Archive for the ‘About’ Category

Thomas Jefferson, plant collector extraordinaire

Monday, July 7th, 2014
The view from the Monticello Garden © Britt Conley

The view from the Monticello Garden © Britt Conley

Never did a prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power” -Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) Like his predecessor George Washington, Jefferson had longed to care for his farm and garden. “My views and attentions are all turned homeward“, he wrote a fellow gardener. Finally on March 15th 1809, after serving 12 years as president and vice-president, Thomas Jefferson returned to his beloved Monticello.

Jefferson's written plans for the gardens at Monticello Drawings of the gardens, orchards and grove at Monticello, Albemarle County, Virginia, by Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to J. H. Freeman. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University

Jefferson’s written plans for the gardens at Monticello
Drawings of the gardens, orchards and grove at Monticello, Albemarle County, Virginia, by Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to J. H. Freeman. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University

I am constantly in my garden as exclusively employed out of doors as I was within doors when at Washington“. He was continually taking notes while supervising the activities on the plantation. These notes were eventually transferred to his Garden Book, a journal he kept from 1766-1824. His estate manager later recalled that Jefferson knew every plant in his garden and would instantly notice if a single tree had died or a specimen was missing. And specimens Jefferson had.

Vegetable Garden Pavillion (reconstructed in 1984) Image Credit: The Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Vegetable Garden Pavillion (reconstructed in 1984)
Image Credit: The Thomas Jefferson Foundation

There is not a sprig of grass the shoots uninteresting to me”. Plants representing the traditions of Europe, Colonial America, Native America, and Enslaved America filled the grounds.  The vegetable gardens, flower beds, shrubberies, orchards and groves contained plants collected either by Jefferson himself or by others at his request.  5 species of oak, 7 types of fir, 13 different roses, 7 varieties of cherries, 8 species of locust, 5 kinds of both magnolia and pines, and 150 varieties of fruit bearing plants are just a small fraction of the total.

Aerial of Monticello Mountain from the South (showing the West Lawn, Main House, Mulberry Row, Vegetable Garden Terrace, and South Orchard). Image Credit: Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Aerial of Monticello Mountain from the South (showing the West Lawn, Main House, Mulberry Row, Vegetable Garden Terrace, and South Orchard).
Image Credit: Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Lunaria still in bloom. An indifferent flower.                                                                                                 Mirabilis just opened. Very clever.                                                                                                                     Larger Poppy has vanished-Dwarf poppy still in bloom but on the decline.                                            Carnations in full life.                                                                                                                                            Argemone, one flower out”  - Notes from the Garden Book                                     Jefferson didn’t follow the usual pattern of collecting plants just for the sake of having them. He used Monticello as a laboratory, an early American experiment farm. He experimented with different growing methods and ran what are called field trials today, always observing, experimenting, and recording. He was searching for the best possible varieties, the most useful plants for American soils and climate.

The Northeast Vineyard Image credit: Thomas Jefferson Foundation/Skip Johns.

The Northeast Vineyard
Image credit: Thomas Jefferson Foundation/Skip Johns.

He categorized his vegetables into “Fruits”, “Leaves” and “Roots”, recorded sowing, transplanting and harvest dates, recorded weather patterns and temperature. He even measured the circumference of berries. It was a practical and patriotic undertaking. “One service of this kind rendered to a nation is worth more to them than all the victories of the most splendid pages of their history” 

The vegetable garden at sunset. Image by Peter J. Hatch

The vegetable garden at sunset.
Image by Peter J. Hatch

Planting is one of my great amusements, and even of those things which can only be for posterity, for a Septuagenary has no right to count on anything beyond annuals”  As Jefferson grew older, care of gardens and grounds was gradually taken over by other household members. When possible he would ride for hours around his beloved Monticello, often accompanied by a family member who would faithfully note his comments to be added to the Garden Book. His interest in gardening and plants continued until his death.

Frost on the garden Image by Carpe Feline

Frost on the garden
Image by Carpe Feline

I have often thought that if heaven had given me a choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden…I am still devoted to the garden. But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”  Jefferson to Charles W. Peale, 1811


Portrait by Rembrandt Peale

Want to learn more?                                                                                                                                    Two excellent sources for information on Jefferson’s farming and gardening activities are the digital facsimiles of the manuscripts compiled by Jefferson throughout his lifetime, his Farm Book and his Garden Book. These documents, owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society, have been transcribed and the entire contents are keyword searchable along with excellent quality digital facsimiles of the manuscript pages.

Image Credit: Thomas Jefferson Foundation/Leonard Phillips

Image Credit: Thomas Jefferson Foundation/Leonard Phillips

Posted by Sylvia Hacker, Dona Ana Co. New Mexico EMG

George Washington, passionate farmer

Friday, July 4th, 2014



Aerial view of Mt. Vernon from the Potomac River.

