Great Gardens to Visit: Thomas Jefferson’s Tuckahoe & Monticello Gardens

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Great Gardens to Visit Thomas Jeffersons Gardens Tuckahoe and Monticello

Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant architect as well as a curious and masterful garden designer and estate manager.

Monticello, which is located just outside Charlottesville, Virginia, is revered for many reasons – its experimental and groundbreaking gardens being one of them.

Jefferson’s connection with the garden didn’t spontaneously happen at Monticello; like most of his generation, he was connected to the land all his life. Tuckahoe Plantation, still very much alive as a National Historic Monument on the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia, was one of the places he connected with outdoor life as a child – perhaps impacting his future Monticello masterpiece.

Peony & Boxwood edging formal brick patio at Tuckahoe

Tuckahoe was built in the early 18th century and may be one of the best examples of American plantation homes from that period. During its early years, the plantation produced wheat, tobacco, and livestock. Today, the land continues to feature stunning ornamental and edible gardens. At one time, it even featured an extensive boxwood maze whose caretaker likely would have appreciated today’s easy-to-use Power-Lever® and Power-Gear® hedge shears. Now, boxwood still plays an important role in constructing the formal pathways, parterres, and sundry “rooms” of Tuckahoe’s ornamental and edible garden spaces. Today’s Tuckahoe gardens continue to illustrate the ever-evolving history of the American garden – from the nation’s early days to changing tastes and practices of the modern era.

Vegetable Garden at Monticello

As a school-aged child, I toured Monticello on many occasions. I recall visiting at a time when archeologists were carefully excavating ”Mulberry Row”, which overlooks the now restored and quite expansive food gardens. It was a fascinating experience to my child’s eyes, and I see that wide-eyed look of discovery on the faces of many children each time I return to visit these beautiful, historical grounds as an adult. Monticello is a place of wonder and ceaseless discovery – both indoors and out.

Vineyard at Monticello

Jefferson carefully sited Monticello on a high hill with expansive views and plentiful sunlight. He collected plants from near and far – experimenting, pushing the envelope, succeeding, and failing along the way. He created “pet” forests, attempted some of the earliest viticulture in the US, maintained orchards, experimented with sundry fences, decorated with flowers, and kept a food garden to feed visiting dignitaries and family year-round.

Today, Monticello continues to evolve and change. Archeologists and historians persist in uncovering lost wonders. And, this phenomenal museum estate and living garden laboratory is open to curious tourists much of the year. Following one of my last visits, I made a beeline to the gift shop, which sells Monticello-cultivated plant starts and legacy seeds. Each year since I made that seed-buying visit, I replant seeds saved from my prior year’s crop of Monticello Scarlet Runner Beans. And, each summer as I enjoy hummingbirds sipping nectar from these vermilion blossoms, I think of both of these inspiring gardens where Jefferson once grew.

Visit these links to schedule your visit or to learn more about Thomas Jefferson's Tuckahoe or Monticello.