The Vegetable Garden Today

The recreation of the Monticello vegetable garden began in 1979 with two years of archaeological excavations that attempted to confirm details of the documentary evidence. Archaeologists uncovered the remnants of the stone wall, robbed in the twentieth century and covered by eroding soil, exposed the foundation of the garden pavilion, and searched for the nature of garden walkways. The ensuing recreation is especially accurate in detailing the structure of the garden -- the location of the garden squares, the site and character of the wall, and the appearance of the garden pavilion.

The garden recreation attempts to show, as best as possible, the garden as it existed between 1807 and 1814, to reveal Jefferson's experiments in horticulture and landscaping, and to serve as a site for the collection of both Jefferson and nineteenth-century vegetable varieties. The garden today, however, is only an interpretation of the original. Modern tools, such as roto-tillers, are utilized to ease the maintenance of the garden. Organic fertilizers, natural pesticides, and irrigation are used to preserve the varietal collection. Nineteenth-century techniques -- the use of brush for the staking of peas (shown at right), the manuring of perennial vegetables, the construction of composted hills for squashes, melons, and beans -- are utilized when appropriate.

There are a number of differences between the appearance of the original Jefferson garden and the recreated one. In 1811, the most intensive planting year for Jefferson, there were eighty-five plantings of vegetables throughout the year. Today, the garden is planted much more intensively, partly for seed collection, partly to present a fuller interpretive picture. The rows of vegetables Jefferson planted were much closer together than they are portrayed today, the wider spacing a maintenance necessity. Although Jefferson alluded to the "long, grass walk," the nature of the internal pathways -- whether turf, gravel, tan bark, or more likely, packed earth -- is a matter of conjecture. The low locust railing along the edge of the garden serves as a safety barrier. It is possible, however, to replant many of the perennials in the precise locations that Jefferson had specified. The figs along the Submural Beds, the cherry trees along the long grass walk, and the asparagus and artichoke squares conform precisely to their locations in the original garden. Also, many of the varieties Jefferson especially treasured, from the Marseilles fig to the Chile strawberry to the Tennis-ball lettuce, have been replanted in today's garden.

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