Monkshood & Snakeroot for a Fall Finale

What a luscious October afternoon! I looked out my back window and was drawn, as I always am this time in autumn, to the furthest corner of the garden, where a little fall scene unfolds that I treasure more because it’s a secret. Want to see it?  Let’s take a little stroll past the messy pots on the deck with their various sedums and swishing sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) out into the garden past the table and chairs that haven’t been used since… when? August?

Janet Davis-garden-autumn

Keep going to where the lovely chartreuse Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’) is currently doing its Hollywood star thing in brilliant apricot…..

Tiger Eye Sumac-Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger'-fall color

But what’s this scene, just behind it?

Tiger Eye Sumac-snakeroot-monkshood-Janet Davis

Yes, two stalwarts of the autumn garden – and I mean autumn, fall, October!  Autumn monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’) and autumn snakeroot (Actaea simplex), aka fall bugbane. Each year, they flower at the same time, and enjoy identical conditions in my garden, i.e. the most moisture-retentive soil (lowest corner of the garden by a few inches), with reasonable midday sunshine but dappled shade a good portion of the day. The fragrance of the snakeroot is fabulous, something a little soft and incense-like, or reminiscent of talcum powder (in the nicest way).  Colour-wise, I love blue and white, from the earliest anemones-with-scilla in April to this shimmering, assertive finale.

Janet Davis-Actaea simplex & Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

And did I mention pollinators? As in bumble bees of different species, honey bees……

Pollinators-autumn garden-fall snakeroot & monkshood-

(WHO has the beehives near my house? I’d love to know)…..

Honey bees-Apis mellifera-Actaea simplex-fall snaekroot

……hover flies…..

Hover-fly on fall snakeroot-Actaea simplex

….and paper wasps, below, as well as ants and cucumber beetles.

Paper wasp on fall snakeroot-Actaea simplex

Monkshood is deadly poisonous, but its pollen seems to be an attraction for bumble bees and honey bees once the asters have finished up.

Bombus-Fall Monkshood-Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

Finally, do note that the snakeroot is not any of those fancy-schmancy dark-leaved cultivars like ‘Brunette’, but the straight species with plain-Jane-green-foliage,. And that it used to be called Cimicifuga, but the gene sequencers have now moved it into Actaea.  It is a lovely plant and should be used much, much more.

Festival Theatre Garden – Stratford

For the first time in more than 20 years, I spent a few days this month at Ontario’s venerable Stratford Festival. (For the record, we saw Guys & Dolls – highly recommended; HMS Pinafore – fun Gilbert & Sullivan; and The Changeling – read a story précis before seeing!).  We walked along the Avon River on our way to the first play, and I thought for the thousandth time how lovely our native wildflowers look in early autumn. This is heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) with lots of bees!

Symphyotrichum ericoides-Heath aster-Avon River-Stratford

The entire countryside around Stratford is gorgeous in September, with rows of tall corn and nearly-ripe pumpkins filling the fields near Highway 7 as you drive in. In fact, it’s one of the beautiful farms in the area that renowned singer Loreena McKennitt calls home. I interviewed her in Stratford for a story I proposed and wrote for Chatelaine Gardens! magazine some 21 years ago.

Loreena McKennitt-1997-Chatelaine Gardens

A few summers later, I visited Stratford to photograph the new garden at the Festival Theatre for a story I proposed and wrote for Landscape Trades Magazine.  Having opened in 1997, it was under the expert care of Stratford Festival head gardener Harry Jongerden, who is now Executive Director of the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Landscape Trades-1999-Festival Theatre Garden

Returning to Stratford this month, I was excited to see how the garden had weathered over the past few decades and, especially, to see what was in bloom in the first week of autumn.  Since my magazine story was published such a long time ago, I’ll take the liberty of quoting it from time to time here, as we tour the plants – like this lovely Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida ‘Whirlwind’).

Anemone x hybrida 'Whirlwind' - Festival Theatre

***********

Two hours west of Toronto, on a hill overlooking the Avon River, sits the Festival Theatre, main stage and head office for Canada’s renowned Stratford Festival. Since its first production in 1953, a play directed by Tyrone Guthrie, starting Alec Guinness and mounted under a canvas tent, the Festival has enjoyed wide critical acclaim, and Stratford has become a mecca for theatre lovers — and garden lovers. Isn’t this swamp hibiscus (H. moscheutos) spectacular?

Hibiscus moscheutos-Swamp hibiscus-Festival Theatre Garden

In 1997, the Festival Theatre (one of three in Stratford used by the festival) underwent a major renewal under the direction of Toronto architect Thomas Payne, then of KPMB Architects, now with Thomas Payne Architect.  Trained at Yale and Princeton and one-time protégé of Barton Myers, Payne’s work includes the ethereal Fields Institute for Mathematics at the University of Toronto, a new home for the National Ballet of Canada, the much celebrated Tanenbaum Sculpture Gallery at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), the restoration of the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and the Young Theatre for the Performing Arts (Soulpepper). His work at Stratford involved indoor renovations such as changing the rake of the theatre floor to create more spacious seating; adding technical gutters and an acoustical canopy; and renovating the lobby.  And with the collaboration of Toronto landscape designer Neil Turnbull, Payne created The Arthur Meighen Gardens, named for Canada’s ninth prime minister and funded, in large part, by the Meighen family foundation. It  was a new garden that was as rich in theatrical allusion as it was in stone and plants.

Arthur Meighen Gardens-Festival Theatre

A horseshoe-shaped entrance driveway lined with concrete arbor columns, each one draped with a clematis in early summer – or morning glories in late summer — encircles the garden.  “At night,” Payne told me then, they look like Noguchi lamps.”

