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"I have often thought that if heaven had given me a choice of my position and calling, it would have been on a rich spot of earth ... No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden."


Thomas Jefferson, 1811    

Virginia has a rich garden history. Gardening was a necessary activity providing food for the family and pleasurable settings for study and relaxation. While the smaller gardens of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did not survive, the James River Plantations, Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, and Monticello provide a wealth of information on gardening in the eighteenth century. The Garden Club of Virginia has sponsored the restoration of many of Virginia's historic gardens.

Early gardens were generally formally laid out. Vegetable, herb, and flower gardens were often merged and gardeners took great pride in the utilitarian and aesthetic qualities of their gardens. Wide grass walks symmetrically divided the gardens with identical beds flanking the edges. The borders were often graced with a large variety of flowers, as noted by one early observer, including "pinks and a thousand other flowers, the remaining part planted with beans, peas, cabbage, and many other articles." Fruit trees grew along the border of the garden and ornamental shrubs graced one end.

From the time of Plato's "groves of academe," gardens have been linked to the contemplative and scholarly life as well. Jefferson described the University as a set of buildings "arranged around an open square of grass and trees." The Pavilion Gardens provided both a place in which to study and a subject of study. Jefferson wrote that "such a plan would afford the quiet retirement so friendly to study."

Although the garden walls were completed by 1824, Jefferson left no specific record of his intentions for the Pavilion Gardens. As illustrated at Monticello, Jefferson's ideal garden combined pleasure, utility, and a place for thought and study. Jefferson intended the Pavilion residents to design, plant, and maintain their own gardens. Through the years, some of the gardens were cultivated with great care, such as Professor Schele de Vere's boxwood garden behind Pavilion IV. In 1826, George Tucker, professor of moral philosophy, planted an odd ash seedling from the Blue Ridge Mountains in Garden IX. The Rev. William H. McGuffey, for whom the tree was eventually named, moved into the Pavilion in 1845 and tended the tree, reading his McGuffey readers to children under its sprawling branches. Other gardens were used for predominantly utilitarian purposes and included smokehouses, and sheds for small animals. More.