Who Knew that Thomas Jefferson Was a Master Gardener?
Two fifth graders from Marquez, Alex Psounis and Ava Cohen, discussed President Thomas Jefferson and gardening at the Marquez Elementary Garden Festival on June 4, under the guidance of master gardener Marie Steckmest.
“Jefferson had a 5,000-acre plantation in Virginia,” the duo explained, noting that it was called Monticello, which means little mountain in Italian.
At Marquez, there’s a pizza garden, a butterfly garden, a three-sisters’ garden, a native plant garden and a section for heirloom seeds.
“Heirloom means anything of value to a person or group passed down from one generation to the another, such as Jefferson’s seeds,” Psounis and Cohen said.
They explained that Jefferson was not only the third president, the second vice president, the first secretary of State (under George Washington), a Governor of Virginia, and the writer of the Declaration of Independence, but was also a gardener and scientist, too.
“His plantation had a 1000-ft. long vegetable garden with 350 types of plants,” Psounis and Cohen explained.
As part of the gardening program at Marquez, fifth graders tie in planting/gardening with the study of U.S. history.
“Jefferson divided his garden into three parts: fruits like tomatoes and beans, roots like beets and leaves like lettuce,” Cohen said.
“We planted Dutch Brown lettuce, Danvers carrots and sugar snap peas,” Psounis said. “Jefferson’s favorite vegetable was peas and he had 23 varieties in his garden.”
“Our class made pasta with sugar snap peas to celebrate our harvest,” Cohen said.
The fifth graders asked people to look at a nickel: Jefferson’s portrait is on the front and Monticello is on the back.
(Editor’s note: One of the aims of the vegetable garden at Monticello, which had been restored under Peter J. Hatch’s direction, is to provide heirloom seeds for home gardeners. About 50,000 packets of seed are prepared each year and can be purchased at monticelloshop.org/garden/heirloom-seeeds/. There are different seed collections such as heirloom vegetable seeds and birds, bees and butterflies.
Hatch has written a book, “A Rich Spot of Earth: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello (2012).” He writes: “The garden is a living expression of Jefferson’s genius and his distinctly American attitudes. Its impact on the culinary, garden, and landscape history of the United States continues to the present day.”)