The Kitchen Garden

No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. — Thomas Jefferson

A kitchen garden was an essential element of living in early America. Typically, kitchen gardens were fenced areas consisting of herbs and vegetables, as well as edible and decorative flowers.

Montecello, Thomas Jefferson’s picturesque, mountaintop home in Charlottesville, VA, had a “1,000-foot-long kitchen garden terrace [which] was an experimental laboratory where he cultivated seventy different species and 250 varieties of vegetables.”[1]

I’ve had the pleasure of touring Montecello twice, but both times were years ago and before I became a shutter bug. Nevertheless, the gardens surrounding Jefferson’s dwelling are paramount in my memory.

It’s not surprising, then, that on a recent visit to Historic Stagville, I was especially enamored with the kitchen garden behind the plantation’s historic Bennahan House. It wasn’t a very large space—just a modest, rectangular plot surrounded by white fencing—yet its delightful charms occupied me for long minutes on end.


Perennials, which were used in cut-flower arrangements, added beauty to the kitchen garden’s look and design.

Kale and other green vegetables grew in the kitchen garden as representations of the native plants grown at Stagville. I, however, was preoccupied with the busy pollinators intent on their weighty task:




As well, I was captivated by a delicate flower that appeared to be surviving the cool, late-October mornings and evenings, turning its dainty head toward the warm sun during the many hours in between:


The trellis overtop the entry gate to the kitchen garden was resplendent with beautiful passion flowers. — Historic Stagville; Durham, NC

As I left the garden, I stepped on something green and squishy that sent me heading with mounting curiosity toward the visitor’s center for an explanation:


Just past the outer edge of the kitchen garden lay this odd looking fruit. Hedge apples. And not edible. They fall (as nuisances of little to no use) from the hedge apple tree, which is a hard wood that was used for making furniture and fence posts. The trees were kept low–like a hedge–by careful pruning.

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