THOMAS Jefferson "often thought" that if heaven had consulted him in the matter, his chosen "position and calling" would have been that of the market gardener.
Cynics will remind us that Marie Antoinette always wanted to be a milkmaid, too.
But Jefferson was only halfway exaggerating; he had supreme sympathy for his orchard and vegetable garden and these now are being restored at Monticello, his mountain-top farm at Charlottesville.
During his lifetime he gave at least as much thought to his food gardens as to the other things for which he is better remembered, such as the establishment of the American republic, the University of Virginia, the American Philosophical Society and the automatic doors of his drawing room, and when it comes to restoration projects, it is probable that Jefferson himself would have restored the orchard at Monticello before the house.
A recent visit to Charlottesville showed me work is far advanced, and it is expected that by June the visitor to this preeminent American shrine will be able to see for himself how passionate Jefferson was about his food garden.
Bill Beiswanger, the architectural historian down there, introduced me to archeologist William Kelso and to Monticello's gardening superintendent, Peter Hatch.
Jefferson probably would have gone broke if God had made him a market gardener, but then he went broke anyway. He undertook too many obligations and did not back out on any of them, so he died leaving nothing more than the most glittering name in the history of the United States.
In his home garden he grew 150 varieties of fruit tree, though not all at once. His orchard contained 300. He left notes or planting plans for 900 trees about the place.
Even allowing for about 100 people on his several farms, one questions the need of 300 fruit trees. Jefferson used some of the peaches to feed hogs, and some of them for firewood (thus anticipating the 20th-century gardener's gradual perception that this is a fine use for many home-garden fruit trees, especially if they are not meticulously cared for.
He started out spacing his trees either 25 by 40 feet, or 20 by 25 feet. Perhaps the leading authority of the day on such matters, Bernard McMahon, recommended 50 by 50 feet for apples and pears; cherries and plums at 40 by 40 or 30 by 30; and peaches at 25 by 25 or 35 by 35 feet. "And at still greater distances if you are not limited" for space.
Jefferson had a great deal of space. Still, like virtually every American gardener (as distinct from a farmer) Jefferson thought the trees needed not nearly that much space.
He did follow the directions of leading authorities, at least at first, by keeping the apples all together, the peaches all together, and so on. But by 1811 the trees were randomly distributed throughout the orchard.
My own guess is that Jefferson simply liked seeing them bloom throughout the orchard, rather than a clot of peach-blossom in one place only.
But before speaking further of the or-See EARTHMAN, Page 2, Col. 5 Gardening Hints From Monticello Restoration of Monticello's gardens along Mulberry Walk; photo courtesy Thomas Jefferson Memorial Fund. EARTHMAN, From Page 1 chard, it should be said that the entire food garden of eight acres or so lies on a slope facing south, a few hundred feet below the house. The whole thing was bordered, at the top, by a wide walk, called the Mulberry Walk, though Jefferson never experimented with silk worms, I was told (the usual reason for growing mulberries, since the worms eat those leaves).
Heading down the hill from this great walk, and parallel to the walk, was a solid wood paling 10 feet high. The boards presumably did not touch, but were close enough together that even an infant rabbit could not get through.
Then there is a terrace for vegetables, then a drop of few feet to the orchard, which is not terraced (except that work with the plow may have made slight terraces for the rows of trees) but falls gently to the south.
The vegetable terrace was 1,000 feet long. It will be somewhat less than that, restored, because the last 200 feet has become a parking lot for cars. There was a fine stone wall holding up the terrace. Its boulders range from the size of cantaloupes up to the size of small wheelbarrows. They are nicely fitted but not mortared, and over the years the red Albemarle clay has worked in among them and the freezing and thawing have caused the wall to come apart. Also, at one point, many loads off the wall rocks were moved elsewhere on the estate (and have been simply moved back, to take their place in the wall once more).
It is hard to say how much such projects cost, since it depends on how you compute the bill. I was told that $30,000 is somewhere in the ball park for the cost of the wall, and informed that the entire cost of the garden and orchard restoration is met by revenues accumulated by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which collects $3 admission fees to the house.
Beiswanger told me that Jefferson loved to read in a little garden temple perched at the edge of a terrace, commanding the charming view down the sloping orchard, and of course, to the distant mountains.
It has turned out that when Jefferson graded the mountain top, to get a flat table to build the house and flower garden on, he dumped the dirt on this south slope.
Thus the upper part of the vegetable terrace is filled land. When Jefferson built his little garden temple (12 1/2 feet square with one arch on each side, about 10 feet high not counting the pyramid roof surrounded at its bottom by a Chinese trelliswork railing of wood) it rested on earth that was not only filled, but filled on a slope.
