Hello fellow readers,
There’s an Old Farmer’s Almanac calendar which sits by my desk noting Friday, April 13th is Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday. The 275th anniversary of his birth as a matter of fact. Beyond being a founding father and the third president of the United States, Jefferson was a philosopher, a scientist, and a proponent of plants. In fact, he initiated the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore and map the acquired territory to the west coast after the Louisianan purchase to establish an American presence there. The objectives of the exposition, from May 1804 to September 1806, were also economically and scientifically driven—to discover and research the plants, animals, and geography of the region as well as to set up trade relationships with Native American tribes.
Jefferson’s birthdate recalls my visit to Monticello, in Charlottesville VA a handful of years ago. It was the last garden I walked in with dear old Mom. The essence of the history of Jefferson’s plantation was moving—learning about Jefferson’s initiatives to experiment with ornamental and edible plants found natively and around the world and about his pursuit to develop agricultural practices that he felt would be the backbone of our economy and independence. With that, the horrific and heartbreaking history of those enslaved that worked the land.
Jefferson kept a log known as the Garden Book which documented vegetation as well as diseases and insects of the vast gardens he meticulously designed and monitored. His flower gardens were composed of twenty oval shaped beds around the house, each planted with a different flower. And a winding flower border, every ten feet a different species, that encompassed the West Lawn; the view on our nickel. It is said the array of species reflected Thomas Jefferson’s floral interested, a museum of sorts, about twenty-five percent which was North American natives. The winding border of the curving walk also reflected his interest in informal landscape design, transgressing from the formal designs of the earlier era. Then there are the extensive vegetable gardens which served as a horticultural laboratory and source of food.
Towards the end of his life, Jefferson designed his gravestone and wrote the engraved epitaph. “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson. Author of the Declaration of American Independence… Of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia.” It’s fascinating he made no mention of his presidency. Rather, his contribution to independence, freedom, and learning.
Standing before Thomas Jefferson’s grave with his own words about his life stirred great pride in his remarkable contributions, despite controversies and injustices. I sensed his self-awareness of imperfections which we all have. Beauty and goodness can shine above flaws. In life and in our gardens. Garden Dilemmas? Askmarystone@gmail.com
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is one of 250 historic landmarks, beautiful homes, and gardens in the annual Historic Garden Week in Virginia is running this year from April 21st through the 28th. (visit vagardenweek.org for information)