Author Signed Copies of “The Invention of Nature”


Andrea Wulf, the acclaimed author of Founding Gardeners, reveals the forgotten life of Alexander von Humboldt, the visionary German naturalist whose ideas changed the way we see the natural world-and in the process created modern environmentalism. Von Humboldt (1769-1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. In North America, his name still graces four counties, thirteen towns, a river, parks, bays, lakes and mountains.

In 1804, at the end of a five year expedition in Central and South America, von Humboldt visited Washington, D.C., specifically to meet President Thomas Jefferson. President Jefferson was thrilled ot welcome Humboldt, and was eager to hear all about the lands south of the newly-acquired Louisiana Purchase. These meetings were the start of a 21-year friendship and correspondence on topics including science, politics and nature.

andreawulfANDREA WULF was born in India and moved to Germany as a child. She lives in London, where she trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art. She is the author of Chasing Venus, Founding Gardeners and The Brother Gardeners. She has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.






Snail Flower, “the most beautiful bean in the world”


Heirloom flowers are cultivating a devoted following. This spring planting season, choose tried-and-true historic plants over mass-market plants like Jefferson’s beloved Caracalla Bean Vine (aka Snail Flower) just featured in The Wall Street Journal article “A Guide to Planting Heirloom Flowers-With Links to Thomas Jefferson and More.” Read the article >>

snail-flower-vigna-caracalla-4In 1792, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Benjamin Hawkins, “The most beautiful bean in the world is the caracalla bean which, though in England a greenhouse plant, will grow in the open air in Virginia and Carolina.” Imported from tropical South America, it was found in American gardens by the 1830s, when Robert Buist wrote in The American Flower Garden Directory, “Snail-Flower is a very curious blooming plant, with flowers … all spirally twisted, in great profusion when the plant is grown well.” This spectacular flower was popular in florists’ corsages by the late 19th-century.

The Snail Flower ships in late April, so order yours today! Shop our entire collection of hard-to-find plants now >>

Shop Spring 2016 Plants Now

Monticello Seed Sampler Mix Up

This little guy is coming in a weird angle.

During the Heritage Harvest Festival last year I purchased the Monticello Herb Sampler seed pack. This collection of ten herbs included oregano, lavender, basil, mint, dill, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

It was amidst the dreary frozen days of February that I began to sprout my tiny collection in hopes that new life could thaw some of the ice weighing me down. I selected 10 petite pots and with the help of my girlfriend, painted unique designs for each one. I carefully selected the seeds and kept the packets in the same order as the pots so I could easily label the new plants after they were all potted.

However, my ever so graceful cat decided he would help too, knocking all of the seed packets onto the floor and breaking one of the pots…

This survivor managed to live through the fall and is taking to its emergency home nicely.

With the shattered fragments of clay swept away, and the soil moved to an emergency jam container, I sat and tried to remember which seeds I had put where. I thought about digging them up, but some of the seeds are so impossibly small, I knew I would never be able to find them.  Down, but not out I collected the jars and placed them my southern window and resolved to wait for the sprouts to come. After a couple of weeks, the sprouts have sprung up despite the snow outside, though as of now I am still at a loss as to what they are. It looks like what I should have purchased was this.


These guys look like fine sprouts, but its too early to tell what they are.



I am almost certain that this is basil. By far the healthiest plant


A little slow out of the gate, but progress is progress.

Not sure what these could be, but I am thinking lavender.
Seems to like the sun and is a fast grower.





One baby sprout just barely poking its head out.







No signs of life yet.














Alex Bryant is a graduate of the University of Virginia with dual degrees in biology in music. He started at Monticello as an intern and now works as the Assistant Coordinator of Monticello’s Heritage Harvest Festival. 

If you would like to grow your own garden with historic seeds from Monticello, here are some helpful links to get you started.


Somewhere to keep all of those precious seeds.


A safe place to begin your garden


Handy tool to help space out seeds and plants.



Monticello Favorite: Butterfly Weed

A Colorful & Lively Addition to a Summer Garden!


