Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge’s Memories of the House and Gardens at Monticello

The House at Monticello, and the Garden.

Mr Jefferson made great changes in the house at Monticello after his return from Europe in 1789. He got new ideas of architecture during his residence abroad, and the buildings at Monticello were completely re-modelled under their influence. The house was, in some of it’s parts, still unfinished when he retired from public life in 1809.

He continued to the last year of his life very much interested in horticulture. He took great pleasure in his garden which was terraced on the south side of the mountain, & so well exposed to the sun & protected from cold winds that the Fig grew there & ripened into a delicious [. . .] fruit yielding quite an abundant crop. The bushes grew under a sunny bank & needed only a slight covering of straw in the winter.

Mr Jefferson lost no opportunity of getting new seeds, choice roots, slips & grafts and was most anxious that his neighbours should enjoy the benefit of his acquisitions. He had less the spirit of rivalry than any one I ever knew, and took the most genuine pleasure in the success of others, heartily enjoying the triumph of his friends where they were more fortunate than himself in the cultivation of their grounds. Several of his neighbours had better gardens th and orchards than his own and with them he was particularly ready to share any prize in the way of roots, seeds or slips sent him from a distance. He lived principally on vegetables and the friends of a vegetarian system might almost claim him as one of themselves. The little meat he took seemed merely as a seasoning for his vegetables.

He was likewise very fond of flowers and encouraged his grand daughters to cultivate them. He sent to the large cities and even I believe abroad, for tulip & hyacinth roots & the seeds of various flowering plants.

I can only account for the Italian names of many of the plants which we find in his lists by the fact that among Mazzei’s vignerons there were several gardeners, employed I believe by Mr Jefferson, and who very probably brought with them to this country, the seeds and roots we find enumerated. Or finding them elsewhere they would call them by the names of their own language which Mr Jefferson would readily adopt.

It is certainly a great blessing to have a multitude of tastes (provided they are not allowed to become importunate,) and to find interest in a great many attainable objects. My grandfather could never be at a loss, for there were so many things, both in doors and out, that he loved and took pleasure in that every moment of his time, not given to his affairs or those of other people, was filled with agreeable occupation. Nothing more than this contributes to cheerfulness & good humour, two admirable qualities of which he was possessed in the highest degree.

MS (ViU: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence, Letterbook); in the hand of Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge.
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