The Bloom of Monticello
"I arrived in good health at home this day se'nnight. The mountain had then been in bloom ten days." Thus wrote on reaching Albemarle for a spring visit; and finding the family away, he added: "The bloom of Monticello is chilled by my solitude."
Whittet & Shepperson
First Printing, May, 1926
Second Printing, June, 1926
Third Printing, July, 1926
Printed in U. S. A.
"I will thank you, if you will put on your boots and spurs and ride over to Monticello and inform me how my thorns live," wrote Declaration of Independence, and Third President of the United States, from Washington to his little granddaughter, Ellen Randolph, at Edge Hill, in Albemarle County, Va. "This part of the country is beautifying with them so fast that every ride I take makes me anxious for those at Monticello.", author of the
"We had not peas nor strawberries here till the 8th of this month. On the same day I heard the first whip-poor-will," he wrote his little daughter, "when white swallows and martins appeared here on the 29th of April." "Tell me when you shall have peas up," he later wrote. "When everything comes to the table, when you shall have the first chickens hatched, when every kind of tree blossoms and puts forth leaves, when each kind of flower blooms. . . ."Yours tenderly, my dear Maria,
Thus wrote the lonely father and city-bound farmer, trying to keep in touch with what went on in far-away Virginia, that land of his heart's desire.
The little maid replied, "We had peas here the 10th of May and strawberries the 17th of the month. As for the martins, swallows and whip-poor-wills, I was so taken up with my chickens that I never attended to them. Therefore, I cannot tell you when they came, although I was so unfortunate as to lose half of them (my chickens) for my cousin, Bolling, and myself have raised but thirteen between us."
Jefferson loved every living growing thing at Monticello, and one of the hardships of his life of service to the state was that he was almost constantly away from home for more than forty years. The trees, the flowers, the fields and the birds there were precious in his sight, and though the center for years of political thought and change, beloved of many men, and hated by others, doted on by women, burdened always with care and often overshadowed by grief, he treasured many memories of the place, and its scenes and scents and sounds were constantly luring him back. Diplomat, statesman, social reformer, poet, architect, musician, scientist, inventor, student of government and politics, author, and collector of fine books, though he was, he never missed the ecstasy of blossom time at Monticello.
Few Virginia gentlemen of that time, of town or country, were without their farms and gardens. Flowers in gay profusion clustered at the bases of the white-columned porticos in town, and vast holdings in the country made most of the men farmers; and wherever, , or Thomas Jefferson were gathered together there was sure to be talk of crops and vegetables and flowers. Councils of State, we may safely wager, were often turned into conferences of farmers.
A Leaf from an Account Book of Thomas Jefferson
Now in the possession of the Pennsylvania Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pa.
Jefferson's love of a garden was an inheritance and a habit. The first page of his garden book, kept by him with amazing regularity for more than fifty years, and to be seen today, shows him, a young lawyer, hardly out of his courses, and in the country only for vacations, following closely the progress of a garden at his boyhood home.
|Mar. 30||Purple hyacinth begins to bloom.|
|6||Narcissus and Puckoon open.|
|13||Puckoon flowers fallen.|
|16||A bluish colored funnel formed flower in low grounds in bloom.|
|30||purple flag bloomed, Hyacinth and Narcissus gone.|
|4||wild honeysuckle in our woods open—also the Dwarf flags and violet.|
|7||blue flowers in low grounds vanish.|
|11||The purple flag, Dwarf flag, violet & wild Honeysuckle still in bloom.|
|went journey to Maryland, Pennsylva, New York, so observations cease."|
Portrait by Gilbert Stuart
was on. The foreline of it off by early July, we read that the larger poppy had vanished, dwarf poppy was still in flower, but on the deadline, and pinks were disappearing. Carnation was in full life, however, and the bachelor's garden was again aglow in late July. Other flowers had put out. There was one bloom on the argemone, and the mirabilis described by the young man Jefferson, as "very clever," was claiming his attention.
The family place at Shadwell, where the old-fashioned four-room farm house, with its high chimneys and gable ends, stood, the house in which he was born, shows no marks of a garden today, but Jefferson was used as a child to the beauties of the garden at Tuckahoe, where he spent seven years of his life. He knew old Dungeness, home of his mother, Jane, daughter of Ischam Randolph, a student of plant life, and son of William Randolph, of Turkey Island. As a young man he disported himself in the palace gardens of Governor Fauquier in old Williamsburg. He knew Ampthill, Eppington, The Forest, the gardens of the Harrisons and Pages, the gay and flaunting gardens of Fredericksburg and Annapolis, and was familiar with those in old New York and Philadelphia.
