Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thomas Jefferson's Garden and a Vineyard Visit

My husband and I took an overnight trip to Charlottesville, VA, over Memorial Day weekend. The last couple of months had been pretty stressful for both of us, and a quick getaway was perfect to recharge. We chose Charlottesville because I'd heard there were a lot of good vineyards and wineries to tour, and we've also been on an American history kick, so I wanted to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home.

I might have mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we've been on this self-directed American history tour.  Last November, we toured Mt. Vernon, George Washington's home, and during a weekend trip to Philadelphia last fall, we saw the Liberty Bell and toured Independence Hall. We live within a short drive of many historical spots, we figured we should take advantage. It was also nice to avoid the beach crowds and beach traffic on the holiday weekend.

I had toured Monticello as a child as part of field trip for school, but I don't remember the gardens at all. I'm not even sure if they were fully developed then? I remember bits of the house itself, which seemed bigger to me as a kid. Now that I garden, I was also very curious to see TJ's garden and learn more about his agricultural interests and experiments.

The Monticello gardens are huge and include flowers, vegetables, an orchard, and other trees. Many vegetables and flowers that he grew were native to Virginia, but TJ also liked to experiment with plants from around the U.S. and the world. His garden included trees that were brought back to him by Lewis and Clark's expeditions...

...and tropical plants like yucca. The "TJ" on the label indicates that the plant was grown by Jefferson.

The Foundation grows other vegetables and flowers to complement what's in there now (like the zucchini above). There's a harvest event in the fall, and the volunteers said that sometimes the extra harvests are donated to shelters nearby or given to them (but with so many volunteers, they sometimes only go home with one cabbage). They mentioned that they they grow tulips in the spring to provide dramatic effect when walking up to the house, but tulips in TJ's day were probably not grown because they were very small then and prohibitively expensive.

I would love to grow onions like this.

I'd love to have just 1/10 of this space! I liked the layout of his garden, the neat tidy rows and structures, and how he interspersed flowers and ornamental plants between the vegetables. I know people do this today, but if you're like me and can only garden in pots, it's a big deal to walk through a garden like this. I got a lot of inspiration for the type of garden I'd like to have some day.

We also toured Montpelier, James Madison's home. Montpelier recently underwent an extensive renovation, and there's not as much to see as at Monticello, but I enjoyed seeing his home and learning more about this lesser-known president. Lesser known to me, anyway.

Now the good stuff--the wine!

Originally we were going to tour the Jefferson Vineyards, but many locals recommended Veritas Vineyards,so went there instead. Once I learned that Jefferson didn't actually make wine (he tried but couldn't get grapes to survive the bugs) I realized that it wasn't actually TJ's vineyard, so I didn't really care which one we chose. Veritas was a great recommendation. Wine tastings were only $5 for 8 wines, and they were so good we came home with 4 bottles. The people were very nice and the grounds were beautiful. They said they host a lot of weddings there, and I can see why.

Are there vineyards near where you live? Which gardens inspire you?


  1. I love Monticello, especially the little structures TJ had built, so on rainy days he could be amidst the gardens and enjoy them. There is so much to see and enjoy in Virginia, I really think it's the best of all places. I'm planning on a move to western Augusta county, once my house gets sold - are you anywhere near there?

  2. Thanks for the lovely tour around that great garden - glad you enjoyed your trip.

  3. NY has many wonderful vineyards in the Finger Lakes region an hour S of me...My sister talks often of the vineyards in VA where she lives and now I can see her, the vineyards and tour some historic homes and gardens...that's a trifecta for me!

    1. Very nice! VA seems to be coming into its own in terms of wine. There are so many little family-owned vineyards, and it's nice that they're so small because we usually get a chance to meet the owners. Seems like in the last 10 years a lot of vineyards have popped up everywhere. Hope you come to VA soon!

  4. That is so beautiful... I bet you had a great time. All the vegetables and the garlic bulbs have grown so beautiful.

  5. I was just at Monticello a month ago! The pix of me on my blog is from a veggie garden tour. Thanks for the tip on Veritas. I'll have to check it out. Can you imagine weeding all 1000 feet of that vegetable garden! Ack!


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