The foundations were all right for firm hard land, but not enough for this site. The foundations simply slid down the hill. In rebuilding it, this will be avoided by sinking a reinforced concrete shaft at least 10 feet deep, maybe more, and this shaft flares out to a flat platform top, very like a modern pedestal table, and it is on this flat top that the little temple will rest. Thus, the whole hill can start sliding down in the future, it will make no difference, since the temple foundations will be independent of the filled land.
Beiswanger explained this and many other ingenious things, all of them suggestive of the scholarly research that has gone into the restoration.
Kelso, a veteran of the archeological work at Carter's Grove, the great Burwell plantation near Williamsburg, answered my question why he had not used infra-red photography for information on planting sites in the orchard.
He not only had already used it, but at the ideal time of the year. That photography showed two nice drainage fields, but no planting sites. He solved the matter by computing (from Jefferson's abundant notes--Jefferson left more notes on more subjects than seems credible) the location of an old walk, then an old gate, then the number of feet down to the terrace, then down to the orchard slope, then so many feet this way and that way.
Through the high-tech methodology of getting out there with a spade, he soon discovered his first earth stain, left by the old orchard tree. Then, following Jefferson's measurements, he went such-and-such feet and (as advertised by Jefferson) sure enough there was the next one. And so on. Kelso has uncovered by this means 70 tree sites, enough to assure himself that Jefferson did indeed follow the spacing he mentions in his garden notes. Thus there is no problem whatever replanting the trees where Jefferson originally planted them.
Peter Hatch, for his part, has been energetic in locating old varieties of orchard trees. Many old-time apples are still available from American nurseries, but old peaches are harder to come by.
He would give a pretty to find the "Breast of Venus" peach, for instance. It's an old Italian variety he has not been able to round up thus far in Italy. I suggested we go together to Italy to find it. It might take years, of course.
He also cannot locate the "Taliaferro" apple. Jefferson mentions it many times in his notes. I suggested he get in touch with the Taliaferros, but Hatch says there are so many of them he'd never get to the end. All the same, once the word is out, it seems to me likely that some ancient custodian of the Virginian past will turn up with it. Or, equally likely, some bright young student at school.
My own memory of this apple (something I read somewhere) was that it was a cider apple, sometimes grown from seed and not grafted, and I wonder if a Taliaferro apple came to mean any apple raised from seed for the production of cider.
There is also the matter that Jefferson collected new sorts of fruits from friends. Andrew Jackson's peaches, for example, turn up in Jefferson's notes. Jefferson was forever planting peach seeds. He noticed (as many an experimental modern gardener has) that quite excellent peaches often turn up from seedling trees, which is rarely the case with other fruits.
Hatch estimates that about 45 percent of the actual varieties of trees in the old orchard are still available, and 15 percent of the original vegetable varieties. Hatch has arranged to import budwood from Europe for many of the old varieties now missing in America.
It is impossible, of course, to tell what is meant when Jefferson planted peas as early as Feb. 20 (in Washington peas are commonly planted March 15).
Jefferson grew his beans year after year in the same place. You might think he would have practiced stricter rotation, but it evidently worked all right for him. He also once planted melons, cucumbers and squash all together, with what awful results (melons are foul if their blossoms are impregnated by pollen from gourds) he did not bother to leave us a record of.
He grew odd vegetables. He was a sure-fire sucker for a white broccoli or a cucumber four feet long.
As a market gardener or a professional orchardist, the way to success lies in finding a limited number of fruits that flourish with you, and in concentrating intensively on them, avoiding waste motion and waste expense, and growing enough to fill a large market demand in the proper season. It does not do to grow (as Jefferson did) 150 kinds of fruit in one small orchard.
The trees are not yet planted. The crew of specialists will be greatly assisted, I imagine, by Peter Hatch's Pearl and Rainbow. Pearl came from the dog pound and tends to think everybody but Hatch is a bank robber. Rainbow is a multicolored collie who reckons everybody is a long-lost friend. Between them, it is rather an experience to go round Monticello with Peter Hatch.
Apparently in Jefferson's Day, one man, full-time, cared for the vegetables and orchard, though from time to time a whole crew would be used for a short while.
Jefferson kept the garden locked. It does not seem likely that out in the middle of nowhere he would have any great problem from thieves, but he may very well have been thinking of his precious peas and nasturtiums (he apparently was a great one for nasturtiums in the vegetable garden) and there were probably plenty of Pearls and Rainbows about (may the day never come when there is any shortage of them).