Monticello, more beautiful in situation than any of them, must have a garden of his making, and we find him a young man, dreaming of his plans. "And of our own dear Monticello," he once wrote, describing it to a friend, "Where has nature spread so rich a mantle under the eye? Mountains! forests! rocks! river! With what majesty do we ride above the storm! How sublime to look down in the workhouse of nature, to see her clouds, hail, snow, rain, thunder, all fabricated at out feet, and the glorious sun rising as out of the distant water, just gilding the tops of the mountain, and giving life to all nature!"
Little wonder is it, that in bringing his fair-haired bride to this spot he chose to adorn it further for her coming. Months beforehand he had busied himself with plans for a shrubbery at the right side of the house, the details of which we find noted carefully in his pocket account book. In the garden in which the lovelorn bachelor saw his lady there must bloom in springtime, dogwood, lilac, wild cherry and jessamine, with trumpet flower and honeysuckle running wild. She must walk among the alder bushes, hardly taller than her outstretched hand, and pluck blossoms from the flowering amorpha, althea, clethra and climbing rose. Joy and sweet bride, cassio berry, barberry, haw, the Judas tree, ceanothus and chinquapin must bow beneath her touch. Violets, "Dim but sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes or Cytherea's breath" must grow in the grass on which she walked, and lilies and proud flags, purple clad, lift their heads to do her honor, with peonies and poppies, primroses, periwinkles and pale anemone in their train. The long summer sun, he knew too, would shine down on laughing larkspur and gilliflower, snapdragons and daisies, not so gay as she, and there would be pasque flowers, flowers-de-luce, sunflowers, goldilocks and mallows; while in winter the snows of Monticello would gleam in the moonlight on sentinel cedars, yew trees and juniper, with laurel, magnolia and holly, guarding her while she slept.
For the grounds in general he laid careful plans. "Cover the whole with grass. Intersperse jessamine, honeysuckle, sweet briar, and even hardy flowers, which may not require attention. Keep in it deer, rabbits, peacocks, guinea, poultry, pigeons, etc. Let it be an asylum for hares, squirrels, pheasants, partridges, and every other wild animal (except those of prey). Court them to it by laying food for them in proper places. Procure a buck elk, to be, as it were, monarch of the wood; but keep him shy, that his appearance may not lose its effect by too much familiarity. A buffalo might be confined also. Inscriptions in various places on the bark of the trees or metal plates suited to the character or of the place.
"Benches or seats of rock or turf."
An arched temple, at the spring on the north side of the park likewise was a part of this dream, inclined against a terraced hill, with water flowing in cascade and entering a cistern beneath the first floor of stone, "the rooms eight feet cube, with a small table and a couple of chairs," and "the roof," he wrote, "may be Chinese, Grecian or in the taste of the Lantern of Demosthenes at Athens." A Latin inscription was suggested.
"The ground just above the spring smoothed and turfed; close to the spring a sleeping figure reclined on a marble slab, surrounded with turf." "Open a vista to the mill pond, river, road," in his fantasy he wrote, as he queried whether a view of the neighboring town would have good effect. "Intersperse in this and every other part of the ground, abundance of jessamine, honeysuckle, sweet briar." Under the temple was to be concealed an AeolianThen, as if changing his plan, he added:
"This would be better.
"The ground above the spring being very steep, dig into the hill and form a cave grotto. Build up the sides with stiff clay. Cover this with moss. Spangle it with translucent pebbles from Hanovertown and beautiful shells from the shore of Burwell's ferry. Pave the floor with pebbles. Let the spring enter at a corner of the grotto. The figure will be better placed in this. Form a couch of moss. The English inscription will then be better:
Nymph of the grot, these sacred springs I keep,
And to the murmur of these waters sleep.
Ah! spare my slumbers; gently tread the cave,
And drink in silence or in silence lave."
