Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Peter Hatch at Lewis Ginter

Peter Hatch, Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello for the past 33 years, provided an scholarly presence at Lewis Ginter's 2010 Winter Symposium. The focus of his talk, The Legacy of Thomas Jefferson's Revolutionary Garden, was the amazinglingly beautiful vegetable garden sited 850 feet up the southeast slope of Monticello mountain. Mr. Hatch described Jefferson's garden, a mix of 170 varieties fruits and vegetables from all over the world, as a uniquely American garden. According to Mr. Hatch, the wide variety of plants in the garden was the physical representation of Jefferson's far-reaching imagination.

Jefferson divided his 1000 foot, arrow-straight garden laboratory into three main sections: fruits, roots, and leaves. I love the tension between the organic forms of the individual plants and the rigourous geometry of the garden layout. This geometry then contrasts again with the rolling forms of the distant landscape. Even though it's a historical garden these contrasts give it the freshness of a large scale contemporary artwork.
According to Hatch, The microclimate of the garden provides the true genius of place. Though the garden experiences Virginia's hot summers, the winters are mild, as cold air collects at the bottom of the mountain. The summer heat allows tropical vegetables like lima bean and tomatoes to intermingle with traditional European vegetables. Compared with the typical Virginia vegetable garden which focused on cold weather crops like kale, cabbage and turnips, it was, as Mr. Hatch says, revolutionary.
Mr. Hatch went into a bit of detail about the mediterranean origins of Monticello, both in design and in plant species. Like the traditional Italian villa, Monticello is not just a house, but a combination of gardens, orchards, and pastoral views of the countryside. Mr. Hatch likened the view of rolling piedmont that stretches to the east as being similar to a seascape. Providing an anchor in this "seascape" is the large hill Montalto to the west. By the way, this is a wonderful example of how effective it can be to chose a lower spot in the landscape to build on, rather than the highest, allowing the landscape to maintain it's visual importance.

Jefferson's garden was extremely important to him—he worked in it daily, and Mr. Hatch said that Jefferson ranked the introduction of new crops as some of his greatest accomplishments, right up there with his career in government and his founding of the University of Virginia. Jefferson dearly enjoyed the harvest of his garden as well. Mr. Hatch said Jefferson lived primarily as a vegetarian; meat was more like a condiment to him. This love of produce is evident in his Garden Book, which tracked daily events in the garden, meticulously noting when various vegetables were ready to "come to table".

Something else that Mr. Hatch mentioned, was that the garden of Monticello was a endevour of Jefferson's later life—he worked on it from the ages of 67-83. Mr. Hatch called it a "defiance of age". I find this very encouraging...I guess I've still got plenty of time to really accomplish something.

For further reading on Mr. Hatch and Monticello, check out these articles:

To find out more about the 2010 Winter Symposium, take a look here.


Janet said...

Good morning Phillip, I enjoyed reading this. Wish to hear Mr. Hatch one day speak about Jefferson's gardens. Every so often I am lucky enough to remember that the Jefferson Hour is on NPR and learn something every time I listen. A couple weeks ago they were speaking of Mr. Jefferson's gardens, fascinating. History and gardening--can't get much better.
btw- Have you seen in the Daily Press about recording trees in Williamsburg? Think the most recent article was on Tuesday. I thought of you and the great map you have.
btw#2- have you seen Eustis Blvd. lately? rape and pillage! Was there a rail line that went along Eustis Blvd? Looks like they are recovering RR ties.

James Golden said...

Thanks for this post. This is something I'd like to keep, including the links. But my computer is so filled with links, I need a personal librarian to keep track of it all.

How It Grows said...

Janet - I did see the article about the trees. I sent a link to my map to a couple of people and now I'm on the committee! I don't know too much about the project yet.
I haven't seen Ft. Eustis in a while. I'll have to swing by sometime.

James - I know just how you feel!

Les said...

What a great opportunity. I will have to remember to get info on this series for next year.

Mr. Jefferson's vegetable garden will remain in my mind as one of my favorites, vegetable or otherwise.