Feasting on freshness

Symposium offers chance to learn, eat

Photo provided by Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello -- Peter Hatch, former director of gardens and grounds at Monticello, will talk about Thomas Jefferson the gardener at Hilltop Arboretum's annual symposium in the LSU Design Building Auditorium Jan. 19.
Photo provided by Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello -- Peter Hatch, former director of gardens and grounds at Monticello, will talk about Thomas Jefferson the gardener at Hilltop Arboretum's annual symposium in the LSU Design Building Auditorium Jan. 19.

Along with the speakers at Hilltop’s 2013 Symposium and Edible Garden Tour, the arboretum’s executive director Peggy Davis likes the idea of talking about gardens in the morning and eating from them that afternoon.

The edible garden tour follows the talks. On the tour are the All-America Selections Display Garden at the Burden Center, 4560 Essen Lane; Beauregarden, 527 North Blvd.; BREC’s Magnolia Mound Plantation gardens, 2161 Nicholson Drive; and the LSU Lab School Cub Vegetable Garden, 45 Dalrymple Drive.

“I wanted to partner with these organizations that have gardens we can learn from,” Davis said. “This is a great way to showcase these gardens for people who come to the symposium.”

Landscape architect Suzanne Turner, editor of “The Garden Diary of Martha Turnbull, Mistress of Rosedown Plantation,” and Jeff Kuehny, LSU AgCenter Burden Center resident director, join Peter J. Hatch, author of “A Rich Spot of Earth: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello” for talks from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Jan. 19 at the LSU Design Building Auditorium in Baton Rouge.

Hatch retired this summer after 35 years as director of gardens and grounds at Monticello outside Charlottesville, Va. He’s the author of “The Gardens of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello” and “The Fruits and Fruit Trees of Monticello”. He revised and enlarged “Thomas Jefferson’s Flower Garden at Monticello” by Edwin M. Betts and Hazlehurst Bolton Perkins.

Turner, professor emerita of landscape architecture at LSU, will talk about Martha Turnbull who kept a garden diary between 1836 and 1894. Martha and husband Daniel Turnbull lived at Rosedown which is north of St. Francisville.

In a review of Turner’s book in the Southern Garden History Society’s “Magnolia,” Hatch says Turnbull, whom Turner called “Every Gardener,” was “remarkable, first and foremost, for her unflagging dedication to documenting the technical, horticultural aspects of her gardening pursuits.”

Turnbull wrote in her diary about burning strawberry beds, budding camellias, blanching celery, forking asparagus and sowing eggplant seed in hotbeds, Hatch wrote.

Turnbull began her journal 10 years after Jefferson’s death. America’s third president (1801-1809), Jefferson would have appreciated Turnbull’s notes on the state of vegetable gardening and crops, especially the implements used in pruning, working the soil and watering.

The two 19th century gardeners would have had no trouble understanding LSU AgCenter horticulturist Kuehny’s talk, “Trinity Gardens: Gardening for the Eyes, Stomach and Spirit.”

“Few things tell us more about Jefferson than his adventures in gardening,” Hatch said. “You see the head and the heart, a personal dialogue he had while living in Paris, reason and science versus passion and his personal life.”

“He used plants and gardens as a way to relate to friends and neighbors, a union of gardening and sociability,” Hatch said.

The son of a surveyor and someone who loved Euclidian math, Jefferson enjoyed the kinds of things gardeners do. He once counted the number of peas in a quart jar to see how many rows he could plant.

Jefferson loved peas and competed with other gardeners to see who could harvest the season’s first crop of peas.

“He was a ‘seedy missionary,’ ” Hatch said. “Friends and neighbors got the seed.”

It’s hard to say Jefferson was the first to grow tomatoes and eggplants in a home American garden, Hatch said, “but he speeded along the acceptance of tomatoes and eggplants.”

The real genius of Jefferson’s vegetable garden at Monticello, Hatch said, is the garden’s microclimate carved out of a south-facing hillside.

The heirloom seed Hatch used to recreate Jefferson’s vegetable garden came from U.S. and European seed exchanges and seed banks.

“It’s documented that over his life Jefferson experimented with 330 varieties of vegetables,” Hatch said. “Of the 330, we might have 10 or 12 percent” at Monticello.

Jefferson wrote a lot about the plants that didn’t work in his garden.

“No gardener failed as much or at least wrote about it as much,” Hatch said. “If he failed 99 times to succeed once, he felt it was worth it.”

As president, Jefferson kept a chart showing when vegetables showed up at a particular farmer’s market in Washington and the date they were last available that season. He wasn’t a strict vegetarian, but he said he ate meat only as a “condiment.”

Foreign embassies in Washington competed to see who could give the president the most unusual seed.

“He’d get the seed and pass it on to gardeners,” Hatch said.

When Jefferson was 83, Hatch said, he read about 5-foot-long cucumbers in Cleveland. Jefferson wrote to the governor of Ohio who had seed from the cucumbers sent to him.