Many high ladies and worthy gentlemen of wealth and fashion from old Williamsburg came out for the New Year festivities, which lasted for days, when Thomas Jefferson, according to the bond, was intermarried with the widow Skelton at The Forest in Charles City County. Tall, beautiful, graceful and full of wit, Martha Wayles Skelton had not lacked for suitors. She had chosen Thomas Jefferson, and after much feasting they drove in modest manner, behind a single pair of ponies, in the snow to Monticello, there to live, he records, in "unchequered happiness."
Farming then became his profession; but Thomas Jefferson, the farmer, with his constant study of seed, soils and crops and improved machinery, often the product of his own hand, is another story.
Married two years or more, a little daughter running around the house, and another due in a month or so, he is found, according to his custom, in his kitchen garden, in the spring, a busy man. Zeal for gardening, however, did not overrun discretion, and careful garden books, begun in 1766 and continued to old age, contained records of his plantings, gave drawings and diagrams of plots, and set forth the time of sprouting and of coming to the table. Plantings at Monticello in those days were no mean affair, and it will be observed that the master took some of his learning into the garden with him.
Sowing-time came for early peas and marrowfats in early March, and the end of the month generally found them well above ground. In the middle of the month (1774) Jefferson sowed and marked, "by sticking numbered sticks in the ground," Anglia de Terra, set down as garlic, radishes de Postoria, Cochleana, de Pisa, horseradish and peppergrass, and made ready for larger ventures. No vegetable was too commonplace, nor too difficult, for this adventurer beneath the soil. Succory, endive, Spanish onions, Savoys, salsify, turnips, beans of various colors, sugar beans, white and red beets, were all given a place at one time or another, with rice, raisins and fine figs.
The last week of the month meant a half dozen busy days. First, carrots from Pisa went in the ground, then Salmon radishes, Lattuga lettuce, Windsor beans, cluster peas, spinach and vetch. The next day earlier and later peas were sowed. The day following, green lentils and black-eye peas—yielding, we are told, ten crops; the next, Grano Estivo from Tuscany (in seven rows), celery, radishes, cress, and nasturtium in twenty-five little hills. No planting recorded, the next day meant, we will presume, observance of the Sabbath at Monticello; but the work went forward the day following, with the sowing of celery in the meadow. The master then rested from these labors. A note in the garden book for the next day reads:
"Laid off ground to be leveled for a future garden. The upper side is 44 feet below the upper edge of the Roundabout and parallel thereto. It is 686 feet long, 80 feet wide, and at each end forms a triangle, rectangular and isosceles, of which the legs are 80 feet and the hypoteneuse 113 feet."
The final vegetable garden on the southwest side of the hill, a terraced quadrangle, was not completed until the time of Jefferson's presidency.
That same March day a young orchard was set out. Twenty-four apple trees and nineteen cherry trees were put in from the mountain plan; almonds, both sweet and bitter, were planted, some with smooth and some with heavy rind; apricots, 198 cherries from Italy, and 15,000 olive slips. Some of the stones, we are told, were cracked, and others not, and this must have meant a busy time for the little pickaninnies on the place. These fruits do not represent the whole variety in which he had a hand—the green gage plums, plum peaches, carnation cherry, French chestnut, English mulberry were all on his lists and were shared with his friends. "I never saw such a place for fruit," his overseer once said, and when the mountain was in bloom it was indeed a maze of beauty.
A Calendar of the Bloom of Flowers in 1782, the season preceding the death of Mrs. Jefferson. Taken from Jefferson's Garden Book.
The lady of the flowers came and lived among them there for ten happy years, important in the life of Jefferson and thought by some to be his term of greatest service to mankind.
He served as a member of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, represented his State in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, wrote with his own hand the Declaration of Independence, became a member of the General Assembly of Virginia and introduced bills of vast social importance; wrote his bill for religious liberty, and for two years served as Governor of the State. Before the death of his wife he became a member of the Congress of Confederation at Philadelphia. He was at Monticello when, on a morning in September, as set forth on her tombstone, his wife was torn from him by death and he was left with three little girls, a young man still, lonely, among his blossoms withering on the stalk. Wild grief succeeded, and it was in the forests of Monticello that he fought out his sorrow, his horse trampling the drying leaves as they fell.
