CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Peter Hatch is certain that Thomas Jefferson didn't spend his days on his terrace drinking mint juleps while others tended to the grounds at Monticello -- he was a hands-on gardener who not only recorded the daily garden happenings but also got his hands dirty planting and working the soil.
"In the cold winter months, he was out with a transit and chain laying out gardens," Hatch said. "He was probably out there with Wormley Hughes." Hughes was the nephew of Sally Hemings, and he was trained as a gardener by Robert Bailey, the Scottish gardener who worked at Monticello. Jefferson often refers to Hughes' gardening activities in his records.
"He dug Jefferson's grave," Hatch said in a recent phone interview.
Gardeners and historians alike can learn more about Jefferson and Monticello at the upcoming Little Lecture presented by the West Virginia Humanities Council. Hatch, director of Grounds and Gardens at Monticello, will talk about his upcoming book, "A Rich Spot of Earth: Thomas Jefferson's Revolutionary Garden at Monticello."
Hatch will speak at 2 p.m. March 18 at the MacFarland-Hubbard House, 1310 Kanawha Blvd. E. Seating is limited for the program and people interested in attending should confirm available seating by calling 304-346-8500 no later than noon March 14. Admission is $10 and includes a reception after the program.
Since 1977, Hatch has been responsible for the maintenance, interpretation and restoration of the 2,400-acre Monticello landscape. He is an adviser and source of plants for first lady Michelle Obama's White House kitchen garden, where there is a section dedicated to the garden legacy of Thomas Jefferson.
"Michelle Obama said the White House vegetable garden is the most important part of her legacy," Hatch said.
The Jefferson scholar majored in English at the University of North Carolina, and then went on to study landscape gardening at Sandhills Community College, Southern Pines, N.C. The unique education allows him the freedom to interpret Jefferson's lengthy and often profound writings about gardening.
"He was America's first 'foodie,'" Hatch said. "He was interested in organic gardening and local food."
Hatch called the vegetable garden at Monticello "Jefferson's Retirement Garden," as it was created for his return from the presidency and became one of his main retirement occupations. Hatch's admiration for Jefferson is obvious when he talks.
"At the ripe old age of 83, Jefferson read about 5-foot-long cucumbers in Cleveland, so he wrote to the governor of Ohio," and he acquired seeds so he could grow them himself.
"He was a child of enlightenment, a scientist, he related to his friends and political allies, and he had a playfulness in the garden -- he grew flowering beans in vegetable garden interspersed with purple and white eggplant," Hatch explained. "He wrote, in 1813 at 70, that he was 'an old man but a young gardener.'"
Hatch loves gardening as much as history, and he appreciates Jefferson's quest for success in the garden.