Gardening at Monticello with Pat Brodowski

An ambitious gardener has made a career of digging into the past at historical museums, including famed Monticello.

Every gardener has a dream garden, a destination they long to visit. For many vegetable gardeners, that place is Monticello. To stroll through Thomas Jefferson’s garden terrace and gaze south across the orchard and vineyard is a dream come true.

Visitors to Monticello are encouraged to pick and taste the fruits of the vegetable garden. Photo by Bill McChesney

Monticello, where Pat Brodowski was the head vegetable gardener until recently, has been restored to Thomas Jefferson’s original design for the property. The grounds owe their current splendor to the efforts of modern staff, as well as the enslaved people who laid the foundations and did most of the work during Jefferson’s day.

Every year, half a million people walk the grounds of Monticello outside Charlottesville, Virginia. They include famous people, such as renowned British gardener Monty Don, host of the long-running BBC program “Gardeners’ World.” Guests travel to this National Historic Landmark to view the home of the United States’ third president, and to tour the grounds designed by one of the nation’s earliest horticultural influencers. Jefferson’s plantation spanned 5,000 acres at its height during the late 1700s, and was maintained by more than 100 enslaved laborers. The vegetable and flower gardens, located adjacent to Jefferson’s palatial home, were located in a 1,000-foot-long terrace near the cabins of the enslaved workers. Jefferson was active in the garden, especially in his later years.

The house at Monticello is nestled among flower beds, and overlooks the vegetable garden. Photo by Andrew Weidmen

These days, you can find Monticello’s gardeners cultivating the earth, hauling compost, setting poles for beans or tomatoes, seeding flats for succession crops, surveying and repairing deer damage, and more. Brodowski had the duty and honor of tending the kitchen garden for more than a decade, starting in 2009. Her morning began by loading tools and plants into a golf cart and checking out the garden for damage of any kind. The daily checklist was invariably long. “You don’t really get a break,” she says.

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