But with the loss of his wife, however, he did not lose his love of flowers. Springtime in the garden meant springtime always in the heart of Thomas Jefferson, and wherever he went, he found his way into a garden and made friends with the flowers. No more delightful picture can be imagined than that of His Excellency, Thomas Jefferson, commissioned shortly Minister Plenipotentiary to Europe, a few years later strolling through the beautiful pleasure gardens of old England within the shadow of stately old castles, with Whateley's Book on Gardening, according to his own account, open in his hand, affirming its accuracy, and directing his inquiries to such practical things as might enable him to estimate the expense of making such gardens for himself. He wondered at the size of the garden at Blenheim Castle, with its two hundred acres, great expanses of water, twelve acres of kitchen garden, and two hundred people employed to keep it in order. He noted carefully that the turf was mowed once in ten days. "The cascade from the lake is a fine one," he said, but he liked it not, and "art appeared too much." He visited Hampton Court, Chiswick, Pope's garden at Twickenham, and Stowe, the Duke of Buckingham's garden improved by Capability Brown, the landscape gardener, whose work is known today to garden lovers.
In his walks, and rides in his crane neck chariot, with fine ladies, in and around Paris, he came to know the gardens and flowers there, and his journal records most interesting observations on the plant life of Southern France and Italy made during a journey there. He noted sweetbriar, cream-yellow clover in beautiful blooming fields and an abundance of yellow iris. "From the first olive fields of Pierrelatte to the orangeries of Hières," he wrote the raising and husking of rice for the benefit of the farmers of South Carolina and Georgia, and came out with a supply of seed, some of which he said he had induced Poggio, a muleteer who passed every week between Vercelli and Genoa, to smuggle out in a sack for him, "it being death," he explained, "to export it in that form." He introduced tulips from Holland into America, and is held responsible today by Albemarle farmers for the Scotch broom, or gorse, which has spread itself over their red-clay hills., "has been continued rapture to me." He made a trip of three weeks out of his way to get first-hand knowledge in regard to
The meanest flower that grew was not unworthy of his notice. Describing a visit to New York, he noted the wild honeysuckle growing on the banks of Lake George, an aspen with a yellow leaf, and a short willow with a downy catkin, and described an azalea that presented itself to him as the richest shrub he had seen, "different from the nudiflora, with very large clusters of flowers more thickly set on the branches, of a deeper red, and a high pink fragrance." Back of the gardener must be recognized the botanist, at work, with an eye for new books, a mind for new facts, and a ready hand for experimentation. His "Notes on Virginia" contain the first real study of the flora of the state, and the wide results obtained by botanists from plants and seed brought back by the Lewis and Clark expedition, due in a large degree to Thomas Jefferson, whose spirit animated the whole undertaking, are recognized as his major contribution to the science.
"No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth," he once said, "and no culture to that of the garden." "Along with painting, sculpture, architecture, music and poetry, some include oratory as one of the fine arts," he wrote the inquisitive Ellen when catechized by her on the point. "Others, again, add gardening as the seventh. It is nearly allied with landscape painting, and generally we find that landscape painters make the best gardeners."
When away from Monticello, the mind of Jefferson was constantly on growing things. Regardless of what was talked around Washington during the eight years of his presidency concerning foreign complications, outlets to be acquired, inroads to be avenged, treaties, trials and elections, cucumbers, cabbage, spinach, salsify, sprouts and squash, turnips, potatoes, artichoke, lettuce, cauliflower and eggplant, along with other varieties of succulents, claimed regularly in spring and fall the attention of the Chief Executive of the nation, who was keeping careful tables, throughout the time, of the appearance and departure from the market of such things.
"The advance of the season here makes me long to get home," wrote a wearied-out vice-president from Philadelphia as the Easter season approached in 1798. That day the famous X. Y. Z. dispatches were read in Congress, adding by their tone, to the fire of resentment already strong in many quarters, against the French, and resulting in a great shock to the mind of America. He continued, in the midst of wrangling senators, "The first shad we had here was March 16 and March 28 was the first day we could observe a greenish hue on the weeping willow from its young leaves. Not the smallest symptom of blossoming yet on any specimen of fruit tree."
Jefferson's memorable letter to his daughter, announcing his decision to defer his retirement from Washington's cabinet at a time of political turmoil, declared, "The ensuing year will be the longest of my life. The next we will sow our cabbages together." When the time came for his retirement as President, and he was packed and started on his way with three wagonloads of stuff, one of them loaded down with shrubbery, his papers reveal that among his farewell purchases were seed for Scotch cabbage, loaf lettuce, white snaps, garlic and Hanover turnips.
