In January 2012 the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), in partnership with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, opened the exhibition Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox of Liberty. The exhibition is on view in the NMAAHC gallery at the National Museum of American History, Behring Center (NMAH) through Oct. 14, 2012.
To celebrate the exhibition Smithsonian Gardens, in collaboration with NMAAHC and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, has chosen to create a garden to spotlight the Gillette family, one of the six families featured in the exhibition. The garden is a scaled down recreation of the plot cultivated by the Gillette family to grow vegetables for their personal use and to sell to the Jefferson family. Research indicates Israel Gillette Jefferson, a waiter and carder in the Monticello cloth factory, sold large quantities of cabbage; his father, Ned, also known as Edward Gillette, sold watermelons, beans, and potatoes. This garden demonstrates the expertise and entrepreneurship used by the Gillette family to improve their quality of life.
While we cannot definitively determine the exact produce grown in the Gillette garden, the research conducted by Peter Hatch, Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, sheds some light on crop production. His thorough examination of Jefferson and Randolph account books, plant varieties typical of the 19th century, and crops grown at Monticello helped determine what produce was cultivated by enslaved families at Monticello.
On March 14, 2012, we removed the top six to eight inches of soil that had been overwhelmed by a particularly invasive weed and added five cubic yards of a well-balanced mix of topsoil and compost to the site.
Constructing a Wattle Fence
We also constructed a wattle fence for the garden. “Wattling” is a method of fence-making. We buried stakes every couple of feet and wove in boughs to form a tight, strong fence. Wattle fencing was used to keep out chickens and provide protection from the weather.
Natural material, like red-twig dogwood collected from Smithsonian Gardens, provided an authentic-looking backdrop for the garden. Historically, actual materials may have included chestnut stakes and red cedar boughs.
Planting Spring Crops
NMAAHC staff joined Smithsonian Garden’s Horticulturists on March 29th to begin planting.
Information about the vegetables planted in the garden can also be found on Monticello’s website.
We look forward to rotating the crops throughout the summer.
Come see this story unfold as the garden grows at the National Museum of American History. Visitors will find it at the southwest corner of the terrace, overlooking the new museum site (NMAAHC). Learn more about the lives of the families Monticello on their website.