The Shop at Monticello’s featured plant, Asclepias tuberosa, commonly known as Butterfly Weed, is currently in full bloom in the beautiful gardens at Monticello. Don’t let the name fool you! This plant’s vibrant orange and red coloring, as well its attraction to Monarch Butterflies and other pollinators, add a splash of color and life to any garden.

This lively plant requires very little maintenance. Locals can attest to the unpredictable nature of Virginia’s climate, and the difficulty of finding plants that can survive such varying conditions. Butterfly Weed is deer resistant and drought tolerant, which makes it a perfect addition to a summer garden. It has a long-lasting summer bloom and serves as a great cut flower. The rich orange and red flowers can be enjoyed outdoors and indoors during even the hottest months of the year.

Butterfly Weed is historic by nature, not only because of its Virginia roots, but thanks to its direct connection to Jefferson. Jefferson cites this native wildflower, under the name Pleurisy Root in Notes on the State of Virginia.


Interested in starting a summer garden or adding the finishing touches to an existing garden? Butterfly Weed should be planted in a sunny and well drained area, and pairs well with Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides), Yellow Coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa), Long-leaved Speedwell (Veronica longifolia), and Anise-scented Goldenrod (Solidago odorata).

Butterfly Weed is a great plant to add life, vibrancy, and bit of history to any garden! This plant is available to purchase at The Shop at Monticello in the Garden Center. The 6” flower pot costs $7.95.

To learn more about Butterfly Weed visit!


In Bloom at Monticello: Scarlet Pentapetes

Scarlet MallowIf you have visited Monticello recently, you may have enjoyed the vibrant Scarlet Pentapetes that has been flowering near by the winding walk. Jefferson sowed seed of this tender annual along his flower border in 1811, calling it “Scarlet Mallow.”  He likely received seed from Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon, who noted the flower in his book, The American Gardener’s Calendar, 1806.

Scarlet Pentapetes (Pentapetes phoenicea), a member of the chocolate family, is rarely cultivated in America. This unusual plant of the Old World Tropics blossoms with rich scarlet, mallow like blooms that open at noon and close at dawn, accented by olive green foliage with serrated edges. Growing between three to five feet, the Scarlet Pentapetes prefers full sun to light shade and well-drained garden loam.

The Shop at Monticello offers seeds that are a representation of the species Scarlet Pentapetes with its tropical red blossom.  Direct sow or transplant to a sunny location after the last frost and they will grow up to five feet. It makes a handsome accent plant in the garden.Peggy

Peggy Cornett, Curator of Plants, has worked at Monticello since 1983. She graduated from The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (English and botany) and the Longwood Graduate Program at the University of Delaware. Peggy is a writer, published author, and frequent lecturer specializing in the history of gardens and plants. She edits Magnolia, the publication of the Southern Garden History Society.

Staff Pick: Calendula

monticellostore_2271_38036677Calendula, or Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis), is a great plant in both seed and flower. TJ sowed “Marygold,” an old name for Calendula, on April 2, 1767, at Shadwell. The seeds have a rather interesting shape: they resemble cat’s claws, according to a longtime Monticello groundskeeper. Showing a preference for cooler temperatures, the cheery yellow flowers of the annual Calendula brighten up the spring and fall garden. As a bonus, the flower petals are edible and make a lovely addition to salads. Calendula’s medicinal properties have been recognized for centuries, and the flowers were once used to dye food and fabrics yellow. It can also be used to make a healing salve.

calendulaofficinalisLDThe Shop at Monticello offers seeds that are a representation of the species or wild type of Calendula with its single yellow and orange flowers. Plant the seeds in a sunny or partially-shaded site in the early spring to achieve a showy display before the hot temperatures of summer. Thin seedlings so they are six to twelve inches apart. There are approximately 20-30 seeds per pack. You can also enjoy Calendula in Petal and Vine Botanical Wax Sachets or plant the seeds as part of the Monticello Children’s Garden Kit.

lily-fox-bruguiereLily Fox-Brugiere is the Garden and Outreach Coordinator for The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants. The CHP, established at Monticello in 1987, collects, preserves, and distributes historic plant varieties and strives to promote greater appreciation for the origins and evolution of garden plants. The program centers on  Jefferson’s horticultural interests and the plants he grew at Monticello, but covers the broad history of plants cultivated in America by including varieties documented through the nineteenth century, and choice North American plants, a group of special interest to Jefferson himself.


