True confession time: I have had a girlish crush on Thomas Jefferson since I was about 11 years old and I saw his fiery red-headed portrait and started reading his biographies. It was true love.
As I have aged a bit, though, and now have some short reference for my life I can see how all those little quirky bits of my youth are starting to coalesce into the whole me. Things I thought were odd or eclectic are now finding a place in my psyche in much the same way that puzzle pieces may seem to fit nowhere, and then suddenly drop into place revealing the much larger image.
I never knew I loved gardening until a few years ago. Certainly I was surrounded by avid gardeners in my great-grandparents and my grandfather, but had not yet discovered that fascination in myself with growing things . Now I can hardly stop thinking about it. I anxiously ordered seeds in January; I optimistically started those seeds in February and March. My plans for the weekend are already laid out, and the potting soil is happily tempering away in the greenhouse, just waiting for me to come and spend happy hours transplanting seeds. I watch the weather two weeks in advance, seeking opportunities to work in the garden.
In fact, whereas a few years ago I was interested in gardening, I am now beginning to feel like I am a gardener. Now it is a part of me.
This year, unlike previous years, I have started a Garden Journal, or rather, two. The first journal is a hand-written document so that I can write down the things I’ve learned, the things I’ve thought about, and interesting things that Grandpa has told me. The second journal, catering to my technology tool-using skills, is an Excel spreadsheet of all the seeds we’ve purchased, where they were purchased, how much they cost, when they were started, when transplanted, and will go on to record how many were planted out in the garden, how they progressed, and (hopefully) how much they yielded. It’s an ambitious project, I admit, but it satisfies my analytical (OCD?) mind to track the garden’s, and the gardener’s, progress through the season.
Which brings me back to Thomas Jefferson.
While perusing online resources for garden calendars this evening, I came across the digitized and transcribed garden journal of Mr Jefferson, himself, a fascinating document that was his own way of record-keeping for almost 60 years. It’s no secret that Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello were among the finest to be found, with experimental cultivars from all over Europe and Africa sent by admirers and kindred spirits. For the last hour, I’ve delighted in reading his planting records, weather observations, and notes on advice and opinions given to him by his gardening friends.
But what I have particularly enjoyed is the amazing humanness of this giant among gardeners that is revealed in his journal, not only in the writing, but sometimes even through the lack of entries. He was a busy man, and often away from home. He planted things and then either forgot to record the progress or was unable to do so due to his travels and commitments to the cultivation of a young nation.
The most telling page, though, is page 35, and for this page alone my heart’s flames were rekindled, because on this page, very carefully and methodically, Thomas Jefferson began his own ledger of garden records. His bold penmanship setting out in orderly columns the records of his sowings and reapings, looking very similar to my own spreadsheet journal. But even more impressive than his methodology is his brutal honesty, as he simply writes failed in a column to indicate the loss of the crop.
I’ll never know what that one word, failed, encompassed for him. Was it the failure of the experiment, failure of the gardener, or simply the failure of the crop? How did that failure relate to the kitchen and table at Monticello? As a novice gardener, when things go wrong, I wonder, “what did I do?” Did Jefferson also scratch his red head in wonderment while he looked at his failed carrots and celery?
Page 1 of Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Journal intrigued me. By page 12, I was entranced.
But at page 35, I fell back in love.
And now I wonder if he sat at his desk on a fine spring afternoon, like I sometimes do, and think, “Damme…I wish I were out in the garden!”