In the Trenches

Posted in: Gardens

Working at The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants would probably be a dream job for almost any horticulturalist; it certainly is for me.  I love being a part of an organization that preserves the very spirit of one of America’s most dynamic and interesting founders.  It is a feeling shared by many of my colleagues also.  So, as I try to describe what it is I actually do here to friends, family, and patrons, I see a look of wonder in their eyes.  I am often told how lucky I am and what a peaceful and relaxing job I must have. 

Lucky, yes.  Peaceful and relaxing, however, would not be the first words that come to mind.  As with many gardeners, we love the fruits of our labors, but it is war out there.  Spring comes first in whispers.  A mound of soil starts to rise, and soon the twinleaf is stealing our hearts with the delicate beauty of dainty white petals.  These are happy times as we shake the cold from our bones and look forward to the bright warm days of summer that have been gone for too long.  The bluebells come and go and summer is just around the corner. 

Perhaps, as I labor in the gardens and monitor the progress of the nursery stock, the stunning display of roses and iris is the equivalent of fireworks signaling the beginning of battle.   Now comes the heat, the fungus, the insects, and the summer storms.  A gardener’s heart may be tender and their thumbs green, but their constitution must be iron.  Do the Japanese Beatles have no respect for the beauty and history they devour!  Being a lover of nature I can find beauty in most anything.  For the Japanese Beetle, his beauty comes in the form of a crunch between my fingers. 

We are eternal optimists, gardeners.  When the latch clinks on the gate and I pass from the world of asphalt and brick to that of petals and fragrance, I lament for the rusty foxglove that stood taller than me the day before as a night of rain and wind have laid them over.  I am thankful for the pictures I took and mournful of the buds that will never know the tickle of fuzzy little bumblebees.  All is not lost, for flowers fill vases as well as our souls.  And that must be why year after year, storm after storm, beetle after beetle we endure.  But hear this powdery mildew: “I have not yet begun to fight!”


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Hi Brian:

I am a graduate student in Prof. Rick Kesseli's lab at UMass Boston. One of my research interests is assessing the genetic diversity among Cichorium intybus (chicory) populations coming from native Eurasia and US invasive ranges.

The first record of planting chicory in the U.S. can be found in Thomas Jefferson's 1774 correspondence.

I was wondering if I could ask you to collect some wild chicory seeds around Monticello for my research. Couple stems with seeds would be great - The UMass Boston Biology Fedex code for sending the samples back for free is: 107066780.

Thank you for your help, have a good day.


Tomáš Závada
Biology Department
University of Massachusetts
100 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125
Tel: 617-287-6643



We are happy to help. I have just finished collecting some chicory from along the roadsides leading to Jefferson's Tufton Farm. We have cleaned a small sample of seeds and will have them and some plant material shipped out today. Anna Berkes, Monticello's research librarian, was kind enough to send me the 1774 reference you mentioned. I have included it below in case others are interested.

“After an initial and apparently unsuccessful experiment in 1774 with the plant, on 28 Apr. 1794 TJ sowed Succory (Cichorium intybus) he had received from the President and thereafter kept it in continuous cultivation until at least 1818 to feed his livestock and for his own table (Betts, Garden Book, 47, 58, 210, 581; Betts, Farm Book, 245–6).”


Great post! Are there any perspectives that you may be able to divulge in order to justify your last part a small amount further? thanks a lot


Hello Hai,

I assume you are referring to the quote "I have not yet begun to fight". I apologize for not attributing it to John Paul Jones. Jones was a naval officer during the American Revolutionary War. Although Thomas Jefferson and others referred to him as "little Jones" because of his small stature he had a large personality. During a sea battle with the British frigate Serapis, Jones refused to surrender replying "I have not yet begun to fight" even though his own ship was burning and sinking. A few hours later the Serapis surrendered and Jones assumed command.
I find his determination inspiring in the garden when it seems the aphids, loopers, and beetles may get the better of me. Admittedly; however, the stakes are not nearly so dire.


I would like to get some seeds from the cedrela tree near the front of Jefferson's house. Is it possible to do that?

Ann Orr


Hi Ann,
That is a beautiful tree. Peter Hatch said he would be happy to share some seeds with you. The ripe seeds come down in early December. If you could contact me in late November we will do our best to get them to you.

Thank you,

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