Summer Crops from Monticello: A Gillette Family Garden Update

June 15, 2012 at 8:28 am Leave a comment

The National Museum of African American History and Culture’s current exhibition Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty, may be found in the in their gallery on the second floor of the National Museum of American History and outside at the southwest corner of the terrace. There, you’ll find a vegetable garden, replete with plantings which will be rotated throughout the time of the exhibition. Jefferson’s estate was known for growing cash crops, chiefly tobacco and wheat. So what do all these vegetables have to do with Monticello?

USDA Farmer's Market with Leni Sorenson on Friday, June 8

USDA Farmer’s Market with Leni Sorenson on Friday, June 8

The Gillette Family Garden  is a representation of the garden cultivated by the Gillette family, individuals in the enslaved community on Jefferson’s estate. The Gillettes were truly entrepreneurs; they gardened in their limited free time and sold the produce to improve their situation. The plants growing in the NMAH garden were carefully selected based upon the research of Peter Hatch, Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, who examined the estate’s account books and researched plants typical of contemporary nineteenth-century gardens.

Out with the turnips, in with the okra! We just changed out the crops for the summer. The harvested turnips were shared with the chef, and turnips, beets and cabbage were displayed at Monticello culinary historian Leni Sorensen’s cooking demonstration at Friday’s USDA Farmers Market.

Summer plantings


Fish Pepper

Fish Pepper

Okra: Cow’s Horn Okra, Abelmoschus esculentus

Peppers: Fish Pepper, Capsicum annuum ‘Fish’

Sesame: Bene, Sesamum indicum

Strawberries: Wild Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana


Gherkins: West Indian Gherkin, Cucumis anguria var. anguria

Squash: Sweet Potato Pumpkin, Cucurbita moschata

Cymling or Pattypan Squash, Cucurbita pepo variety

The exhibit is on view until October 14, 2012. For more information and to see how the garden was made, go to

Entry filed under: Garden History, Horticulture. Tags: , , .

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