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"A Rich Spot of Earth"

"A Rich Spot of Earth": Thomas Jefferson's Revolutionary Garden at Monticello

Foreword by Alice Waters
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    "A Rich Spot of Earth"
    Book Description:

    Were Thomas Jefferson to walk the grounds of Monticello today, he would no doubt feel fully at home in the 1,000-foot terraced vegetable garden where the very vegetables and herbs he favored are thriving. Extensively and painstakingly restored under Peter J. Hatch's brilliant direction, Jefferson's unique vegetable garden now boasts the same medley of plants he enthusiastically cultivated in the early nineteenth century. The garden is a living expression of Jefferson's genius and his distinctly American attitudes. Its impact on the culinary, garden, and landscape history of the United States continues to the present day.

    Graced with nearly 200 full-color illustrations,"A Rich Spot of Earth"is the first book devoted to all aspects of the Monticello vegetable garden. Hatch guides us from the asparagus and artichokes first planted in 1770 through the horticultural experiments of Jefferson's retirement years (1809-1826). The author explores topics ranging from labor in the garden, garden pests of the time, and seed saving practices to contemporary African American gardens. He also discusses Jefferson's favorite vegetables and the hundreds of varieties he grew, the half-Virginian half-French cuisine he developed, and the gardening traditions he adapted from many other countries.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18340-5
    Subjects: Botany & Plant Sciences, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-vii)
  3. [Illustration] (pp. viii-viii)
  4. FOREWORD (pp. ix-x)
    Alice Waters

    I first met Peter Hatch in 2009, when he took me around the grounds of Monticello on a crisp, sunny autumn day; Thomas Jefferson has long been a personal hero of mine, and I was eager to explore the garden he devoted so many years to. As Peter walked me through the rows of heirloom vegetables and herbs, I was instantly struck by his bright intellect and deep commitment to Thomas Jefferson’s memory. His enthusiasm was palpable, and his knowledge of Jefferson’s agrarian work limitless—as of course it would be, after nearly four decades of loving historical restoration of...

  5. PREFACE (pp. xi-xii)
    Leslie Greene Bowman
  6. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. xiii-xiii)
  7. [Illustration] (pp. xiv-xiv)
  8. PART I. Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden
    • 1. “A Rich Spot of Earth” (pp. 3-13)

      IN 1811, THOMAS JEFFERSON, RETIRED FROM THE PRESIDENCY TO his lifelong home at Monticello, wrote to the Philadelphia portrait painter Charles Willson Peale a transcendent anthem to the garden:

      I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to...

    • 2. Building the Garden (pp. 15-41)

      IN 1767 THOMAS JEFFERSON was a twenty-three-year-old lawyer still living at his boyhood home, Shadwell, almost two miles down the “little mountain” and across the Rivanna River from Monticello. There, on February 20, Jefferson began his lifetime romance with the garden pea by sowing “a bed of forwardest and a bed of middling peas,” the adjectives describing the seasons of ripening. From this early date, Jefferson’s Garden Book illustrates his dedication to measurement minutia, the facts and figures regarding the details of the horticultural world: “500. of these peas weighed 3 oz.—18 dwt. about 2500 fill a pint” (fig....

    • 3. The Garden and Its People (pp. 43-69)

      THE SITE OF THE MONTICELLO VEGETABLE GARDEN was chosen not only because of its southeast exposure but also for the dramatic, forty-mile view to the south and east, an expansive panorama over the rolling Virginia Piedmont broken by the picturesque uplift of Montalto, the “high mountain” to the southwest. George Tucker, a professor at the University of Virginia, described this “sea view” in 1837: “a vast extent of wooded champaign which … has that appearance … where it approaches the horizon, its uniform gray tint is nearly the same as a distant view of the ocean.” Margaret Bayard Smith recalled...

    • 4. The Culture of the Garden (pp. 71-95)

      IN AGRICULTURE I AM ONLY AN AMATEUR, having only that knolege which may be got from books, in the field I am entirely ignorant, & am now too old to learn.” If we take Jefferson at his word or believe the testaments of visitors to Monticello, most of Jefferson’s knowledge about gardens was gained from literary sources. The Monticello library included more than a dozen books that either focused on vegetables or included substantial directions on the art of cultivating them. These eighteenth- and nineteenth-century works, both British and American, were manuals of a sophisticated European kitchen garden tradition. The skill...

