The Site of the Fruit Gardens

". . . Our fruit has not been as entirely killed as was at first apprehended; some latter blossoms have yielded a small supply of this precious refreshment." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, May 15 1794

Although not elevated enough for general climatic changes, Monticello is high enough (867 feet) that, during the spring and fall months as cold air settles in the bottomlands, the warmer air rises over the mountain -- effectively preventing frost damage to blooming trees.

Jefferson was especially attentive to the dates of the first spring frost, and one senses him gloat when describing how his lowland neighbors had lost their fruit while his remained unscathed. The Fruitery's southeastern exposure was a crucial factor in determining which species could be successfully grown. Tender trees -- almonds and pomegranates -- and fruits friendly to a warm, sunny environment like peaches and grapes were ideal for such a setting. On the other hand, pears, apples, European plums, gooseberries, and currants suffered from the artificial climate that resembled a site hundreds of miles to the south. This partly explains why the sun-loving peach was Jefferson's favorite tree and why he was only successful in growing apple varieties acclimated to the South. Hillside orchards were common in eighteenth-century Virginia because rich bottomland was reserved for more profitable crops like tobacco.

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