Jefferson, in a letter to Washington, disclaiming in high dudgeon any part in a newspaper attack on a well-known Virginian soldier, and bringing to the notice of the Chief Executive the damaging facts in regard to treatment he supposed himself to have received, took occasion to say: "I put away this disgusting dish of old fragments and talk to you of my peas and clover. . . . I verily believe that a field of thirty-five acres sowed in wheat in April this twelvemonth has given me a ton to the acre at the first cutting this spring. I shall hereafter put peas into the broadcast, proposing that one of my sowings of wheat shall be after two years of clover and the other one after two years of peas."
He strove hard to share with his family his love for trees and flowers. To his little motherless Maria, he wrote, "There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me." Again he wrote Maria, "I hope our correspondence will now be more regular; that you will be no more lazy, and I no more on the pouts on that account." Bidding her note every appearance, animal and vegetable, that showed the approach of spring, and communicate them to him, he said, "On the 27th of February I saw blackbirds and robin redbreasts; and on the 7th of this month I heard the frogs for the first time this year. Have you noted the appearance of these things?" In the reply, however, no answer was forthcoming, and in three weeks he wrote again, "I wrote you in my last that the frogs had begun their songs on the 7th; since that the bluebird saluted us on the 17th, the weeping willow began to leaf on the 18th, the lilac and gooseberry on the 25th, and the golden willow on the 26th. I enclose for your sister three flowering beans very beautiful and rare. She must plant and nourish them with her own hand this year, in order to save enough for herself and me. . . . Kiss everybody for me,
There was still another letter: "I find I have counted too much on you as a botanical and zoological correspondent, for I undertook to affirm here that the fruit was not killed in Virginia, because I had a young daughter there who was in that kind of correspondence with me, who I was sure would have mentioned it, if it had been so. However, I shall go on communicating to you, in hopes it will induce you to do the same to me. . . .
Yours with tender love,
|April 14.||Apricots in bloom.|
|April„ 14.||Cherry leafing.|
|April„ 9.||Peach in bloom.|
|April„ 14.||Apple leafing.|
|April„ 14.11.||Cherry in blossom."|
The next letter received from Maria was short and to the point:
Dear Papa:—I received your letter of March 31st the 14th of this month; as for that of March 9, I received it some time last month, but I do not remember the day. . . . The garden is backward, the inclosure having been but lately finished. I wish you would be so kind as to send me seven yards of cloth like the piece I send you. Adieu, my dear Papa.
"I am your affectionate daughter,
My dear Maria:—By the stage which carries this letter I send you seven yards of striped nankeen of the pattern enclosed. . . . There are no stuffs here of the kind you sent for. April 30th the lilac blossomed; May 4th, the gelder rose, dogwood, redbud, azalea were in blossom."
His "dear Poll" must likewise be reminded of other things: "Tell me whether you see the sun rise every day; whether you know how to make a pudding yet, cut a beefsteak, sow spinach, or to set a hen." And though out of doors he wanted her to be, he had long ago warned her, "Remember, though, as a constant charge, never to go without your bonnet, because it will make you ugly, and then we shall not love you so much."
"Our birds and flowers are well and send their love to yours," he wrote a granddaughter; and to his daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, with her brood of little children growing up around her at Monticello, he wrote, "I congratulate you on the arrival of the mockingbird. Learn all the children to venerate it as a supreme being—or as a being that will haunt them if any harm is done to itself or its eggs. I shall hope that the multiplication of cedar in the neighborhood and of trees and shrub around the house will attract more of them."
Anne Cary Randolph, the oldest of these Randolph children, the number of whom ran into almost a round dozen, finally, when all were present or accounted for, became the mistress of her grandfather's garden in his absence, and saw to it, with the help of old Wormeley, the head gardener, and Bacon, the overseer, that his commissions were carried out.
To Bacon, his overseer for twenty years, he wrote, "If the weather is not open and soft when Davy arrives, put the box of thorns into the cellar, where they may be entirely free from the influence of cold, until the weather becomes soft, when they must be planted in the places of those dead through the whole of the hedges which enclose the two orchards. . . . If any remain, plant them in the nursery of thorns. There are 2,000."