    • 5. The Garden Restored, the Garden Today (pp. 97-118)

      IWAS HIRED AS MONTICELLO’S SUPERINTENDENT of grounds on December 1, 1977, after serving over three years as the horticulturist for Old Salem, a restored eighteenth-century Moravian town in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (fig. 5.2). This was an exciting time to be involved in historic landscape preservation. During the 1970s, a revival of interest in historic landscapes led many American public history sites to realize that the gardens and landscape around a historic house deserve the same attention as the architecture and furnishings within. Colonial Williamsburg, renowned for its Colonial Revival gardens, began reevaluating the authenticity of its landscape. The Colonial...

  9. PART II. Fruits, Roots, and Leaves:: A Catalog of Selected Monticello Vegetables
    • Prologue (pp. 121-123)

      WHEN THOMAS JEFFERSON CREATED HIS “Arrangement of the Garden” in 1812, he organized the Monticello vegetable garden into “fruits,” “roots,” and “leaves”—a satisfying way of cataloging culinary vegetables according to which part of the plant was to be harvested. He divided fruits into “pulse”—beans and peas—and further classified leaves by their preparation: “dressed” (cooked) like cabbage and spinach and “salads. raw,” presumably fresh vegetables such as lettuce, radishes, and celery with a salad dressing. Part II ofThomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Gardenfeatures “vegetable portraits” depicting the fruits, roots, and leaves essential to the Monticello garden. The vegetables...

    • 6. Fruits: Artichokes to Tomatoes (pp. 125-157)

      JEFFERSON LAVISHED ATTENTION on perennial vegetables like asparagus and artichokes instead of annuals, which would require yearly planting. Charts in the 1813 and 1815 Garden Book detail harvest dates for artichokes, and surprisingly, fruits (technically the immature flower buds) from this cold-hardy species (Cynara scolymus) were harvested thirteen of twenty-two years. Jefferson was a good artichoke grower. The first annual harvest date for Monticello artichokes usually preceded their appearance in the Washington markets from 1801 to 1809, and in 1816 and 1821 the Jefferson harvests continued after the commercial offerings, suggesting the bounty and staying power of Monticello-grown artichokes. Although...

    • 7. Fruits: Beans and Peas, Jefferson’s “Pulse” (pp. 159-175)

      LATIN IS SUPERIOR TO THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE in capturing the range of beans grown at Monticello. The common bean before the American Revolution was often the Old World fava, broad, or Windsor bean (Vicia faba). Jefferson treasured lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus; fig. 7.2), scarlet runners (P. coccineus), caracalla beans (Vigna caracalla), and asparagus beans (Vigna unguiculatassp.sesquipedalis). However, when Jefferson simply wrote “beans” he was referring to the New World kidney or green bean (P. vulgaris), which he organized into “snaps,” usually green with the chopped-up pod, but sometimes shelled and dried for winter use, and “haricots,” either harvested...

    • 8. Roots (pp. 177-197)

      BEETS (BETA VULGARIS) WERE DUTIFULLY PLANTED almost every year from 1809 to 1824, usually with rooty companions like salsify and garlic, and were relegated to the exact same row every year, a dubious horticultural practice but likely one that worked. Beets were readily available for ten months of the year from Washington markets, and Etienne Lemaire recorded purchasing them fifteen times in 1806. Beets were also purchased twice from Squire, who represented the most productive slave garden on the Monticello plantation (fig. 8.2). The quantity of beets (five bushels), that Jefferson felt sufficient for the winter table was less than...

    • 9. Leaves (pp. 199-228)

      OFTEN THE FIRST VEGETABLE harvested in spring, asparagus (Asparagus officinalis), with its dramatic thrust of spring’s first spear, is a cause for celebration (fig. 9.2). Jefferson ranked asparagus with peas, artichokes, salad greens, and novelties like sea kale and lima beans among his favorite vegetables. His granddaughter Ellen Randolph Coolidge wrote, “He loved farming and gardening, the fields, the orchards, and his asparagus beds.” Asparagus and artichokes were the first vegetables planted at Monticello, in March 1771, and prime and permanent garden real estate was reserved for this harbinger of spring. The asparagus beds at the western end of the...

  10. Appendix 1. Vegetables Mentioned in Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, Correspondence, and Memoranda (pp. 229-232)
  11. Appendix 2. Sources for Historic and Heirloom Vegetables (pp. 233-234)
  12. ABBREVIATIONS (pp. 235-235)
  13. A NOTE ON SOURCES (pp. 236-236)
  14. NOTES (pp. 237-248)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 249-256)
  16. INDEX (pp. 257-264)
  17. ILLUSTRATION CREDITS (pp. 265-265)