Anemone x hybrida & Festival Theatre Lights

The columns, each dedicated to a local benefactor, are clothed in a sock of inexpensive, water-repellent canvas symbolizing the canvas roof of the first performance tent.

Ipomoea tricolor-Morning glory-Festival Theatre

The garden is a fragrant, romantic tumble of perennials, designed to be in bloom as the curtain rises in mid-April, and still have something in flower for October’s final curtain call.  In late September, ligularia and blackeyed susans (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’) are still providing colour as the ornamental grasses begin to flower.

Ligularia & rudbeckia-Festival Theatre Garden
Of the garden’s hard structure, Thom Payne said:  “We wanted a great stone wall with greenery growing on it.  The concept is quite mathematical. It’s a cribbage – a series of limestone terraces – that fall away on a grid toward the lowest point.”  Typical of Mr. Payne’s tendency to use the landscape to hint at what can be found indoors, the main path travels through the garden and over the bridge above the formal lily pond – all on the axis of Aisle 2 Entrance Lobby.  “It plays a prominent role in delivering people to the front door.”

Festival Theatre Garden walkway

In creating the cribbing for the terraces, Payne was mindful of his budget but still wanted the natural appearance of stone.  He used pigmented, specially-finished, architectural concrete as an inexpensive foundation for the walls.  He then capped it with 6-inch split-faced Eramosa limestone from local quarries.  “There are a lot of things,” he says, “that are extremely cost-effective, yet I think the overall effect is one of richness, theatricality and permanence.”  Below is a sturdy, gold yarrow (Achillea filipendulina) with a deep red swamp hibiscus.

Yarrow-Achillea filipendulina-Festival Theatre

When it came time to plan the 32 terrace beds, Neil Turnbull drew on a long career as one of the country’s most inspired plantsmen and landscape designers.  In seeking a theme, he hit upon another powerful symbol of early Shakespeare theatre, its festival banners and ribbons.  “I decided to create three ribbons of thyme that flow like curving rivers through the beds,” he explained. (The thyme is evident in the magazine cover above but I suspect other perennials have overwhelmed it somewhat over the years.)  Below is Japanese anemone with blue leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides).

Anemone x hybrida & Ceratostigma plumbaginoides-Festival Theatre Garden

Known for solving geometry on the drafting table but aesthetics on-site, Turnbull reasoned that the garden’s strength would be in the sheer massiveness of its plantings.  He had 21,000 plants expressly grown, and then placed them in recurring combinations throughout the beds.  In late summer, some of our wonderful natives provide spectacular colour, like goldenrod (Solidago sp.) and magenta-purple New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) below.

New England asters-&-goldenrod-Festival Theatre Garden

Lots of fall asters have been used at the theatre, like ‘Andenken an Alma Pötschke’, below, with a honey bee nectaring….

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae 'Alma Potschke'

…. and a dwarf lavender-purple aster paired with ‘Rosy Jane’ gaura (Oenothera lindheimerii), below.

Gaura & asters-Festival Theatre Garden

This summer has seen an extraordinary amount of rain and below-average temperatures until September, when we had a heat wave. So some plants had already begun to undergo a foliage change, like spring-flowering Euphorbia griffithi ‘Fireglow’, below.

Euphorbia griffithi 'Fireglow'-fall colour

As visitors reach the top of the planting beds on their way into the theatre, they cross a bridge over a formal rectangular pool…

Water Garden-Festival Theatre-Stratford

…..featuring the splash of a steel fountain.

Bridge & water garden-Festival Theatre Garden

The pool spans nearly the width of the garden….

Pool-Festival Theatre Garden

….and features aquatic plants like canna lily…..

Canna lily-Festival Theatre Garden

……water lilies,….

Nymphaea-Water lily

…. and unusual aquatics like rain lily (Zephyranthes candida).

Zephyranthes candida-Rain lily

As I left the garden, I noted all kind of pollinators flitting about. I saw bumble bees foraging deep in the yellow wax bells (Kirengeshoma palmata)…..

Bumble bee-Kirengeshoma palmata

….a carpenter bee nectar-robbing on obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana)….

Xylocopa virginica-carpenter bee-Physostegia-virginiana 'Variegata'

….and a hover-fly getting lost in the throat of a morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor).

Hoverfly-Morning Glory

Almost twenty years after my first visit, it was good to see the garden still looking gorgeous and being enjoyed by thousands of theatre-goers annually — plus untold numbers of tiny buzzing and fluttering visitors, too.

The Festival Theatre gardens are located at 55 Queen Street, Stratford, Ontario.  The Festival is open from mid-April to the end of October; for more information visit the Stratford Festival website.

Adapted from an article that appeared originally in Landscape Trades magazine

In the Garden with Barbara & Howard Katz

Barbara Katz and I became Facebook friends a few years back, drawn to each other by our mutual love of colour combinations in plant design and also our great admiration for Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. In fact, it was on Barbara’s recommendation and with her introduction that Piet was commissioned to design a meadow garden for Delaware Botanic Gardens, being planted this fall. So it was with great anticipation that I made plans to attend the 2017 Garden Bloggers’ Fling in the Washington DC Capitol Region, a 3-day event that included a tour of Barbara & Howard Katz’s Bethesda, Maryland garden. We even decided to have dinner in a Washington restaurant before the tour, meeting face to face for the first time. (Our husbands got along famously too!)  And when our bus pulled up on Barbara’s street a few days later, it was easy to see which house was theirs for Barbara and Howard, an architect, were there waiting to welcome us.