Caring for Heirloom Roses

Lily Fox-Bruguiere, Coordinator at the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, shares information on how to care for roses after their peak bloom time.

There are many reasons to prune your roses, but how and when you prune them depends on whether the plant is a single or repeat bloomer. Single bloomers flower on old wood, so you shouldn’t prune them until after they have bloomed.

The Center for Historic Plants, established at Monticello in 1987, collects, preserves, and distributes historic plant varieties and strives to promote greater appreciation for the origins and evolution of garden plants. The CHP has a beautiful rose garden and rose border on site at Tufton Farm. The Rose Border includes varieties first identified as early as the 1400s and the Léonie Bell Rose Garden, established in memory of rose enthusiast and author Léonie Bell, features over 30 noisette roses.


Soothe Your Senses with this Heirloom Herb

lavandula_stoechasThomas Jefferson grew lavender at Monticello. His records show it listed  for planting in the kitchen garden as early as 1794. Valued for its small purple flowers as well as for its fragrant gray leaves, lavender has been grown and used in Europe since at least the twelfth century. At Monticello, the herb was made into soaps and oils for bathing fragrances and used in medicinal treatments.  Today, English Lavender flowers brighten Monticello’s West Lawn and Vegetable gardens with rich hues of purple and emerald. Infused with aromatic oils, lavender has been a popular household herb for centuries. It is highly regarded for its ability to nourish and cleanse skin, while its sweet, floral aroma soothes the senses. The Monticello Shop offers a variety of lavender bed & bath products that will transform your home into a haven of calm serenity.

Rejuvenate Your Senses


The Lavender Spa Trio is a mini at-home spa treat. The trio features lavender-peppermint foot balm, lavender hand creme with mango seed butter, and lavender sea salt bath crystals. This relaxing gift is perfect for Mother’s Day (or anytime)!

The Monticello Lavender Bath Set facilitates ultimate relaxation guests and housemates. The boxed set includes three lavender soaps milled in the style of 18th century toiletries, a container of lavender talcum powder, and a soft powder puff. A beautiful gift or personal indulgence.

purple flowers


Revitalize Your Home

  lavender-sachets-by-the-yard-203[1]drawer liners[1]

Lavender sachets keep clothes smelling beautifully fresh while repelling moths and protecting natural fibers. Our Lavender Sachets feature a full yard of dried lavender seeds wrapped in lilac organza. Perfect for hanging in the closet or cutting apart to place inside drawers. The French Stamp Sachet Trio features three lavender sachets decorated with old French stamp motifs and are convenient for placing inside dresser compartment.

For long-lasting freshness, hang Lavender Hanger Covers in your closet. The Hanger Covers are filled with dried lavender and repel moths and other insects. Lavender Drawer Liners are perfect for lining dresser drawers, linen closets, and storage boxes. Each sheet retains its lavender qualities for a long, long time, leaving you relaxed and worry-free!

Heirloom Okra and True Virginia Gumbo

In Notes on the State of Virginia, begun in 1781, Thomas Jefferson recorded that the gardens of his native state “yield musk melons, water melons, tomatoes, okra, pomegranates, figs, and the esculent plants of Europe.” It wasn’t until 1809, however, that Jefferson began to plant okra on an annual basis at Monticello.

Jefferson experimented with this African native. He generally planted okra in late March or early April. In 1817, for instance, he noted its planting in Monticello’s Vegetable Garden on April 2 and its arrival at table on July 28, over sixteen weeks later. In 1813, Jefferson edged his “square,” or plot of tomatoes with okra – a rather unusual combination of plant textures.











