"A Rich Spot of Earth": Thomas Jefferson's Revolutionary Garden at Monticello

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Were Thomas Jefferson to walk the grounds of Monticello today, he would no doubt feel fully at home in the 1,000-foot terraced vegetable garden where the very vegetables and herbs he favored are thriving. Extensively and painstakingly restored under Peter J. Hatch's brilliant direction, Jefferson's unique vegetable garden now boasts the same medley of plants he enthusiastically cultivated in the early nineteenth century. The garden is a living expression of Jefferson's genius and his distinctly American attitudes. Its impact on the culinary, garden, and landscape history of the United States continues to the present day.

Graced with more than 200 full-color illustrations, "A Rich Spot of Earth" is the first book devoted to all aspects of the Monticello vegetable garden. Hatch guides us from the asparagus and artichokes first planted in 1770 through the horticultural experiments of Jefferson's retirement years (1809–1826). The author explores topics ranging from labor in the garden, garden pests of the time, and seed saving practices to contemporary African American gardens. He also discusses Jefferson's favorite vegetables and the hundreds of varieties he grew, the half-Virginian half-French cuisine he developed, and the gardening traditions he adapted from many other countries.

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Interesting Facts & Stats

from "A Rich Spot of Earth"

 

·     Open to new ideas from far-flung sources, Thomas Jefferson incorporated gardening traditions from England, France, Spain and the Mediterranean, West Africa, and Creole culture.

 

·     With boundless enthusiasm, Jefferson sought seeds and distributed them. He received them from the Lewis and Clark expedition, from neighbors and friends across America, and from an international community of plantsmen.

 

·     Jefferson experimented with over 330 varieties and some 99 species of vegetables.

 

·     With some of his neighbors, Jefferson enjoyed a tradition of competing to raise spring peas; whoever harvested the first spring pea hosted a community dinner that included a feast on the winning pea crop.

 

·     Unique among Virginia gardeners of his day, Jefferson introduced a roster of unfamiliar species now taken for granted, including tomatoes, okra, eggplant, lima beans, peanuts, and peppers.

 

·     Anticipating healthy living advice that would be extolled two centuries later, Jefferson wrote, “I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that . . . as a condiment for the vegetables which constitute my principal diet.”

 

·     Jefferson documented nearly six decades of horticultural triumphs and failures in his Garden Book, a diary he maintained from 1766 to 1824. This rich record made possible the most accurate early American garden restoration ever undertaken. 

About the Author:

As Director Emeritus of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, Peter J. Hatch was responsible for the maintenance, interpretation, and restoration of its 2,400-acre landscape from 1977 until 2012. He lives in Charlottesville, VA.

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Hatch, Peter J.
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