Barbara & Howard Katz-Bethesda

But even if they hadn’t been out front, we would have known the house. Their luscious front garden (below) presented a welcome right at the street with a generous bed of summer perennials, carex grasses and succulents arrayed around an old ‘Halka’ honeylocust tree. Barbara, who has 30 years experience in garden design with her company London Lanscapes LLC, said that this bed, installed in mid-April while creating a new flagstone path, gave the front a needed facelift and some interest and pleasure for passersby. It was also a way to reduce the amount of front lawn and provide a buffer against dogs and snow.  But most important, as a plantswoman: “I needed MORE space to play with plants.”  Not surprisingly for a designer who knows how to use colour, there is a clever and subtle use of red flowers in this garden – the gaillardia at front and the echinacea in the rear – that carries the eye up and back toward the red chairs on the porch, the oxblood-red door, the red window shutters and even the Japanese maple.

Barbara Katz-Street Garden & House

Barbara worked the soil in the street garden to make it free-draining. “It gets baked in the afternoon,” she said, “So now I can use plants I hadn’t been able to before” (like the yuccas, below).

Sun-loving plants-Barbara Katz

I adored the beautiful iron scroll edging – staking out the property line with airy elegance. Barbara found it online at Wayfair

Gaillardia-Barbara Katz

The ‘Blue Boa’ anise hyssop (Agastache hybrid) was attracting lots of bumble bees.

Bumble bee-Agastache 'Blue Boa'

The veranda, below, is everything a good front porch should be: an attractive welcome for visitors, a well-appointed anteroom to the house itself and a place to relax comfortably with a view of the garden and street. Too often we restrict our seating areas to the privacy of a back yard where none of the neighbours can spot us reading a newspaper or sipping a glass of wine. But why?  A covered veranda is a sanctuary in the rain and obviously has a completely different outlook on life (and the neighbourhood) than the sitting areas we create out of view. Let’s tote up the good things about Howard’s and Barbara’s version. But first of all, a little background. When Barbara first saw this house, it was as a designer for the owner, who would have her redo the entire garden, including the complex topographical challenge at the back (more on that later). The year was 1995; the garden was installed in 1996. Fast forward six years and the house was for sale and Barbara and Howard bought it, including the garden she’d designed, worked with over the years, and come to love. As for the veranda, it was bigger then, with small wooden posts and railing, and a concrete bases and steps. Howard needed an office, so they took half the veranda and incorporated it into the house; removed the railing; used Azek (a plastic-wood product) to make the posts chunkier; rebuilt the steps to give them generous 18-inch treads with stone risers; then refaced everything with stone veneer. Add some Arts & Crafts lights, pots of easy-care succulents (can we get a cheer for iron plant stands?), a few handsome pieces of sculpture; and comfy chairs and it’s one of the prettiest makeovers ever.

Veranda-Barbara & Howard Katz

All the succulent containers, by the way, are Howard’s creations. He was born in South Africa where many succulents are native; they add their own textural note to Barbara’s herbaceous side of the ledger.

Succulents-Howard Katz-3

Wouldn’t you like to fall asleep in one of these Adirondack rockers? And another little colour tip, courtesy of the glazed green pots (as devotees of the artist’s colour wheel know): red and green are complementary contrasts and they always combine nicely with each other. I can only imagine how beautiful this foundation planting must look as the Japanese maples turn colour in autumn!

Adirondack Rocker-Barbara Katz

Let’s head around to the back, passing a little treasure trove of Howard’s succulents as we go.

Succulent collection-Howard Katz

The back garden is where the challenge lay for Barbara when she first saw it more than two decades ago. With a 12-foot elevation change from the back door up to the property line, it called for creative terracing. In the photo below, (when I got home, I realized I didn’t have a workable shot of the slope and asked Barbara to take a photo, which shows one side), you can see how beautifully the rich tapestry of perennials and low evergreens creates a frame for the cascading water feature.

Slope-Barbara Katz

In my experience, a designer who loves plants and knows how to combine them while also mastering the art of hardscaping is a rare individual. Barbara is skilled at both. Plants with purple, white and orange flowers and leaves are on one side….

Slope-Plantings-Barbara Katz

…including this butterscotch combination of carex and heuchera with peach echinacea and anise hyssop….

Heuchera & Carex-Barbara Katz

….while blues, yellows, pinks and maroons (below) are on the other side….

Echinacea & Coleus-Barbara Katz

…. along with a cool-green pairing of heuchera and euphorbia….

Euphorbia & Heuchera-Barbara Katz

But it’s the stone workmanship on the hillside that really impresses me. Let’s climb up the stairs, which have an excellent tread:riser ratio that makes navigating the slope easy…

Stairs-tread to riser ratio-Barbara Katz

We’ll pass some more of Howard’s delectable succulent confections on the way, like this one…

Succulents-Howard Katz-2

….and this one….

Succulents-Howard Katz-1

…. as well as a more traditional container, below.

Pot-Brugmansia-Barbara Katz

Halfway up, we’ll stop on the cool little grassed terrace, the only lawn in the back garden, with a sophisticated edging of boxwood and….. .

Lawn Terrace-Barbara Katz

…shade-tolerant plants above and below the sinuous retaining wall that supports the top terrace. The wall is impressive, and features little plants tucked into the crevices.

Retaining Wall-Barbara Katz

Even Howard’s succulent container is green.

Jade Plant-Katz

Reach the top, enter past the tall plume poppy (Macleaya cordata), and you’re rewarded with a cool rest in the gazebo with its green mosaic-tile-topped table, green mosaic candle-holder and green-cushioned chairs.

Gazebo-Barbara Katz

The woman knows colour!