Again: "Wormeley must be directed to weed the flower beds about the house, the nursery, the vineyards and raspberry beds." And still again: "Keep the thorns constantly wed."
Carts journeyed back and forth between the Capital and the old Virginia homestead carrying fine things to Washington for the President's table, and returned loaded down with flowers and shrubs for the garden. Earlier orders included great quantities of old-fashioned roses, the monthly rose, the moss rose, and the sweet-smelling musk rose, rhododendrons and balsam of Peru, and a supply of nutmeg peach, filbert and spruce, hemlock and poplar trees. Trees from Monticello likewise went forward on these carts.
"As soon as the aspen trees lose their leaves, take up one or two hundred of the young trees, tie them in bundles with the roots well covered with straw. . . . Young Davy being to carry Fanny to Washington, he is to take the little cart (which must be put into the soundest order) to take these trees on board."
"I never before knew the full value of trees," wrote Thomas Jefferson to Mrs. Randolph, from a house he had taken on the banks of the Schuylkill, during the time that the feeling in Philadelphia was strongest against the Jeffersonians and dissensions in Washington's cabinet were sharpest. Maria was with him, passing the time under the trees. "My house is entirely embosomed in high plane trees," he wrote, "with good grass below, and under them I breakfast, dine, write and receive my company. What would I give that the trees planted at Monticello were full grown!"
There have been many conjectures as to the exact location of the pleasure garden at Monticello, in which Mr. Jefferson was accustomed to walk among his flowers in the early morning, or to what extent he cultivated a formal garden. Mrs. Virginia Randolph Trist, granddaughter, tells us that immediately on his return to Monticello after his retirement from the presidency, he set himself to the task of laying off his flower beds, under the west windows of the mansion. Attention has been called to a plan now in the Massachusetts Historical Society looking to a formal garden with rectangles reaching out, showing long, narrow plots to the right and left of the white colonnade of the west front of the house.
One of three stray sheets from an account book, to be found today in the Pennsylvania Historical Society, shows a plat indicating the exactof the flowers planted on the west lawn in April, 1807, during one of Mr. Jefferson's spring visits to Monticello while he was President. It is drawn by his own hand and seems to end further controversy. In accordance with the somewhat recently discovered journal of Francis Galley Gray, a young New Englander, who visited Mr. Jefferson in 1814, the flowers and shrubs were planted in rectangular plots, and rare and ornamental trees were planted at the corners of the house and on the borders of the mountain.
An old picture, now in the possession of Mrs. T. Jefferson Coolidge and supposed to have been painted in the fall of 1825 or the spring preceding the death of Mr. Jefferson, shows two rectangular plots spread out directly in front of the house, with others at right angles extending at the extreme ends further out into the lawn. Shrubbery and flowers, shown growing broadcast on the lawn, and thick double lines of growing trees at either side of the house, seem to dispose of the idea of a formal garden near the mansion. A chart of Mr. Jefferson's while President bears out the idea of trees at the side of the house. "Four purple beeches" he later directed "be placed in the southwest and northwest angles of the house to replace others then dead." "Four robinias, or red locusts," were to take the place of others in the northeast and southwest angles. "Four prickly ash" were likewise to be put in these angles.
There was a wedding in the family at Monticello, just previous to Jefferson's retirement from the presidency, and he was called on to give his blessing to Anne, the bride, the grandchild of his heart. Later in distress, he wrote her: "What is to become of our flowers? I left them so entirely to yourself that I never knew anything about them; what they are, where they grow, what is to be done for them. You must really make out a book of instructions for Ellen, who has fewer cares in her head than I have."
"Apropos of plants," he wrote her in the early days of her marriage, which had taken her from Monticello, "make a thousand apologies to Mrs. Bankhead for the favor proposed of cape jessamine. It will be cherished with all possible attention, and in return proffer her calycanthus, pecan, silk trees, Canada martagnon, or anything else we have."
Ellen, the letter-writer of the family, handled much of the news. "The sweet-scented grass I shall take all possible care of," she wrote. "The pot was broken on the way. It was tied together, but I shall have to remove the grass soon in another box. Your orange trees come on very well as to their looks, but I never saw such little short things in my life. They are now near eighteen months old, and they are not as high (any of them) as my hand is large.""I am glad the sweet-scented grass got safe, although the pot did not," wrote the president to Ellen.
