A Trip Back in Time – Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello Flower Garden
Photos and Story by Casey Coleman Schwartz
During the summer, 240 years ago, our nation was evolving and stretching its legs and getting a good footing in what was considered the New World. As we continue to shift and adjust to modern times as a country to continually gain new footing and new perspectives, my two sons and I traveled with my mom back in time to one of our most famous founding father’s homes.
On our vacation to Virginia, we visited Thomas Jefferson’s estate, Monticello, which means “little mountain.” We discovered more about the man who served as our third President, U.S. Ambassador to France and as the main author of the Declaration of Independence. He was also an inventor, architect, farmer, linguist and amateur botanist.
The vegetable gardens and flower beds on the grounds today reflect much of what he planted and grew over 200 years ago. He was passionate about many things and found everything interesting. “There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me,” Thomas Jefferson wrote to his daughter in 1790.
During Jefferson’s time, his daughters and granddaughters cared for the flower gardens and the smooth level lawn was a favorite place for the children to play.
Upon closer inspection of the flower gardens at Monticello, I was amazed to see that we use many of the same flowers in our modern summer bouquets. As I strolled through the gardens, I wished to myself that I had a cutting garden this vast and lovely. According to the historians at Monticello, Jefferson grew over 105 varieties of herbaceous flowers. Here are some of the flowers that caught our eyes during our visit.
Thomas Jefferson noted the planting of seeds of “Cockscomb, a flower like the Prince’s feather” in 1767. In 1811, Jefferson wrote McMahon: “I have an extensive flower border, in which I am fond of placing handsomeplants or fragrant. Those of mere curiosity I do not aim at.” When we use a Cockscomb flower in a floral design, we are often asked what that flower is by admirers … so we would argue that it is still a plant of curiosity. The exact geographic origins of all types of Celosia in the wild are unknown, although speculations include the dry slopes of Africa and India as well as dry stony regions of both North and South America. Wherever they first came from, we have been growing and enjoying them in the United States since Jefferson’s time.
Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) is native to Central America and does well as pollinator plants for bees and butterflies. Often nicknamed Clover, these cutting flowers come in a range of pinks, purple and white and work well as dried plants. To dry the stems, harvest and tie stems together after removing the leaves and hang upside down in a cool, dry place.
Black Eyed Susans
Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is a favorite native perennial wildflower which grows in open meadows and sunny sites throughout eastern North America. Its bright-yellow blooms attract butterflies and are useful as cut flowers. Black-eyed Susan plants require minimal care during the fall and winter. Old flowers left on the plants form seed heads.
Strawflower was introduced from Australia to England in 1799. It is also known as Everlasting Flower for the long-lived color of its flowers when dried. A half-hardy annual that withstands light frosts, it offers a wide selection of colors, ranging from silvery pastel pink and white to fiery red and rusty, terracotta brown. We love using these in summer and fall bouquets.
Jefferson included the Joseph’s Coat in a shipment of seeds from Paris to his brother-in-law, Francis Eppes, in 1786. The vibrant yellow and red foliage of this brightly plumed tender annual provides an eye-catching display of color. Its edible leaves have a walnut-like flavor and can be eaten raw in salads or steamed. Joseph’s Coat grows to four feet and likes a warm, sunny exposure.
Echinacea – Cone Flower
In 1805 Lewis & Clark sent Jefferson specimens of this plant from Fort Mandan. They referred to it as ‘Mad Dog Plant’ in their packing list and stated that it is “highly prized by the natives as an efficacious remedy in the cases of the bite of the rattle snake or mad dog.” The purple flower petals don’t last long in a cut flower arrangement, but the orange and black cone is a gorgeous addition to an herbal wreath or garden bouquet. If you want to keep the purple petals on the stems, wait until the last minute to harvest stems for your bouquet.
Black Eyed Susan Vine
This annual vine was introduced to Britain from India in 1823 and was often listed as an evergreen climber for hot houses in early 19th-century catalogs.
The vine is included in a charming book, The Parlor Garden, which Jefferson’s granddaughter Cornelia Jefferson Randolph translated and edited from French in English and published in 1861. The book notes: “The Thunbergia lays hold of any thing that is within its reach, without ever rising very high. It becomes covered with charming flowers, of a fine nankeen yellow, set off with a black spot in the middle. You find it, as well as the passion-flower and the Mandevilles, at all the greenhouses.”
Jefferson is not known to have grown Rose Mallow at Monticello. However, in his Notes on the State of Virginia, he does include “Syrian mallow Hibiscus moschentos” among the state’s medicinal plants that “would principally attract notice.” It is an herbaceous perennial that is native to low, marshy sites in eastern North America.
In 1808 from nearby Edgehill, Anne Cary Randolph wrote her grandfather, Thomas Jefferson, that, “we have plenty of the two kinds of Marigolds that you gave us.” This suggests the French Marigold, often grown in colonial gardens, was cultivated at Monticello.
While Jefferson took great interest in plants, such as sesame and olive trees, that produced useful oils, there is no indication that he recognized such a benefit in the Sunflower. His listing of it as one of the “Hardy perennial flowers” sown at Monticello in September 1771, seems to show that he grew it for its large and striking flower, a quality that keeps it in ornamental gardens today.
“Botany I rank with the most valuable science, whether we consider its subjects as furnishing the principal subsistence of life to man & beast, delicious varieties for our tables, refreshments from our orchards, the adornments of our flower-borders, shade and perfume of our groves, materials for our buildings or medicaments for our bodies,” wrote Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper on October 7, 1814.