Barbara Katz-Mosaic table

I’m not sure how many people would take note of this small detail, but for me it stood out as a superb way of disguising the necessary nuts-and-bolts of slope retention. The concrete block wall between the Katz property and the one behind them has been stained dark green – and presto! it vanishes. Well, except for the sweet little plaque to pretty it up. That airy iron trellis above it is Howard Katz’s effort to keep leaf-munching deer from leaping from the neighbour’s garden into theirs.

Stained Concrete Block Wall-Barbara Katz

There are lovely little touches of art in the garden, like this ‘bluebottle fly’….

Bluebottle Fly Art-Barbara Katz

And a wire grasshopper, among many other pieces.

Grasshopper Art-Barbara Katz

But the big focal point in the back garden is the terraced water feature. From the stone patio behind the house, this is what it looks like gazing up the slope.

Waterfall-lower-Barbara Katz

There are tropical waterlilies in the pool at the bottom, and goldfish.

Waterlily & goldfish-Barbara Katz

Climb back up those stairs a little, and you see how it courses down the rocks, mimicking a natural waterfall….

Waterfall-upper-Barbara Katz

…with a bubbling fountain in the very highest pool, below. Barbara wanted the effect of a series of birdbaths down the slope and it worked perfectly, since the Katz garden is now on the migration route of myriad birds, both spring and fall.

Fountain-Barbara Katz

I would have loved to linger a little, perhaps in the comfy seating near the house. Doesn’t the soft kiwi green look gorgeous with the sage green of the wall?

Sitting area-Barbara Katz

But it was time to get on the bus and head to our next garden.  Thank you Barbara and Howard, for your generosity and creativity. You are both inspiring!

Rhapsody in Blue: Linda Hostetler’s Virginia Garden

During last month’s Garden Blogger’s Fling in the U.S. Capital Region, (and following my visit to Washington DC’s fabulous Dumbarton Oaks and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello near Charlottesville VA), I was delighted to find myself meandering through the garden of fellow color connoisseur and Facebook pal, landscape designer Linda Hostetler. I’ve long admired her photos so it was a pleasure to wander the paths exploring her amazing textural plantings. But there was definitely a color theme running through Linda’s garden, and I loved ticking off all the ways she manages to celebrate ‘blue’. So let’s take a little tour, starting in the front garden of Linda and Ralph Hostetlers’ pretty home in Plains, Virginia, not far from Washington D.C. The tapestry-like plantings here, while very lovely, don’t really prepare you for the immense scale of the back garden.

House-Linda Hostetler

Let’s walk down the side path with its playful boxwood balls.

Path-Linda Hostetler

You might catch the light glinting off the sweet mirrored suncatcher….

Mirror suncatcher-Linda Hostetler

…. and at the end of the path, any one of hundreds of interesting plants might catch your eye like the native Indian pink (Spigelia marylandica).

Spigelia

But look up and gaze around and you’ll be struck by the flashes of azure and turquoise shimmering in every corner of Linda’s garden. How does she love blue? Let us count the ways.

Furnishings 

Like a little sense of occasion? Walk into Linda’s garden and you’re passing under a blue arch.  Doesn’t that curved boxwood allée make you want to start exploring? And look at the blue-toned hosta in the rear.

Arch-Linda Hostetler

Want to rest a minute in a little bit of shade? These blue umbrellas (there were several) and tables and chairs were popular spots for relaxing when masses of garden bloggers were trying to escape the June heat.  And don’t you love that spectacular pairing of ‘Lucifer’ crocosmia with the furnishings?

Blue Umbrella and furniture-Linda Hostetler

Art

Little artistic touches in blue abound in Linda’s garden – like these metal spheres in blue and contrasting yellow.

Sphere-Linda Hostetler

And no southern garden is complete without a bottle tree – this one sprouting cobalt blue bottles. (If I’m not mistaken, those are Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry bottles….)

Bottle tree-Linda Hostetler

A glazed ceramic globe is an easy way to give a blue punch to the border, especially contrasted with bright-red coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides).

Ceramic ball-Linda Hostetler

Like me, Linda is a fan of blown glass – this one in swirls of blue.

Blown glass-Linda Hostetler

Lighting

Speaking of glass, there are lots of solar lights in the Hostetler garden, all in shades of blue. You’ll see stained glass globes….

Solar ball-Linda Hostetler

…. and swirls….

Solar-twist-Linda Hostetler

…. and even blue Japanese lanterns.  Imagine the starry canvas these would make at night!

Japanese lantern-Linda Hostetler

Containers

Linda’s lovely, glazed, blue containers are an opportunity for her to change up little scenes each season, whether with tender begonias and tropicals….

Blue Pot 3-Linda Hostetler

… shade-tolerant heucheras….

Blue Pot 2-Linda Hostetler

…. or colorful coleus.

Blue Pot 1-Linda Hostetler

Then there are the artful ways Linda uses blue-hued hangers and stands to feature her pots, like this agave in a blue birdcage.

Agave in birdcage-Linda Hostetler

And this lovely pedestal stand for succulents.

Plant stand-Linda Hostetler

Plants

It was such a sunny afternoon with so many people running through the garden, I gave up trying to get landscape shots. But I did love seeing this little water feature with purplish-blue pickerel-weed (Pontederia cordata). It’s a favourite of bumble bees (and me).

Pontederia-Pickerel weed-Linda Hostetler

And then, alas, it was past the blue hydrangea and back on the bus to continue our tour of Virginia gardens. Next time, Linda, we will hopefully meet in person in your lovely garden (not via blog!)

Hydrangeas-Linda Hostetler

 

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

In 1768, when the young lawyer Thomas Jefferson began building his home atop the “little mountain” (literally monticello, in Italian) that he had inherited from his father, there were no gardens. The land was rich red soil – known as “Davidson Clay” – overlooking Virginia’s Piedmont and the Blue Ridge Mountains – a tobacco plantation, part of 5000 acres he had inherited from his father. In time, however, Jefferson would establish gardens here where he could experiment with all manner of plants, both edible and ornamental, and the meticulous garden records that he would make contribute to our current understanding of American “heritage plants”.