When Southern Living’s “Grumpy Gardener” Steve Bender visited Monticello, he was delighted to see Cow’s Horn Okra, an heirloom variety with distinctive curved fruits, still growing in the Vegetable Garden today. Bender says okra is the “quintessential southern vegetable” and that Jefferson popularized many of today’s culinary southern staples.

okraA member of the mallow family, okra is both tasty and beautiful with large, handsome yellow flowers. The young fruiting pods were often combined with tomatoes for soups in Jefferson family recipes. Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, left a recipe for okra soup, in effect “gumbo,” marking the early Africanization of the cooking of Virginia gentry. Gumbo works as a compelling metaphor for Monticello’s garden:  a rich blend of American native vegetables grown by American Indians like lima beans and cymlins mixed with South and Central American discoveries adapted by both northern (potatoes) and southern (tomatoes) Europeans, and tied together by an African plant, okra.

The gumbo recipe below was attributed to Martha Randolph in her daughter Virginia Randolph Trist’s manuscript and edited for modern use by Damon Lee Fowler in Dining at Monticello. The recipe is derived from classic African “long-pot” cooking and served with rice as per West African tradition. For authenticity, try this soup with fresh okra, truly vine-ripened tomatoes, and an all-natural, grain-fed chicken weighing no more than three pounds.

Okra Soup

Serves 18 

4 quarts water

1 pound young okra (each 2 to 3 inches long), trimmed and slice

1 large white onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cups fresh lima beans, or 1 package (10 ounces) frozen lima beans, thawed


  whole black pepper in a pepper mill

1 chicken (3 ½ pounds), cut up as for frying, setting aside the back and neck for another use

4 ounces salt pork, sliced about ¼ inch think and blanched

2 large sprigs each fresh parsley and thyme, tied together in a bundle with kitchen twine

1 pound (about 3 medium) pattypan or yellow summer squash, trimmed and diced

5 medium tomatoes, blanced, peeled, cored, and diced (about 2 cups)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 rounded tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

3 cups cooked white rice

  1. Bring the water to a simmer in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Stir in the okra and onion and return to a simmer. Reduce the heat as low as possible and cook at a bare simmer for 1 hour. Add the lima beans and simmer for another 30 minutes, or until the beans are just tender.
  2. Season liberally with salt and a few grindings of pepper and add the chicken, salt pork, herb bundle, and squash. Raise the heat briefly to return to a simmer, lower it once more, and cook at a bare simmer until the chicken is fully cooked, about 1 hour. Add the tomatoes and continue simmering for another hour. Remove from the heat and discard the salt pork and herb bundle. The soup can be made ahead and cooled, covered, and refrigerated. When chilled (about 6 hours or overnight), remove and discard any fat that surfaces. Otherwise, let it cool until all the fat settles to the top, and skim it off.
  3. When ready to serve the soup, return it to a simmer over medium heat, Knead together the butter and flour in a small bowl and stir it into the soup, simmering until lightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Serve it in warmed bowls with a whole piece of chicken in each bowl and about ¼ cup of white rice spooned into the center of each serving.

Jefferson and Apples

Of the many fruit species Thomas Jefferson cultivated in his Monticello gardens, his collection of apple trees were one of his most consistently successful crops. Peter J. Hatch,  the Director of Monticello Gardens and Grounds for over 34 years, said, “The apple was a standard, every-day fruit at Monticello…Jefferson’s cultivation of the apple was exceptionally discriminating as he concentrated on only four varieties.” Jefferson’s eight-acre Fruit Garden, called the “Fruitery” in Jefferson’s Memorandum notes, yielded a wide variety of fruit trees and special fruit plants. Included within the Fruitery was the North Orchard, a grove of about two hundred apple and peach trees. These trees were propagated from seed, which often resulted in interesting variations that remained unnamed and were unique to Jefferson’s garden.

With Jefferson’s favorite apple trees cultivated by the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants and featured at The Shop at Monticello, you can plant your own Fruitery. Each hardy variety produces a unique and delicious fruit that you can enjoy year after year.

