Profiles: Peter Hatch, Horticulturist and Plant Historian

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Peter Hatch's decision to establish a career as a gardener and horticulturist was successful beyond imagining.

Like many gardeners, Peter Hatch used to dream about the possibility of working full-time in his garden instead of in an office. Unlike most of us, though, Peter eventually decided to make his dream a reality by preparing for a career in horticulture.

Hatch — who already had a degree in English — began by enrolling in a landscape gardening program at Sandhills Community College in Carthage, North Carolina. His first job as a horticulturist was with Old Salem, Inc., in Winston-Salem, where he helped re-create the gardens of the original Moravian settlers. Following that successful restoration, Hatch was recruited by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation to work at Monticello.

As superintendent of grounds at Jefferson’s famous estate, Peter traces the footsteps of America’s third president in order to reproduce the ten acres of gardens and orchards that once surrounded the great man’s home. Hatch and his colleagues strive to make the Monticello gardens precisely as they were in Jefferson’s day. But simply planting fruits and vegetables in the locations that Jefferson chose is not enough: Peter has searched seed depositories across the nation to obtain the exact pre-1820 heirloom varieties that the president grew.

Hatch is grateful for his years as an English major; he believes that for the historic horticulturist, literary cultivation and soil cultivation go hand in hand. “When you’re trying to re-create a historic landscape,” he says, “it’s important to have a broad sensibility about the nature of early people and a grasp of Western civilization.”

Of course, Peter still doesn’t spend his entire workweek cultivating plants. Considerable time is given to perusing nineteenth-century botanical tomes and writing papers for such organizations as the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation. But more often than not, Hatch can be found tilling the soil, involved in the work he most enjoys.

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