How to Plant a Garden Using Jeffersonian Principles

Use Jefferson’s Monticello gardens as inspiration for planting a garden of your own.


Do just a little digging into the history of American gardening, and you’ll soon discover Thomas Jefferson’s deep love of horticulture. A favorite quote among those of us with dirt under our nails: “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, no culture comparable to that of the garden … But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.” What does this say about Jefferson’s philosophy on gardening? I’d bet most gardeners feel the same way – there’s always more to learn.

If you spend any time at all reading about Mr. Jefferson’s gardening habits, or even visiting Monticello, you’ll want to follow in his footsteps. While I wouldn’t recommend attempting to level a mountaintop to create a 1,000-foot garden, you can garden in his spirit. While the results might not be Monticello, plenty of Jefferson’s ideas translate well to your backyard.

Heart of a nation

What does it mean to garden in Jefferson’s spirit? He believed that, “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.” It’s hard to deny Jefferson’s passion for green and growing things. The answer to the question is as simple as adopting his practices and principles in your own “rich spot of earth,” as he so elegantly romanticized in his letter to Charles Willson Peale, longing for “a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market … .” Your Jeffersonian garden can be as basic or as grand as you choose to make it. You’ll probably discover you’ve been practicing a few of his ideas already.

Thomas Jefferson believed in an agricultural future for America. One might even say its soul could be found in agriculture – a nation of “yeoman farmers” and self-taught scholars working the land. He even went so far as to argue that America’s representatives to the people should be “… farmers whose interests are entirely agricultural. Such men are the true representatives of the great American interest, and are alone to be relied on for expressing the proper American sentiments.”

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