Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Thomas Jefferson And The Garden At Monticello

During my recent visit to Monticello in Virginia, the 1000 ft. long garden, was producing a beautiful bounty of herbs and vegetables. I photographed over 56 different types of plantings. My words could never do this garden justice. A simple peace floats through the air on this mountainside. I wandered around, snapping photographs, being humbled by the tradition and efforts put forth to maintain this historic garden. I found the entire experience therapeutic. Imagine the hard work that's involved with the planting, weeding, and harvesting of this massive plot of food.

Row after tidy row held new and exciting species for me to drool over. Sure, the home of President Thomas  Jefferson is a true wonder in itself. I have toured it twice and I would go again with no hesitation. The rows of glorious plants in the garden will forever hold my fascination with complete glee. I'm going to select just a few of the crops to share with you over the next few weeks. The crops that I plan to write about will be unique or of special interest. I learn as I go. Today, I want to show you the Marshmallow, French Artichoke, and Brown Dutch Lettuce.

Behold! the Marshmallow plant. No, chewy yellow Easter peeps can not be found dangling from this plant. Although, from what I have read, this plant did influence the beginning of what we now think of when we hear marshmallow. This plant has medicinal qualities. It's said to help cure sores in the mouth and when used as a gargle, helps treat sore throats. The list of it's healing powers is long. External use is suppose to be good for eczema and burns. (And this is where I insert the disclaimer that I'm not a doctor or professional with regards to plants and their medicial use. I'm just a lay person with an enthusiasim for eating and using plants that I can grow myself.) Next year, I'm going to consider marshmallow. If you have grown it before I would love to hear from you.  It seems to me this plant is best used as a medicinal plant than actually eating it. 
The roots are perennial. I wonder if they spread like crazy and are hard to maintain?

Marshmallow grows very tall and has beautiful white flowers.

Brown Dutch Lettuce seemed to be a popular crop grown on these grounds so many years ago. This lettuce was sown 27 times in the garden from  1809-1824 at Monticello.  President Jefferson was a meticulous record keeper and documented the plantings. Despite my greatest efforts, my garden record keeping is dwarfed, by comparison to his genius ability. This lettuce is a lose head type which reminds me of butter lettuce in appearance. I have never tasted it. This rare line of lettuce is often allowed to go to seed at the Jefferson garden in an effort to keep this variety in existence. I had never heard of this plant prior to visiting this summer. It seems it can be sown directly into the soil and will produce a fall crop when planted in late summer. With any luck, I will be relocated by late summer, and I will try to harvest some of my own.

The French Artichoke was my favorite thing to see growing in this garden. This crop was a surprise as I  tip toed ever so carefully through the garden. My only exposure to artichokes has been in the produce aisle of the grocery store and seeing them stuffed into jars in the canned food aisle. I love spinach artichoke dip. How great it would be to have this growing at my fingertips. I can only imagine the dip that home grown artichokes could produce. Right before my eyes, in this magical place, I saw plant after plant of this prehistoric looking vegetable growing. We are actually consuming the flower bud when we dine on this vegetable. When left to bloom, the flower is a beautiful purple. 
French Artichoke

My first visit to Monticello was during the month of December. The house was our main focus. This year our return visit allowed us to linger in the garden and enjoy the shade of Mulberry Row. I'm inserting a few random photos here for you to take a peek at. I asked someone on the staff what happened to the vegetables. She told me, some are used in the cafe on the grounds, others are prepared for guests at special events, and best of all... employees are allowed to take home produce. Lucky...in my best ever Napoleon Dynamite voice...
Mister enjoying the view

Beyond the garden are the fruit trees and vineyard.

Next visit, I want to venture down here and get a closer look.


I encourage you to read here more about this powerful place. The great folks at this website can give you all of the information you might need if you should decide to visit. Make this place a "bucket list" destination. You won't regret it!

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