"Dear Grandpapa," again she wrote: "I would have written last post if I had had time, but I am determined to do it, although I have not much to say—unless I talk about the plants. Those in the large box were killed to the roots, but they are coming up all over the box. Those in the small pot were killed also, but are putting out small fresh buds. The evergreens have lost all their leaves, but one branch on each which looks lively enough. In the large pot there is not the least appearance of life, but mama preserved a little pod full of seed from it. Poor James has been inoculated with the vaccine, and is very unwell."
"The children and mamma send their love to you. I am, dear Grandpapa, your most affectionate Grand daughter,
"Elleonora Wayles Randolph."
"Edgehill, January 26, 1809."
As a postscript she added: "The sweet-scented grass looks very badly, although mama separated the roots and planted them with great care in a box of fine, wet sand, and the season in which it was done was warm and rainy."
The mind of the President was largely taken up with keeping the United States out of the Napoleonic wars in which most of Europe was then embroiled; a new line-up had formed in Congress, and some of his friends were deserting him; the end of his presidency was drawing near; he was breaking up his establishment, and winding up his affairs, with a deficit staring him in the face that had made his nights sleepless, but he proposed, nevertheless, if possible, to set things right at Monticello by forwarding a few further facts.
Back at Monticello, Jefferson was wont to spend his entire mornings in his shops, among his vegetables and flowers, and out about his farms. "I talk of my plows and harrows, of seeding and harvesting, with my neighbors, and of politics, too, if they choose to." Advice on public matters, though, was not always forthcoming, "I turn with great reluctance from the functions of a private citizen to matters of State. The swaggering on deck as a passenger
"My dear Ellen,
"I have received your letter on the subject of plants and will now explain to you what they were, tho I cannot say what was in each box or pot particularly.
Savary A dead plant, its leaves very aromatic, a little resembling thyme. My dependence is that its leaves are shed in the box on the earth and it will come up. Arbor Vitae A small evergreen tree in a small pot. Ice Plant Not entirely dead, but I suppose its seed shed on the earth and will come up. Geranium I think there was a plant of this, but I am not certain.
Besides the above, there was a box containing many odds of sweet-scented grass packed one on another, and all in the same box, a bunch of monthly raspberry plants, which box Douglas was directed to carry to Monticello. I much fear he did not, as Bacon writes he received no raspberry plants, saying nothing of the box."
The Garden Book of Thomas Jefferson
Now in the possession of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Mass.
is so much more pleasant than clambering the ropes as a seaman; and my confidence in the skill and activity of those employed to run the vessel is so entire that I notice nothing en passant, but how smoothly she runs."
His health was good and being constantly improved by the life he was leading. His letters in old age are full of farm news and talk. Writing to Gen. John H. Cocke in regard to the University of Virginia, sending seeds of pumpkin and asparagus, he said, "If you have any sea kale to spare, I will thank you for some to replenish my bed." To Madison he wrote: "I promised your gardener some seed, which I put under separate cover."
When the question of the introduction of the study of botany was discussed for the University of Virginia, he was not caught napping. For more than twenty years, as an old man, he wrote his good old friend, Thonin, Superintendent of the Jardin des Plantes at Paris, had regularly sent him a box of seeds of such exotics as would suit the Virginia climate. "These I regularly sent the public and private gardens of the other states," he said, and these sources he knew he could draw on then for supply.
Jefferson joined horticultural societies at home and abroad, cultivated the friendship of scientists, cherished his Hepburn garden book after the manner of garden lovers today, and was often consulted as an authority. He was constantly exchanging roots and plants and cuttings. No day was too busy for him to be sending them abroad by messenger or mail, for he literally scattered seed broadcast throughout the country.
There was no son at Monticello, but the first grandson at an early age was bundled off to Philadelphia to attend lectures in botany, astronomy and anatomy, for "botany was ranked by the head of the family as the most valuable of the sciences"; and the celebrated Dr. Benjamin A. Barton, the author of the first American textbook on the subject, was chosen as instructor, because, as Mr. Jefferson explained, he had the chastest style of gardening outside of England. Of England he wrote, "The gardening in that country is the one thing in which it excels all the earth."
