This morning is pretty much like the morning that Jeff and I visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. It was grey, it was cold and it was rainy. The sun wasn’t out making it feel colder than it was. But even in the grey, gloomy mist, Monticello shone brightly, surrounded by the beauty of the blooming flowers around her.
Best known as the author of the Declaration of Independence, our third President was also a historian, philosopher, and plantation owner who served his country as a public official for more than five decades. Thomas Jefferson was also the author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and founder of the University of Virginia.
Son of Peter Jefferson and Jane Randolph, he inherited a sizeable estate from his father and at the age of 26, began building Monticello. Just three years later he married Martha Wayles Skelton. They had six children with only two surviving to adulthood. Sadly they only had 10 years together when she died. Jefferson never remarried and continued to maintain Monticello as his home for the rest of his life. He was always expanding and changing it. He also inherited slaves from his father and father-in-law and owned about 200 slaves, about half of whom were under the age of 16.
Jefferson spent his adult life in public service whether as a lawyer, Governor of Virginia from 1779 go 1781, Trade Commissioner in France (1784) and then as Benjamin Franklin’s successor as minister, and Secretary of State under George Washington in 1790 and after a loss in the presidential race against John Adams, becomes Vice President in 1796. A two-term President, Jefferson defeated John Adams just four years later to become President of the United States in 1780. After his friend, James Madison, succeeds him as President in 1809, Jefferson lives the remaining 17 years of his life at Monticello. It was during this time he sold his books to begin the Library of Congress collection and founded the University of Virginia at the age of 76. He led the legislative campaign for its charter, secured the location, designed the buildings and planned the curriculum and also served as the first rector.
Jefferson dies at the age of 83 on July 4, 1826, just hours before his friend, John Adams and also on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson’s beloved Monticello sits nestled in the mountaintop hills southeast of Charlottesville, Virginia, just down the road from the home of his friend, President James Madison. Open every day of the year except Christmas Day, Monticello’s hours gives you a choice of when you want to visit her. We chose to visit in the early Spring month of April and while on our honeymoon several years ago.
Construction of Monticello began in 1769 and the original design had fourteen rooms in the home which included the six in the cellar, five on the first floor and three on the second. In 1796, Jefferson began work on a new design for remodeling and enlarging the house and was completed by 1809. There are not a total of 43 rooms in the entire structure which includes 33 in the house itself and 4 in the Pavilions and 6 under the South Terrace.
The ride on the bus from the Visitor’s Center to the house atop the hill is impressive, even in the rain! Of course, the excitement was building for me as I’d never been to Monticello. No photography is allowed inside the house, so we decided to walk the grounds first before going on the tour. All the photography and video you want to take is allowed on the grounds as long as it’s for personal use.
Tulips, pansies and bluebells line the walkways in the West Lawn garden. I saw varieties there that, for me, had only existed in books prior to our visit. Needless to say, I wanted pictures of them all!
Deep oranges, yellows, reds and whites and many more colors as well as other flowers can be found all over the grounds. Lilac bushes, pansies…this is a flower gardener’s dream!
We loved the rain drops on the flowers and tired to capture them on camera as beautiful as they were in person.
Pansies are another one of my favorite flowers.
Jefferson used the grounds of Monticello as a botanical laboratory utilizing not only the ornamental but also useful plants from all over the world. These flower gardens were not cared for by professionals but by his daughters and granddaughters and sometimes an elderly slave.
I have always loved the reds and yellows of tulips, but the bi-colored ones hold a really special place for me.
This is the fish pond where Jefferson’s cook would “catch” the fish for dinner. Thus allowing them to have fresh fish at their meals.
About one-third of the windows are original to the house. They are nice, big and allow a lot of sunlight into the rooms. And they are absolutely beautiful from the outside!
From it’s beginning in 1770, the vegetable garden evolved over many years. This 1,000-foot-long terrace was literally cut from the side of the mountain by slave labor and is supported by a massive rock wall. At the half-way point is the infamous garden pavilion with its double sash windows. This was used by Jefferson as a quiet retreat in the evenings. Reportedly blown down in a violent storm in the late 1820s, the pavilion was reconstructed in 1984 through the use of Jefferson’s notes and archeological excavations.
Jefferson was quite observant of the natural world. He was always studying and recording, with remarkable detail, the events of the gardens. In 1812, the twenty-four “squares” that divided the garden were arranged in part as to which part of the plant was being harvested: fruits, roots or leaves, etc. And although the garden was a functional part of the plantation, Jefferson experimented with imported squashes and other vegetables and fruits from various parts of Europe.
It was interesting to learn that Jefferson ate very little meat and used it as a compliment to the vegetables and legumes from his own gardens. I loved the fact that salads were an important part of his diet as they are for me as well!
Exiting from the house, you will step onto a beautiful walkway that leads into the garden.
We loved our visit at Monticello and learned so much about Jefferson’s life here. If you ever get the chance to visit Monticello, you should. It’s well worth the afternoon.