Land & Conservation

Peter Hatch: Charlottesville, Virginia

Jefferson’s Gardener

Photo: Patricia Lyons

Hatch on the grounds of Monticello.

When Peter Hatch arrived at Monticello, the estate’s gardens were pretty, sure, but the rows of zinnias, roses, and peonies weren’t anything like the gardens under Jefferson’s astute stewardship. That would change. Monticello’s director of gardens and grounds and the author of the new book “A Rich Spot of Earth,” Hatch first dirtied his spade in the eighteenth-century Moravian gardens at Old Salem, an experience that stirred in him a love of garden and heirloom plant preservation. “Gardens,” he says, “are marvelous repositories of cultural history—tangible links to the past that define who we are as much as old buildings do.”

Over three decades, Hatch has meticulously restored Jefferson’s vision, including an orchard, a 1,000-foot-long terraced vegetable garden, and an 18-acre forest called the Grove. Thanks to his scholarship, we now know Jefferson the gardener, which is to say Jefferson the man: a champion of the Enlightenment, who painstakingly recorded his planting successes and failures; a great experimenter, claiming that “the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to it’s [sic] culture”; and a down-to-earth family
man and neighbor. Carving out a sunny, south-facing hillside, Jefferson greatly expanded the definition of the American
kitchen garden, planting crowder peas, black-eyed peas, peanuts, tomatoes, and other foods that have become synonymous with the South. “Living in the shadow of Thomas Jefferson is fascinating,” Hatch says. “To capture Jefferson, you can dig a hole and dig and dig forever.”