Overview of Fruits at Monticello

Monticello's eight-acre Fruit Garden, or "Fruitery" as Jefferson called it, included the 400-tree South Orchard; two small vineyards (Northeast and Southwest); "berry squares" of currants, gooseberries, and raspberries; a nursery where Jefferson propagated fruit trees and special garden plants, and "submural beds" where figs and strawberries were grown to take advantage of the warming microclimate created by the stone wall.

Such a massive Fruit Garden enabled Jefferson to not only sample "the precious refreshment" of its produce, but also served as part of his garden laboratory where he would experiment with over 150 varieties of 31 of the finest temperate species of fruit. On the other side of his "little mountain," Jefferson's North Orchard was reserved for three varieties of cider apple and seedling peaches (peach trees grown from seed).

Both the Monticello Fruitery (including the South Orchard) and the North Orchard reflected the two distinct forms of fruit growing that emerged in eighteenth-century Virginia. The North Orchard was typical of the "Field" or "Farm" orchards found on most middle-class farms: it was large, on average two hundred trees, and consisted of only apple or peach trees. The fruit was harvested for cider, brandy, or as livestock feed. There is some truth to one historian's tongue-in-cheek remark that it was a significant event when Americans began eating their fruit rather than drinking it. The trees in these utilitarian orchards were often propagated from seed, resulting in unpredictable variations and few named varieties, and the orchard received little horticultural attention such as pruning or pest control.

On the other hand, the Fruitery resembled a gentlemen's fruit farm in the Old World horticultural tradition, and was similar to the diverse recreational plantings of other wealthy Virginians such as George Washington. The trees, often purchased from commercial nurseries, were grafted and included a wide spectrum of European varieties and unusual species like apricots and almonds. Fruit trees were mixed with small fruits and berries, sometimes vegetables and even ornamental plants. The fancy fruit was often tended by trained gardeners guided by the directions of European pomological writers.

The Fruitery at Monticello, however, was unique because it was both an Old World Fruit Garden and a colonial Virginia "Farm Orchard." Seedling peaches and Virginia cider apples were planted alongside French apricots and Spanish almonds. Its sprawling American scale was defined by manageable units: an intensively cultivated nursery, terraced vineyards, berry squares of small fruit, fig gardens, blocks of cherry trees, and plots of precious, experimental field crops planted between the orchard rows. Like Jefferson himself, it represented the best of the European heritage combined with a distinctive New World vitality and personality.

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