Presidential Garden

by Linda Wiggen Kraft

As gardeners we can turn our attention from the 2012 Presidential election to a Presidential garden of long ago. Although it was over 200 years ago that Thomas Jefferson created a 1000-foot long vegetable garden with adjoining orchard and vineyard, what Jefferson did with it was revolutionary at the time and still inspiring for our times.

For all his accomplishments: third President of the United States, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, scholar, inventor, and architect; it is perhaps his love of vegetables that is least known. In his retirement at his beloved Monticello he had a southern facing terraced edible garden created that overlooks the Piedmont Valley with a stunning vista. This created a southern facing micro-climate that allowed new to the U. S. heat loving plants to thrive along with cool weather crops in spring and fall. I visited Monticello recently and loved the garden as much as the home.

Jefferson was a lover of the soil and its fruits. He stated, “ No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth and no culture compared to that of the garden”. What was revolutionary for his time was to plant seeds from around the world that worked with the microclimate of his garden, use less intensive maintenance in the garden and increase the offerings of vegetables. Jefferson expanded the palette of those who ate at Monticello with the then rare tastes of tomatoes, okra, peanuts, lima beans, pepper and other plants. Jefferson saved seeds, purchased seeds from growers, collected seeds from explorers like Lewis and Clark and accepted gifts of seed from other continents.

Jefferson was also a methodical and meticulous record keeper whose extensive records allowed the restoration of his abandoned gardens, orchards and vineyards that began in1977. His records show not only what was planted, but how many seeds in each row, what worked and what didn’t. Jefferson was always optimistic, and continued to plant large numbers of new plants. Failure was a word often written about the crops, yet that never stopped more planting.

What can we take away from this Presidential garden? First of all, love of growing food that feeds the body and soul. Second, use of microclimates to grow plants that thrive in them. Third, diversity with plants from around the world to increase palette pleasure and health. Fourth, keep records to know what works, what doesn’t, and perhaps why. Fifth, try new plants. If something doesn’t work, try something new. And sixth, when there is failure, keep on planting.

Linda Wiggen Kraft is a landscape designer, mandala artist, photographer and meditation teacher. Her work can be enjoyed on her website and blog: www.CreativityForTheSoul.com.