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The West Indian Gherkin was first planted in Jefferson's garden in 1812. We brought home seeds to try on this latitude.

Field Trip: Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello – Pt. 2 – Veggies and Fruits

Now for the good stuff: specific crops grown at Monticello. Some of these veggies and fruits date back to 1774 when Jefferson first planted the crop. We brought home a few seed packets (who could resist) to try them out in the Gardenerd Test Garden.

Before we get started here are a few fun facts:

  • Garden staff have successfully harvested artichokes 13 out of the 21 years that they have been grown at Monticello.They are also growing cardoons.
  • Jefferson’s favorite herb was tarragon, for use in vinaigrette.
  • Jefferson grew peanuts when no one else really knew what they were. He had 64 hills of peanuts growing during the season.
  • Enslaved people lifted and stored sweet potatoes over winter near the hearth under the floorboards.

Crop Specifics at Monticello

Red castor bean plants grows along the entrance to the garden.
When I asked why they’re growing castor bean (because it’s horribly invasive here in Los Angeles), they pointed me to this sign.
The Potato Pumpkin has been in the Jefferson seed collection since 1794.
Salsafy, a root veggie touted in John Jeavon’s Grow BioIntensive books, has been part of the Jefferson seed collection since 1774.
The West Indian Gherkin was first planted in Jefferson’s garden in 1812. We brought home seeds to try on this latitude. Garden staff members plant it in June to grow through summer.
Horseradish appeared in Jefferson’s garden as early as 1794.
Green-striped Cushaw Winter Squash is one seed we brought home to try. It’s about 14″ long and is shaped like a butternut squash.
Jefferson attempted to grow ‘Benni’ sesame for the oil, but found it difficult to process and inevitably not worth the effort. First planted in 1809.
Red-foliated white cotton grows compactly in a neat row. First planted in 1774.
Remember those terra cotta cloches from yesterday’s blog post? They are used to blanch young sea kale plants, where they are then prepared like asparagus. First planted in 1809.
Listada di Gandia eggplant looks perfect in this garden. Monticello chefs battered and fried eggplants, or stuffed them with meat. Jefferson acquired the seeds from Africa.
Jefferson obtained seeds for the Texas Bird Pepper from a Colonel in Texas. The tiny peppers are apparently hot as the devil. First planted in 1814.
Jefferson grew 150 experimental varieties of fruit in the Monticello vineyard and fruit orchard. Figs include Marseilles, Brown Turkey, and Brunswick. Berry patches include gooseberries, currents (including Buffalo, a variety discovered by Lewis and Clark), and raspberries. Fruit trees include Cherry (Carnation cherry – Jefferson’s favorite), peach, Detroit red apple, mulberries, quince, pawpaw, and at one time, Almonds. They are located in Hardiness zone 7A and get around 1000-1200 chill hours per year.

There’s so much more growing the garden, I can’t elaborate here, but I’ll sum up: okra, madder (a root used for dying fiber), comfrey, wormwood, hyssop, melons, Lima beans, celery dating back to 1774, Whiporwill cowpeas, Danvers carrots, San Marzano tomatoes, green beans from Switzerland, tansy, purple cabbage, gourds, and watermelons. It’s overwhelming, but beautiful. Go see it! Can’t go, then yes, you can buy seeds from the gift shop here.

If you missed yesterday’s blog post, click here. And check back for tricks and tips from classes at the Heritage Harvest Festival next week.

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