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Garden History

In 1948, The Garden Club of Virginia offered to restore the Pavilion Gardens. Alden Hopkins, Landscape Architect for Williamsburg, was chosen as landscape architect. Hopkins drew plans for the gardens and supervised the restoration of the West Gardens. After Hopkins's death, Donald H. Parker, his assistant, finished the work in the East Gardens. The West and the East Gardens are quite different from one another in part because there were two designers. The topography also plays a large role as the West Gardens are relatively flat while the East Gardens are terraced into the hillside. The West Gardens were dedicated in 1952 and the East Gardens in 1964. The Garden Club of Virginia continues to guide the care and maintenance of the gardens.

The restored garden designs reflect Jefferson's gardens at Monticello as well as landscape plans in Jefferson's collection of books. Other colonial gardens, such as those at Mount Vernon and Williamsburg, also provided inspiration. The plants were chosen from those known to Jefferson, many having been cultivated at Monticello. The garden walls were reconstructed from evidence provided by Peter Maverick's engravings of the academical village in the 1820s, archaeological studies, and standing pieces. Their graceful serpentine form helps to stabilize the walls, which are only one brick thick. The Maverick engravings also showed how Jefferson's spacing of the pavilions created gardens behind Pavilions I and II which are 90 feet wide while those behind Pavilions IX and X are 150 feet wide.

"Necessary houses" or "privies" were also reconstructed in six of the gardens and now serve as garden sheds. In the East Gardens, where they are not reconstructed, the foundations are outlined in brick. The gardens are each numbered in accordance with the corresponding pavilions.

Six gardens are divided in half by serpentine walls. The upper gardens are called Pavilion Gardens and are more formal and contemplative. The lower gardens are called Hotel Gardens as they correspond to the former dining halls on the range, called hotels, and are interpreted as utilitarian gardens and orchards for kitchen use.

In 1987, the University of Virginia Grounds were named a World Heritage Site on UNESCO's prestigious World Heritage list, which includes the Taj Mahal, Versailles, and the Great Wall of China. While professors and their families continue to reside in the pavilions, the gardens are open to the public. We welcome you to visit any of the gardens and experience a part of Jefferson's academical village.

Jefferson As Gardener

As naturalist, gardener, farmer, and scientist, Jefferson kept meticulous notes in his Garden Book. The first entry was in 1766, when, at the age of twenty-three, he noted "the Purple hyacinth begins to bloom." His last entry, at the age of eighty-one, was a kitchen garden calendar of planting times, locations, and harvest dates. Jefferson's interests ranged from the amount of seasonal rainfall, to the best tasting bean, to the preferred method of grafting peach trees. Following his own belief that "the greatest service which can be rendered by any country is to add a useful plant to its culture," Jefferson cultivated plants from England, France, and the Lewis and Clark American exploration, as well as from expeditions to Africa and China. He bought two Egyptian Acacias (Mimosa nilotica), which he called "the most delicious flowering shrub in the world." He also collected and encouraged the cultivation of Virginia's native plants. "Not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me," he said. Jeffersonia diphylla, or twinleaf, was named after Thomas Jefferson in honor of his extensive knowledge of botany.

At Monticello, his home, Jefferson developed his extensive landscape into a series of spaces, each defined by its primary purpose, each reflecting his scientific mind and aesthetic sensibilities. The flower roundabout seems an informal garden, with a serpentine walk edged by colorful flowers, yet the flowers were planted in ten-foot, numbered beds allowing Jefferson to keep notes on each. The 1,000-foot-long vegetable and herb garden is both eminently practical and wonderfully enjoyable, especially when viewed from under the bean arbor or from within the garden pavilion.

While living in Paris, Jefferson visited and studied the gardens and buildings of the area. During a 1786 trip to England, he and John Adams followed Thomas Whately's guide to English gardens, Observations on Modern Gardening. Jefferson wrote that "my inquiries were directed chiefly to such practical things as might enable me to estimate the expense of making and maintaining a garden in that style." It can be seen among the wild flowers growing in the lower garden of Pavilion VI. His passion for gardens and their particulars was an integral part of the development of his academical village.