Monticello-house

Born in 1743 in Shadwell VA, just down the road (now the expressway) from Charlottesville, Virginia, Thomas Jefferson was one of six children born to the cartographer Peter Jefferson, who mapped the route through the Appalachian Valley that would become the ‘Great Waggon Road’ connecting Philadelphia to the colonies of the American South.  Home tutored at first, he then attended school where he learned several languages. He attended William & Mary University in Williamsburg, VA in 1760, studying philosophy for two years. While there, he was greatly influenced by one teacher. “It was my great good fortune, and what probably fixed the destinies of my life that Dr. William Small of Scotland was then professor of mathematics, a man profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a happy talent of communication, correct & gentlemanly manners, and an enlarged & liberal mind. He, most happily for me, became soon attached to me & made me his daily companion when not engaged in school; and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science & of the system of things in which we are placed.”  He then read law for five years, and was was called to the Virginia bar in 1767; he practised circuit law for five years.

In 1772 he married his 3rd cousin Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow, and brought her to his new home at Monticello, where they spent 10 years together and had 6 children, only two of whom survived childhood. When her father John Wayles died in 1773, Martha Jefferson inherited his slaves, among them a woman named Betty Hemings and her six children, all of whom were half-siblings of Martha’s, since they were fathered by her own father. Betty’s youngest child was Sally Hemings. (More on Sally later.)

In 1775, Thomas Jefferson was a Virginia delegate to the second Continental Congrass, and distinguished himself by publishing his paper A Summary View of the Rights of British North America.  The achievement for which he is most renowned, of course, is the Declaration of Independence, America’s founding document. In the 1818 painting by John Trumbull, below, 33-year old Thomas Jefferson – at 6-feet 2-½ inches – is depicted as the tallest of the “Committee of Five”, i.e. the five men in the drafting committee, seen standing below as they present their draft to Congress on July 4, 1776.  From left, they are John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin.

Declaration of Independence-John Trumbull-1818

In 1779-81, Thomas Jefferson was Governor of Virginia. In 1782, four months after the birth of their sixth child, Martha Jefferson died. Jefferson was devastated and spent weeks isolated from his family. As his eldest daughter recalled later: “When at last he left his room he rode out and from that time he was incessantly on horseback rambling about the mountain in the least frequented roads and just as often through the woods; in those melancholy rambles I was his constant companion, a solitary witness to many violent bursts of grief.”  Jefferson had promised Martha that he would never remarry.

From 1784 to 1789, Jefferson served as U.S. Minister to France under President John Adams. It was during this appointment that he developed a deep love of art and music and toured many English pleasure gardens, nurturing a taste for landscape designs based on the picturesque style of 18th century landscape painters and also the ornamental farm (ferme ornée).  It was while he was in Paris that he began an intimate relationship with the teenaged slave Sally Hemings, (his late wife’s half-sister) who accompanied Jefferson’s 9-year old daughter Polly to France when her sister died of whooping cough.

Mather Brown-Thomas Jefferson-1786

Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States after George Washington and John Adams, serving two terms between 1801 and 1809. At the time, the journey by carriage from Monticello to the White House took 4 days and 3 nights. (We make this journey by car in 2-1/2 hours). Jefferson’s most significant achievement occurred during his first term when he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with France, acquiring a vast swathe of the middle of North America (827,000 square miles) from the French, for a total of $15M (US).  In 1803, he commissioned the Lewis & Clark expedition (1804-06) to the American west, a journey that became the source of many Indian artifacts originally displayed in the house, but later lost. It also provided the president with new Western native plants to be grown at Monticello, such as narrow-leaved coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia), below.

Echinacea angustifolia-Lewis & Clark Expedition-Monticello

Visiting Monticello, a United Nations World Heritage Site, in June 2017, we begin our tour in the house. Close to its end, a sudden thunderstorm means we must take shelter in the basement, along with several other tour groups. Here we find ourselves huddled outside Thomas Jefferson’s wine cellar. When we are finally able to leave the shelter of the house, we head out under the dripping willow oaks (Quercus phellos) and begin our tour of the flower garden.

Willow oak-Quercus phellos

But it is not possible to talk about the gardens at Monticello without prefacing my tour with a look at how this Virginia plantation functioned under Thomas Jefferson.

SLAVERY

That slavery runs through the story of Thomas Jefferson and Monticello is part of the paradox of this man, who began his law practice defending seven slaves and later attempted to use his co-authorship of American’s founding document to legislate against the practice. According to the Library of Congress: “Thomas Jefferson first tried to condemn slavery in America with the Declaration of Independence. Although his original draft of the Declaration contained a condemnation of slavery, the southern states were adamantly opposed to the idea, and the clause was dropped from the final document. In 1784, he again tried to limit slavery, suggesting in a report on America’s new western territory that “after the year 1800 of the Christian era, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said States..’ Again, due largely to the resistance of the southern states, the proposal was rejected. In frustration, the Virginian later commented: “South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia voted against it…The voice of a single individual of the State which was divided, or of one of those which were of the negative, would have prevented this abominable crime from spreading itself over the new country…[I]t is to be hoped…that the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail.’ “

It was Madison Hemings, listed by Thomas Jefferson as Sally Hemings’s 5-year old in the 1810 Slave Roll below, (middle, first column) who helped uncover the true story of Jefferson’s relationship with his mother, something that had been whispered loudly by the president’s political enemies, but denied by the Jefferson family for more than a century.

