On May 28, 1767 Jefferson observed "Snap-dragon" blooming at Shadwell, his childhood home.1 and four years later, he listed this native of southern Europe among the hardy flowers to be naturalized in a "shrubbery" at Monticello.2 Jefferson's reference is the earliest known mention of this plant in an American source .3
This southern European native has been cultivated in American gardens since the mid-18th century. Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon included the "Common Snapdragon" in his 1806 American Gardener's Calendar as a biennial flower.4 By the mid-1800s, many snapdragon cultivators had developed a variety of colors and forms. In 1890, however, Peter Henderson noted in his Henderson's Handbook of Plants and General Horticulture that "this plant, in its wild state, is very commonly found growing on the tops of old walls."5 It became a favorite for Victorian bedding schemes.6
The Snapdragon is an excellent example of a flower whose appearance has changed little in three hundred years, and Jefferson's Snapdragon might have been the purple-flowering species that now grows wild throughout southern Europe. The snapdragon is a summer-blooming flower grown as an annual with deep wine-red blossoms on upright stems.
- Coats, Alice M. Flowers and Their Histories. London: Black, 1968. See pp. 24-25.
- Dutton, Joan Parry. Plants of Colonial Williamsburg. Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1979.
- Look for more of Jefferson's references in his garden book. Manuscript and transcription available online at Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.
- Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.
Visit Monticello’s Online Shop to check for seeds or plants of Snapdragon.
Typical Blooming Dates: May-September
Growth Type: Annual
Location at Monticello: West Lawn
Planting Conditions: Full Sun
1. Betts, Garden Book, 5. Manuscript and transcription of Jefferson's garden book at the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society. See also Edwin M. Betts, Hazlehurst Bolton Perkins, and Peter J. Hatch, Thomas Jefferson's Flower Garden at Monticello, 3rd ed. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1986), 53.
3. Denise Wiles Adams, Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants, 1640-1940 (Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc., 2004), 169; Ann Leighton, American Gardens in the Eighteenth Century (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986), 479.
5. Peter Henderson, Henderson's Handbook of Plants and General Horticulture (New York: P. Henderson & Co., 1890), 26.