"Gardening is a great love of mine. The most challenging part of the job are the everyday tasks -- growing healthy cabbage, how to counteract drought, keeping the deer out of the tulips, these are the most challenging! The practical stuff is hardest in my nearly 35 years here at Monticello."
The legacy of Jefferson's gardening efforts is now seen in the burgeoning Virginia wine industry, Hatch said.
"He was first in food, first in wine, first in gardening. He was all things to all people -- it's hard to pin him down. He was a great republican to republicans, a democrat to democrats. An ambiguous figure, he's a great object of study."
Jefferson experimented with more than 330 varieties and some 99 species of vegetables. As president, he kept a chart of the vegetables that were available in the farmers market, and he would go around to the foreign embassies, collecting the most interesting and unusual vegetables from each country. He advised his French household administrator to pay the highest prices for vegetables such as tomatoes in season.
Jefferson introduced many unfamiliar species to Virginia gardeners that are now taken for granted, including tomatoes, okra, eggplant, lima beans, peanuts, peppers and black-eyed peas.
"He was very experimental; he developed a microclimate at Monticello that faces southeast," Hatch said. Jefferson had a master plan of dishes, copied from his French chef, and he may have been the first American to serve french fries.
"Monticello is like the Ellis Island of new plants. The experimental character is the best feature," Hatch said.
Hatch has managed important restoration projects, such as the eight-acre Vegetable and Fruit Garden, and the Grove, an ornamental forest of 18 acres. In 1987, Hatch initiated the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, a unique nursery to preserve historic and Jefferson-related garden plants.
He also oversees numerous educational programs, including the Garden Tours (for 35,000 annual visitors) and the Historic Landscape Institute, a two-week field school for students from around the nation. He was also project manager for the Thomas Jefferson Parkway, a $7 million federally and privately funded highway project to create a park along the entrance corridor to Monticello, and for Saunders Bridge, a stone arch bridge that now serves as the new entrance to Monticello.
Hatch is the author of "The Gardens of Monticello," the editor of "Thomas Jefferson's Flower Garden at Monticello" (University Press of Virginia), and has written numerous articles and lectured in 35 states on Jefferson and the history of garden plants. The University Press of Virginia published his scholarly study of early American pomology, "The Fruits and Fruit Trees of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson and the Origins of American Horticulture," in 1999.
"Few gardeners failed as often as Jefferson," Hatch said. Because he freely shared seeds and plants, it wasn't a complete disaster. "When he would kill something in his garden, he could find it in a neighbor's garden."
"Jefferson said, 'The failure of one thing is repaired by the success of another,'" Hatch explained.
Hatch's appearance in Charleston coincides with upcoming grounds restoration work and improvements this year at the 1836 MacFarland-Hubbard House, headquarters of the West Virginia Humanities Council. The council plans to restore the grounds to their historic character, make additional improvements to the exterior of the property, and install botanical labels along an educational pathway.
Reach Sara Busse at sara.bu...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.