Money troubles that overtook him in the presidency, kept at his heels to the end, and he was brought face to face in old age with one loss after another. His large holdings of land, which originally included Elkhill on the James, the Natural Bridge tract, Monticello, Poplar Forest in Bedford county, Tufton, Lego, Pantops, Clover Fields and Shadwell, were gradually reduced. His happiness was found in the family growing up around him: Anne, Ellen, Cornelia, Virginia, Mary, Septimia, and along with Thomas Jefferson Randolph, four Randolph boys, bearing the names of James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Meriwether Lewis and George Wythe, and Francis Eppes, son of his beloved Maria, long since gone. His highest thought for the boys was an education, and land that would make farmers of them, if they so desired.
One of the granddaughters, in later years, recalled the planting of the first hyacinths and tulips at Monticello. "The roots arrived labeled each one with a fancy name. There was Marcus Aurelius, and the King of the Gold Mine, the Roman Emperor, and the Queen of the Amazons, Psyche, etc." The precious roots were committed to the earth under the grandfather's eye, with a group of happy-hearted grandchildren gathered round about him. "How eagerly we watched the first appearance of the shoots above the ground. Each root was marked with its name on a bit of stick by its side; and what joy it was for us to discover the tender green breaking through the mould, and run to grandpapa to announce that we really believed that Marcus Aurelius was coming up, or that the Queen of the Amazons was above the ground." We can see the old pantalooned philosopher dropping his book or breaking away from his writing table, to join in the general jubilee attendant on the birth of another spring. "Then when the flowers were in bloom," she continues, "and we were in ecstasies over the rich purple and crimson, or pure white, or delicate lilac or pale yellow of the blossoms, how he would sympathize with our admirations. O, those were happy days!"
"There is a fulness of time when men should go, and not occupy too long the ground to which others have a right to advance," he had said, but the establishment of the University of Virginia saved his old age from the tragedy of unemployment, and kept him active to the last. His insistence that botany be made a part of the regular course constitutes perhaps his last step forward in scientific progress, and the situation there, the lawn, the gardens back of the professors' houses, and the serpentine wall, show the gardener in him at work to the end.
His last trail did not lead through paths of peace. Two years after his death The Richmond Enquirer carried the following advertisement:
"The residence of the real estate of Thomas Jefferson, dec'd., in the county of Albemarle, comprising the mansion house of Monticello and one thousand acres of first rate land, is offered for sale on accommodating terms, and little more is expected than a fair price for the land, not estimating the value of the improvements.
"T. J. R.,
"Extor. of T. J., dec'd."
The glory and bloom of Monticello, however, was never lessened during his lifetime and he died unconscious of the amount of his involvement. Death was loath to lay its hand on Thomas Jefferson. "Mine is the next turn, and I shall meet it with good will," he had written long before it came to him, at the age of eight-three, and as he desired, on the 4th of July, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
"Why wish to linger here in mere vegetation as a solitary trunk in a desolate field, from which all its companions have disappeared?" he had asked. His grandchildren were marrying fast, greatgrand-children were filling the house. Virginia, still a member of the household, had become the wife of Nicholas P. Trist. Ellen had taken her place as wife and mother in the home of Joseph Coolidge, of Boston, whose posterity today mingle in their veins rich blood of the North and of the South, and claim descent, as does the old patriarch, lover of life and growth and beauty, friend of man, and herald of human happiness., from the original John, of Massachusetts. So ended the life of the
Daisies, wild iris, tiger lilies, gentians, and the queen's lace handkerchief were blooming in the fields of old Albemarle, the butterfly weed on the fences, and the trumpet flowers in the trees, when they buried Thomas Jefferson on a rainy day on the slope of the mountain side. Three days later the Richmond Enquirer announced under heavy lines of black that Thomas Jefferson was no more.
Mrs. Bankhead's death preceded his by a few months. Previously he had written her from Monticello:
". . . Nothing new has happened in our neighborhood since you left us. The houses and the trees stand where they did; the flowers come forth like the belles of the day, have their short reign of beauty and splendor, and retire like them to the more interesting office of reproducing their like. The hyacinths and tulips are off the stage; the irises are giving place to the Bella-donna, as these will to the tuberoses, as your mama has done to you, my dear Anne, as you will do to the sisters of little John, and as I shall soon and cheerfully do to you all, in wishing you a long, long good night."