Slave Roll-1810-Sally Hemings-Monticello

In 1873, in a series entitled “Life Among the Lowly” in the Pike County Republican, (parts of which are shown below), Madison Hemings, by then a freed slave living in Ross County in the free state of Ohio, wrote that his mother Sally, who was the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson and a household slave of Thomas Jefferson, gave birth to five* children by him.  Their relationship began in Paris, when Sally travelled there with Polly, Jefferson’s youngest daughter, after her sister died of whooping cough. Madison Hemings’s memoir was part of a PBS documentary.But during that time my mother became Mr. Jefferson’s concubine, and when he was called back home she was enceinte by him. He desired to bring my mother back to Virginia with him but she demurred. She was just beginning to understand the French language well, and in France she was free, while if she returned to Virginia she would be re-enslaved. So she refused to return with him. To induce her to do so he promised her extraordinary privileges, and made a solemn pledge that her children should be freed at the age of twenty-one years. In consequence of his promise, on which she implicitly relied, she returned with him to Virginia. Soon after their arrival, she gave birth to a child, of whom Thomas Jefferson was the father. It lived but a short time. She gave birth to four others, and Jefferson was the father of all of them. Their names were Beverly, Harriet, Madison (myself), and Eston–three sons and one daughter. We all became free agreeably to the treaty entered into by our parents before we were born. We all married and have raised families”.  Madison said he had been named by Dolly Madison, who was visiting Monticello with her husband and Thomas Jefferson’s good friend, President James Madison, at the time the baby was born. It would take a 1998 DNA test to prove that what Madison Hemings had written was accurate: he and siblings were Thomas Jefferson’s children. In 2000, following their own scholarly investigation, the Monticello/ Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Inc, issued this statement: “The best evidence available suggests the strong likelihood that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings had a relationship over time that led to the birth of one, and perhaps all, of the known children of Sally Hemings.” (*most sources say 6 children, but their first child died soon after birth)

Madison Hemings-references to Thomas Jefferson-1873-Pike County Republican-text

You can read about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson in this Washington Post article, which describes Monticello’s recent efforts to situate the reality of Monticello’s enslaved people within the heroic history of Thomas Jefferson. It’s part of The Mountaintop Project, the current thrust at Monticello to tell the stories of its people, including the slaves, as described in the interpretive sign below.

Interpretive Sign-Mountaintop Project-Monticello

Yet while they have included the “Hemings Family tour” in their ticket lineup, Monticello still seems reluctant to clearly state the nature of the Hemings-Jefferson relationship in the description.

And I loved this touching NPR story, featuring modern-day descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s slave children, concerning the formation of Monticello Community for “all the descendants of workmen, artisans and slave, free, family, whatever, at Monticello”.

Though we like to view history through the prism of our enlightened moral standards, (and there was spirited defence of Jefferson by scholars before the DNA test results were announced), it is worth noting that 12 of the first 18 presidents owned slaves, including George Washington. It would be the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who would finally succeed in ending slavery through the 13th Amendment, though it would take a bloody civil war and 620,000 deaths to accomplish that end. These are the words we saw just two days before visiting Monticello, on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial on Washington’s National Mall. They form part of Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address in 1865:

Abraham Lincoln-2nd Inaugural Address-Slavery

So, acknowledging that today’s Monticello owes its place in history thanks as much to the labour of its enslaved residents as to the creative scientific genius of Thomas Jefferson, let’s begin our tour just outside the main house in the flower garden.

THE FLOWER GARDEN

Jefferson maintained meticulous records of all his biological observations. He kept a Weather Memorandum Book, in which he recorded precipitation, wind, temperature. And he noted details of his garden purchases and plans in his garden diary, printed as Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book in 1944. Below is his page from 1794, a century-and-a-half earlier; showing his painstaking attention to detail (presumably his shopping list for the season): peas, beans, spinach, curly endive, Jerusalem artichoke, ‘garlick’, white mustard, ‘camomile’, lavender, wormwood, mint, thyme, balm, rosemary, marsh mallow, strawberries, gooseberries, figs, hops, lilac, red maple, Kentucky coffee tree, Lombardy poplar, weeping willow, willow oak, among many others. As the authors say in Thomas Jefferson’s Flower Garden at Monticello (1986, 3rd edition), “No early American gardens were as well documented as those at Monticello, which became an experimental station, a botanic garden of new and unusual plants from around the world.”

Thomas Jefferson Garden List-1794

In 1808, around the main house, Jefferson built a series of flower gardens as well as a “winding walk”, its borders planted in 10-foot sections with an assortment of exotic and native flowers. As he wrote to his 16-year-old granddaughter Ann Carey Randolph in 1807, “I find that the limited number of our flower beds will too much restrain the variety of flowers in which we might wish to indulge, & therefore I have resumed an idea … of a winding walk … with a narrow border of flowers on each side. this would give us abundant room for a great variety”. But after his death, the flower gardens fell to ruin. In 1939-41, the Garden Club of Virginia….

Winding Walk-Garden Club of Virginia-Monticello-1940

….restored the walk and fish pond as a gift to Monticello. In order to determine the walk’s original shape, researchers parked their cars on the West Lawn and shone their headlights over it. The old outline appeared.  Here we see lavender and sweet william (Dianthus barbatus), both plants recorded by Jefferson.

Winding Walk flower garden-Monticello

Here we are outside the main house, looking back through night-scented tobacco (Nicotiana). Jefferson preferred to have fragrant plants along the winding walk.

Monticello-Nicotiana

We see plants that were grown by him, including common mallow (Malva sylvestris).