Roxbury Russet

apple_roxburyrussetDescription: Vintage variety. Semi-dwarf, deciduous fruit tree. Grows 10 to 12 feet high. Extremely productive variety, stores well through the winter.

Taste: The fruit has a greenish skin and a crisp, tart taste which ripens in early fall. Great for eating fresh, cooking, homemade cider and juice.

History: Jefferson planted several “Roxbury Russet” trees in Monticello’s South Orchard in 1778, referring to them as “russetings” because of the distinctive flaking russets on the skin of the fruit. These were one of the more popular apple varieties in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Albemarle Pippin

albemarle-pippin-apple-tree-malus-cv-3[1]Description: Heirloom variety. Limited distribution in United States. Semi-dwarf, deciduous fruit tree. Grows 1o to 12 feet high. Stores well during cold months in a cool cellar or refrigerator.

Taste: The fruit flesh is greenish-white, juicy, crisp, tart, and with a fine aroma. Considered one of the best keeping apples.

History: The “Albemarle Pippin” was one of Jefferson’s two favorite table apples. He planted as many as 50 Albemarle Pippins in the Monticello Fruitery between 1769 and 1814. Benjamin Franklin reputedly introduced the variety into England as an example of superior American fruit.

Esopus Spitzenburg

esopus_spitzenburgDescription: Semi-dwarf, deciduous fruit tree. Grows 12 to 15 feet high. Bears handsome red apples which ripen in late autumn.

Taste: Fruit features a firm, juicy yellow flesh with a delicious, brisk, rich flavor. Particularly excellent for baking pies.

History: The “Esopus Spitzenburg” was Jefferson’s other favorite apple variety. He planted 32 of these trees in the Monticello Fruitery between 1807 and 1812. This apple variety is still considered one of the world’s finest today.

Hewes Crab

Hewes' Crab or VaCrabApple.sjDescription: Hardy fruit tree that can be grown as an ornamental. Grows to eight feet. Yields small rounded fruits of a dull red streaked with green, which ripen in early autumn.

Taste: Fruit produces a delicious cinnamon-flavored cider that is both sugary and pungent. Considered the finest cider apple by apple connoisseurs.

History: This was the most common fruit variety grown in eighteenth-century Virginia. Jefferson planted his entire North Orchard exclusively with this variety from which several batches of homemade cider were made over the years.


Made at Monticello

Even if you don’t grow your own, you can still bring ‘apples’ to your table! Monticello Handcrafted Apple Spoons are created from branches pruned from apple trees in Monticello’s Orchard. The spoons are beautiful and functional, perfect for serving salad or a delicious fruit cobbler dessert.

Our collection of fruit butters are the perfect addition to a breakfast or lunch spread. Wonderful on biscuits, toast, and sandwiches, Monticello’s Apple Butter, Peach Butter, and Strawberry Butter are staff favorites. Our fruit butters contain no preservatives and are truly versatile spreads.

Monticello kitchen records reveal that apple cider was a staple beverage at most meals. Jefferson’s extensive apple orchards were vital to the production of his homemade cider. The non-alcoholic Monticello Sparkling Cider is reminiscent of the third president’s preferred beverage.

For more information on Jefferson and apples, check out these staff favorites:

Apples of North America is brimming with beautiful portraits of heirloom and modern apples of merit, each accompanied by distinguishing characteristics and common uses. As the view broadens to the orchard, you will find information on planting, pruning, grafting, and more. The exploration of the apple culminates with an overview of the fruit’s transformative capabilities when pressed, fermented, cooked, or dried.

The Fruits and Fruit Trees of Monticello details Jefferson’s extensive Fruitery and orchards. Jefferson cultivated over 170 kinds of temperate fruits; this book explores his methods and research that helped him become a successful fruit farmer.

The Best Apples to Buy and Grow provides plenty of information on growing and cultivating apples in your backyard, as well as tips on purchasing and cooking with apples. It’s handy to take along when visiting farmer’s markets and roadside stands, and will help buyers choose from the bounty of treasured heirloom breeds and tasty new types.