Monticello’s agrarian roots still growing today

Monticello’s agrarian roots still growing today
Monticello—lush lawns, stately columns and abundant agriculture.

That’s right, former President Thomas Jefferson’s home was once an agrarian mecca and continues that tradition today.

Monticello is said to be Jefferson’s autobiographical masterpiece, and its gardens were a botanic showpiece. They were a source of food and a laboratory of plants from around the world. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation Inc. maintains the property’s restored vegetable gardens.

“We even sell seeds through our shop so people can grow what Jefferson grew,” noted Mia Magruder Dammann, the foundation’s marketing and communications officer.

“What Jefferson grew” included 330 varieties of more than 70 different species of vegetables, the details of their growth precisely documented. His garden was 1,000 feet long and 80 feet wide. It was restored in 1938 when the foundation enlisted the Garden Club of Virginia to help maintain the Monticello garden plots’ historical accuracy. Jefferson had died in debt in 1826, and the plantation and gardens were left in disrepair, Dammann explained.

Today, a full-time garden staff cultivates tobacco and wheat, along with produce.

Vegetables, herbs and fruit grown at Monticello are served in its Café at Monticello and at tasting events. Seeds from heirloom varieties of vegetable and other plants are saved for planting the next season as well as sold.

Jefferson’s farming extended beyond Monticello. He owned 5,000 acres in Albemarle County and 5,000 acres in Bedford County, maintaining five farms around Monticello: Milton, Tufton, Lego, Shadwell and Pantops. Tufton Farm is now the home of the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.

Established in 1986, the center collects, preserves and distributes historic plant varieties and strives to promote appreciation for the origins and evolution of native garden plants. Its work centers on plants Jefferson grew at Monticello but also covers the broad history of plants cultivated in America through the 19th century.

Want to visit?

A variety of tours are available, and savings can be found by purchasing tickets online at Monticello.org.

  • Day pass and house tours include the grounds of Monticello.

  • Behind-the-scenes day pass and tours take you through the first floor of Monticello and up the narrow staircase to explore the private quarters on the second and third floors.

  • Hemings family tours present Monticello from the perspective of one of Virginia’s best-documented enslaved families.

  • Slavery at Monticello tours show the role of slaves in how the Monticello plantation operated and share information about their lives.

  • Gardens and Grounds tours let you explore Jefferson’s lifelong interest in gardening, botany and agriculture.

  • Privately guided tours allow you to enjoy an intimate group setting while exploring Jefferson’s mountaintop home.


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