Malva sylvestris-Monticello

Jefferson was proud of the native plants of Virginia – in fact 25 percent of his plants at Monticello were native – so it’s not a surprise to see butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and blackeyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta) mixed in with blue cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) and rose campion (Lychnis coronaria).

Mixed flowers-Monticello

THE VEGETABLE GARDEN & FRUITERY

When Jefferson spoke about his ‘garden’, he was referring to his vegetable garden. As he noted in 1819: “I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that … as a condiment for the vegetables, which constitute my principal diet.” After the decision was made in the late 1970s to recreate Monticello’s 1000-foot long by 80-foot wide, 2-acre vegetable garden….

Vegetable Garden-Monticello

…the process began in 1979 with a 2-year archaeological dig to corroborate the written history.  The dig turned up parts of the garden’s stone wall and the foundation of the pretty garden pavilion seen below, which was a favourite place for Thomas Jefferson to read.

Garden Pavilion2-Monticello

As the story goes, the garden pavilion – framed here by mulberry leaves — fell over soon after Jefferson’s died in 1826. It was restored in 1984.

Mulberry & Garden Pavilion-Monticello

Those mulberry leaves tell their own story, for they are part of Mulberry Row, the plantation lane at Monticello with 20 dwellings that formed the “center of work and domestic life for dozens of people – free whites, indentured servants, and enslaved people.” Here were the blacksmiths, carpenters, house joiners, stablemen, tinsmiths, weavers and spinners and domestic servants.

Mulberry Row2-Monticello

Parts of Mulberry Row have been restored, including this blacksmith & iron shop. Jefferson launched a nailery at Monticello, hoping to make it a thriving commercial enterprise. Young boys were destined to be nailers, as he wrote in his farm book: “Children till 10. years old to serve as nurses. From 10. to 16. the boys make nails, the girls spin. At 16. go into the ground or learn trades.”

Forge-Monticello

This is a slave cabin on Mulberry Row.

Mulberry Row-Slave House-Monticello

I’m delighted to see bluebirds flying and perching along Mulberry Row. My first ever bluebird!

Bluebird-Monticello

Going down the stairs to the vegetable garden, we begin our tour at the far end where a healthy crop of wheat is planted with sunflowers. When Jefferson inherited the plantation from his father, it was planted in tobacco. Following the American Revolution, Virginia ceased to be the dominant player in tobacco trade and the Napoleonic wars had also shifted the balance of agriculture in Europe. Tobacco cultivation also depleted the soil significantly. So when Jefferson returned to Monticello in 1793, he switched tobacco for wheat.

Wheat & Sunflowers-Monticello

Corn is just ripening. Jefferson grew Indian corn in his garden in Paris when he served in the French legation.

Corn-Monticello

This ‘Tennis Ball’ lettuce (Latuca sativa) is bolting, as it must when heritage seed is being saved. Thomas Jefferson said of this variety, which is one of the parents of buttery Boston lettuce: “it does not require so much care and attention.”

Tennis Ball Lettuce-Monticello

Leeks (Allium ameloprasum) are looking lovely – and are possibly the same Musselburgh leeks that Jefferson grew.

Leeks-1812-Monticello

Jefferson loved sea kale (Crambe maritima) and blanched it under special terracotta cloches to produce tender leaves. According to Monticello, “Jefferson was probably inspired to grow sea kale after reading Bernard McMahon’s The American Gardener’s Calendar, 1806, sometimes called his “Bible” of horticulture.” 

Crambe maritima-sea kale-Monticello

Peanuts catch my eye. In Andrew Smith’s book Peanuts: The Illustrious History of the Goober Pea, the author wrote “In his ‘Notes on the State of Virginia’, Thomas Jefferson wrote that peanuts grew in Virginia in 1781. Subsequently Jefferson planted sixty-five hills of ‘peendars’ which yielded 16-1/2 pounds ‘weighted green out of the ground which is ¼ pound each.’ While president, he reported that peanuts were very sweet.”

Peanuts-Arachis hypogaea-Monticello

Here is chamomile (Anthemis nobilis).

Chamomile-1794-Monticello

Artichokes (Cynara scolymus) were one of the first vegetables Jefferson grew in his garden at Monticello in 1770, and successfully harvested in 13 of 22 years. “Artichoke” was also the keyword in the secret cipher code used in his communications with Meriweather Lewis of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.Artichoke-1808-Monticello

Though they were still a somewhat new fashion in Virginia, Jefferson enjoyed his “tomatas”, the planting of which he recorded in his garden book from 1809 to 1824.

Tomatoes-Monticello

From the vegetable garden, I look down on the south orchard, where Jefferson once planted 1,031 fruit trees.

Monticello Orchard

I see peaches ripening here. This succulent fruit was perhaps Jefferson’s most prized crop, and in 1794 he even grew 900 peach trees as field dividers at Monticello and another farm. He wrote to a friend: “I am endeavoring to make a collection of the choicest kinds of peaches for Monticello“. Of the 38 varieties he grew, he purchased many from American nurseries and was given Italian introductions by his Tuscan–born friend Philip Mazzei, whom he’d met in London and encouraged to emigrate to Virginia in 1755.

Peaches-Monticello Fruitery

There’s a recreation of the Old Fruit Nursery here as well…..

Old Nursery-Monticello

… and the vineyards, below, all of which were part of what Jefferson called his “fruitery”.

Grape Vines-2Monticello

In the distance, we see Montalto (the “high mountain”). It’s on this mountain where the descendants of Philip Mazzei will soon be harvesting grapes to make fine wine in a joint project with Monticello….

Montalto

…under the guidance of longtime Virginia winemaker, Gabriele Rausse – whose vintage we pick up in the gift shop later.

