader and sold his books to the government which started The Library of Congress. His last great service to his country was the establishment of The University of Virginia. He believed that everyone should be allowed to learn and develop their goals in life.
He did not manage his money well and upon his death at age 83, he died almost penniless. He had acquired huge debts.
The gardens were restored and donated in 1940 to Monticello by the Garden Club of Virginia. You can purchase seeds from the gardens at the Monticello online Shop.
Enlarge the photos for better viewing and quality. If you hover over a picture with your mouse, it will give the name of the plant. You are free to use my photos but if you return often and use them for multiple projects, then please consider a donation at Flowergardengirl.org.