“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden…But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.” – Jefferson to Charles W. Peale, August 20, 1811.
Día De Los Muertos Flowers at The City Club Los Angeles
Photos, Flowers and Story by Kit Wertz
We are often invited to showcase our talents for an industry event or to help promote an event venue and last month we create a festival of flowers for an evening at an exclusive club in downtown Los Angeles. At City Club LA, we worked with Events by Holly Gray and 3Wishes PR to promote the fantastic event space of the City Club LA as well as amazing food by Chef Sebastian Heil.
We worked closely with Holly to create floral designs and mini cactus gardens to align with her theme burnt sienna, fuchsia and teal colors. Our flower palette took its cues from the traditional Latin American Día de los Muertos – or Day of the Dead celebrations which are held on November 1st. Día de los Muertos honors the dead with festivals and lively celebrations, a typically Latin American custom that combines indigenous Aztec ritual with Catholicism, brought to the region by Spanish conquistadores.
Florals: Flower Duet
Photography: Joan Fuller Photography
Video: Mission Visual
DJ: Senor Amor
Live Entertainment: The Replicas Music
Rentals: CMC Event Rentals
Vintage Furniture: Nineteen27 Vintage
Lighting by: Pacific Event Lighting
Paper Flowers: The Bleu Dahlia
Hair & Makeup: faceitsugar
Menus & Paper: Cecile’s Paper Co.
Papal Picado: MesaChic Parties
Photo Booth: The Booth & Bus Co.
Dessert Design: Two’s A Party
Desserts: Baked Goods Unlimited
Summer Wedding featuring a Floral Hair Wreath
Flowers by Flower Duet
Photos by Gina Cella Photography
Here is a flashback to last summer for a wedding at Saddle Rock Ranch in Malibu. We created a lovely two piece hair wreath out of wax flower and spray roses in which the bride wore both pieces for her ceremony and just the rear floral hair wreath for the reception.
Casa Del Mar Ballroom Wedding
Flowers by Flower Duet
Here is a lovely wedding inside a great venue in Santa Monica. Simple and elegant Chuppah by Level Weddings and Events with our florals.
Flower Book Recommendations
By Flower Duet
Mason Jar Salads
While Casey and her sons were at Monticello last month, they stopped at the gift shop and these books stood out. The first was called Mason Jar Salads and More: 50 Layered Lunches to Grab and Go by Julia Mirabella.Discover the coolest way to pack a tasty, healthy lunch!
“Mason Jar Salads and More shows how to prepare on-the-go meals that are packed with fresh produce and whole foods.The tasty recipes and gorgeous full-color photos in this book will show you how to create amazing dishes, including:
•Pomegranate and pear salad
•Pesto tortellini with cherry tomatoes
•Crunchy Asian salad
•Spinach, blueberry and blue cheese salad
•Curried chicken salad
•Kale and avocado salad
•Porcini mushroom risotto
•Overnight oatmeal with fruit
•Green bean and feta salad”
Thomas Jefferson’s Flower Garden at Monticello
“The restoration of the flower gardens at Monticello in 1941, sponsored by the Garden Club of Virginia, was the result of Edwin Betts’s scholarly research and Hazlehurst Perkins’s practical gardening skills. Thomas Jefferson’s Flower Garden at Monticello presents the evolution of Jefferson’s ornamental gardening efforts with an analysis of the flower gardens as they were planned, planted, and ultimately restored.No early American gardens were as well-documented as those at Monticello, which became an experimental station, a botanic garden of new and unusual plants from around the world. Betts and Perkins communicate here the nature and sources of Jefferson’s intelligent venture into ornamental gardening.
The third edition of Thomas Jefferson’s Flower Garden at Monticello by Peter J. Hatch includes a revised plant list, annotation of the more than 100 species cultivated in the flower garden, and new illustrations.”
From a Colonial Garden: Ideas, Decorations and Recipes
“Colonial Williamsburg’s renowned gardens have always played a major role in the life of the town. Their beauty and bounty inspired From a Colonial Garden by Susan Hight Rountree . The author harvests a wealth of clearly written and illustrated entertaining and decorating how-to’s and recipes from these famous gardens. From a Colonial Garden, with its myriad of ideas, deserves a special place on the bookshelf of any host, hostess, or gardener.”
Flower Tool: Waterproof Floral Tape for the Grid Method
By Kit Wertz
A few weeks ago, I taught a group of preschool Moms how to make a floral design using summer hydrangea and garden roses along with some carefully placed umbrella ferns in a low cylinder glass vase (see above photo).
There are a few tricks to keep the stems in place even though this type of container has a large opening and short height.
The trick is to create a grid of waterproof floral tape across the top of the container and then fill it with water before you start placing your stems into the design. The key is to put the tape on when the container is still dry.
The big “ah-ha” moment for everyone in the class was the type of tape we used to create the grid. It needs to be a special waterproof tape that is made for the floral design industry. Oasis is a brand we use and you can purchase it at a floral supply store or online. We use clear tape when creating grids for glass vases and the white or green tape when securing floral foam into containers that won’t show the tape as easily.
How to create a tall arrangement using the Grid Method
Casey appeared in a great video with Sheryl Borden of Creative Living TV a few years ago on how to design with this method.