Gabriele Rause Wine-Monticello Gift Shop

I walk through the bean arbor, the scarlet runners just getting started, and head out of Monticello’s garden. It’s time to go down the mountain.

Bean Pergola-Monticello

CEMETERY, WOODS AND VISITOR CENTER

Near the top is the family graveyard where Thomas Jefferson and his descendants (except for those of Sally Hemings) are buried.

Graveyard-Monticello2-Thomas Jefferson Tombstone

The woods on the slope are cool and beautiful; trees tall and towering, the understory filled with redbuds (Cercis canadensis). A notable lover of trees, Jefferson allegedly once said:  “I wish I was a despot that I might save the noble, beautiful trees that are daily falling sacrifice to the cupidity of their owners, or the necessity of the poor. . . .The unnecessary felling of a tree, perhaps the growth of centuries, seems to me a crime little short of murder.” 

Monticello-Woodland

I’m enchanted by the birdsong echoing in the trees and make a short video. Have a listen….

We arrive back at the Visitor Center where we lunched earlier.  The grounds are nicely landscaped…..

Monticello Visitor Center

…… and the gift shop with its garden center is fabulous!

Garden Center-Monticello

I say my farewell to Thomas Jefferson, noting the 10-1/2 inch difference in our heights. I thank him for his enterprising spirit, his love of nature, his gardens. He says nothing.

Thomas Jefferson & Janet

THE CENTER FOR HISTORIC PLANTS

Though it’s not open to the public except by appointment or for special posted events through the year, the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants (CHP) is a fundamental part of Monticello, maintaining many of the historic plants and providing them for the gift shop . It’s located below Monticello at Tufton Farm, part of the original Monticello estate – and a short distance down the road from our own Arcady Vineyard Bed & Breakfast, also part of the original Monticello estate.  I make a phone call, explain that I’m in Virginia to begin a Blogger’s Fling in a few days, and would love to visit. A short time later, I’m met by Jessica Bryars, acting manager at CHP (whose other job is to manage the fruitery at Monticello).

Jessica Bryars-Monticello Center for Historic Plants

We tour the farm, beginning in the nursery filled with young herbaceous plants.

Center for Historic Plants-Monticello-Greenhouse

Shrubs and roses are in hoop beds outside.

Shrub beds-Center for Historic Plants-Monticello

There are many beehives here, protected from honey-loving black bears by electric fences.

Center for Historic Plants-Monticello-Bee Hives

The garden, its grass pathway flanked by flower borders is lovely. Though most of the plants are historic, a few, like annual purple Verbena bonariensis are included…..

Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants-Borders

….making the pipevine swallowtail happy.

Pipevine Swallowtail-Battus philenor-Verbena bonariensis-CHP-Monticello

I spot Lilium superbum, the lovely native Turks-cap lily.

Center for Historic Plants-Monticello-Lilium superbum

Here’s a little taste of a pretty corner at CHP (and yes, there are hummingbirds as well as bluebirds at Monticello).

Monticello’s future contains plans for a ‘21st century farm’ on the Tufton farm site, a notion that I think would bring a great deal of young tourism to this part of Virginia, including people who aren’t much drawn to historic recreations of 200-year old presidential gardens.  And I suspect the great experimenter Thomas Jefferson, whose own namesake plant twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) grows here and flowers in spring, would agree.

Jeffersonia diphylla-Monticello Center for Historic Plants

UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA

In order to round out our understanding of Thomas Jefferson’s influence on the region, we visit the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, which is most definitely a ‘university town’. As the historic plaque below says, it was founded by Jefferson in 1817 in the presence of his two good friends, James Madison and sitting president James Monroe.

UVA-historic sign

Jefferson designed UVA as an ‘Academical Village’, with a beautiful rotunda at one end of ‘The Lawn’ flanked by pavilons containing lecture halls and undergraduate and faculty apartments. This is an 1826 Peter Maverick engraving of Jefferson’s original plan.

University of Virginia Maverick Engraving

Jeffferson’s rotunda was Palladian in design, similar to that of his home at Monticello.  It was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and housed a library, rather than a church, as was then common in universities.  This reflected Thomas Jefferson’s personal secular beliefs, which were moral without being religious. (In 1820, he reworked his own bible, carefully cutting out all the parts he disdained and leaving in an 80-page version he published as The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.)   Sadly, Jefferson’s rotunda burned down in 1895.

UVA-Rotunda Fire

Today’s rotunda is an historically-correct modification of the Stanford White recreation.

UVA-Rotunda

The beautiful pavilions below are original. This is what Jefferson wrote in 1817 to William Thornton, the architect of the U.S. Capitol, as he was researching his design.  “What we wish is that these pavilions, as they will show themselves above the dormitories, shall be models of taste and good architecture, and of a variety of appearance, no two alike, so as to serve as specimens for the architectural lecturer. Will you set your imagination to work, and sketch some designs for us, no matter how loosely with the pen, without the trouble of referring to scale or rule, for we want nothing but the outline of the architecture, as the internal must be arranged according to local convenience? A few sketches, such as may not take you a minute, will greatly oblige us.

UVA-Lawn

As we stroll the campus in the heat of a June afternoon, we listen to UVA undergrads addressing small groups of high school students and their parents on their pre-college selection tours. In the shade of tall trees on The Lawn, one co-ed laughingly tells her group about Halloween dress-up traditions on campus. Near Cabell Hall, another warns the students that the UVA basketball team is so popular and the stadium so small, a lottery system has been devised to distribute tickets equitably.  One can only imagine Thomas Jefferson standing nearby listening, perhaps striding forward to join the young people. Perhaps offering this …. “Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much can be done if we are always doing.” 

Thomas Jefferson-Rembrandt Peale

Indeed, it is wonderful how much can be done.