If you live in the Twin Cities, or once resided somewhere in Minnesota, you may think this post is referring to Monticello, MN. For those of you who were hoping that is the case, my apologies. For the rest of you, I’ll continue on.
As a gardener, designer, what have you, every time I begin a project, whether it be at home or a project for a client, I’ll seek inspiration. Sometimes it’s a plant, or a tree. Sometimes it’s a detail on their home. Sometimes it’s a place they’ve traveled. Sometimes it’s nature. There are many, many things that can be my source of inspiration, but when I’m looking for some inspiration for myself, I often turn back to a place I visited a number of years ago, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Now, some of you may recall I did a post about Monticello, or rather part of a post about Monticello in my History, gardening and experiments post about a year ago, but Monticello made such an impact on me I figured it was worth visiting again.
What’s so special about that place? Well, what’s not to love? Ive you’ve ever been to the East Coast, or “down South” for that matter, I’m sure you’ve visited at least one or two plantations. And while many of them are similar, at least to me, Monticello was different. Sure, they have the huge estate, the enormous tree lined drive and massive spans of lawn, but at Monticello there’s something more. Gardens. Amazing gardens.
Now, I’m going to stop for a moment. I don’t want to go any further without acknowledging what took place back in the time Thomas Jefferson was at Monticello. That was a time of slavery. I also don’t want to ignore the fact that Jefferson had slaves, because he did. Many of them. And this plantation, like all the other plantations at that time would not have existed had it not been for the slaves who took care of them. So while I wish slavery had never existed, I’m also very grateful for the slaves Thomas Jefferson had, because had it not been for them, the gardens I fell in love with would also not have existed. So to the slaves, and the descendents of the slaves, I thank you.
So what about Monticello is so amazing? Let’s see, where to begin? Let me start by saying this is a gardener’s paradise. Whether you like annuals, perennials, fruit trees or veggies, it’s there. And do you like heirlooms? They have heirlooms, not only veggie heirlooms, but how about roses dating back to the 1400s? They even have the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants!
What else? Okay, Thomas Jefferson was a gardener himself. And what I mean by that, is that he tried, experimented, tried again. He planned the estate with curving pathways and flower gardens. He created micro-climates by installing terraces on the South side of the hill to plant a veggie garden, and orchards with apples and apricots, peaches and pears, pomegranates, cherries, plums, nectarines, even almonds and olive trees. And there’s Mulberry Row. Many people pull mulberries thinking of them as “weed trees”. Not Jefferson. He planted them intentionally. You’ve never seen Mulberry Trees look so stately. And why not? The berries are wonderful! (Add that to your edible landscape.) And the vineyards, yes he had two. Okay, okay. I know I get excited, but this all happened in the 1700s! And what’s equally cool is that many of his plans, meaning, yes, sketches of the grounds, still exist.
Now, granted, the original plants are not there, but they began restoring the gardens in the 1980s to bring them back to what was once there. Not to mention, heirloom seeds and plants are not only used on site, but also available for purchase if you have the inkling to do so.
There are so many things about Monticello that I love. Oh, and not just outside either, of course Jefferson had amazing tropicals growing indoors as well. If you want to take a peak, catch a little history and get a little inspiration, the folks at Monticello have done an amazing job on their website and have also created the Monticello Explorer, which lets you take a little tour from your desktop so you can catch a glimpse of this amazing estate. There are plenty of photo galleries of the house, gardens and plantation as well. And, like I mentioned before, they even have an online store where you can get plants, seeds or a replica artifact or two.
So as much as I would love to hop a plane and fly out and stay for the summer, instead I’ll be taking a virtual journey to Monticello today. I’d love for you to join me!
And I almost forgot to mention, next week is Historic Garden Week (April 21 – 28) so if anyone would like to take me on a surprise trip, I’ll go!