I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world”. — George Washington

There is no evidence that George Washington did any physical gardening himself at Mount Vernon, but his influence on activities was apparent. His designs determined what plants were included and how the gardens appeared. Washington was directly involved in the development and redesigning of the gardens around the mansion.


Mt. Vernon kitchen garden

Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocketbook not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved”                                             -George Washington


A glimpse of the mansion from the kitchen garden.

Washington cared about the style and type of plants in his gardens and closely supervised all plantings at Mount Vernon.


Mansion in the background.

It will not be doubted, that with reference either to individual, or National Welfare, Agriculture is of primary importance. In proportion as Nations advance in population, and other circumstances of maturity, this truth becomes more apparent; and renders the cultivation of the Soil more and more, an object of public patronage.”

George Washington, Eighth Annual Message to Congress, 1796


Greenhouse roof in the background.

Every improvement in husbandry should be gratefully received and peculiarly fostered in this Country, not only as promoting the interests and lessening the labour of the farmer, but as advancing our respectability in a national point of view; for in the present State of America, our welfare and prosperity depend upon the cultivation of our lands and turning the produce of them to the best advantage.

George Washington  (Letter to Samuel Chamberlain, April 3, 178?)


View from the greenhouse roof.

Nothing in my opinion would contribute more to the welfare of these States, than the proper management of our lands; and nothing, in this State particularly, seems to be less understood. The present mode of cropping practiced among us, is destructive to landed property; and must, if persisted in much longer ultimately ruin the holders of it. “
George Washington
(Letter to William Drayton, March 25, 1786)

He was a very progressive farmer and experimented with new ideas and plants. He was a firm believer in maintaining soil health and applied compost to his fields and gardens. This process was called “manuring”.

Mt. Vernon compost shed

The compost shed at Mt. Vernon

“When I speak of a knowing farmer, I mean one who understands the best course of crops; how to plough, to sow, to mow, to hedge, to Ditch and above all, Midas like, one who can convert everything he touches into manure, as the first transmutation towards Gold; in a word one who can bring worn out and gullied lands into good tilth in the shortest time.
George Washington (Letter to George William Fairfax, June 30, 1785)


The back of the Mt. Vernon greenhouse showing one of the boxwood knot gardens. Potted plants were brought into the greenhouse to overwinter, the tall windows letting in enough light for them to survive.
The greenhouse also had a fireplace to supply additional heat. The heated air was ducted through flues and channeled under the floor. This was considered quite the innovation over the older method of ducting the hot air through walls and under windows.


The Mt. Vernon greenhouse

I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman’s cares.

George Washington, letter, Jul. 20, 1794

Happy Independence Day everyone!


Posted by Sylvia Hacker, Dona Ana Co. New Mexico MG

John Bartram, America’s Founding Plant Nerd

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014


“How many gentle flowers grow in an English country garden?
I’ll tell you now of some that I know and those I’ll miss I hope you’ll pardon…”

These are opening words to the delightful tune “English Country Garden” which praises the variety of flora and fauna in an English garden. But did you know that the classic English garden has its roots in America? Without American plants the English garden as we know it today would never have existed.

It’s true!

Let’s set the clock back to 1733 where we see Mr. John Bartram of Pennsylvania sending two boxes of seeds to his London friend, Mr. Peter Collinson. (Mr. Collinson supports his personal gardening and plant collecting addiction by selling cloth.) Over the next 40 years Mr. Bartram will send hundreds of these seed boxes to Mr. Collinson. These are the seeds which will transform English gardens.

Howard Pyle's illustration of John Bartram shows the famed botanist in a marsh holding a plant which he's studying with the aid of a magnifying glass. Ca. 1879 Taken from the February 1880 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine. No contemporary painting of John Bartram exists.

Howard Pyle’s 1879 illustration of John Bartram. 
No contemporary painting of John Bartram exists.

John Bartram (1699-1777) lived on a farm outside of Philadelphia and every fall he would go plant collecting. His wanderings eventually took him from Lake Ontario to Florida in search of new plant species for himself and Mr Collinson. Each winter dozens of seed boxes made the trip across the Atlantic to London where Mr. Collinson and his English gardening friends eagerly awaited their arrival.


“…the Botanick fire set me in such A flame as is not to be quenched untill death or I explore most of the South western vegitative treasures in No. America.” John Bartram, 1761.

For the first time English gardeners had a huge choice of plants which would provide year-round beauty in their gardens. With Winter blooming shrubs, blazing Fall foliage and a successive parade of blooms in the Spring and Summer, many an English gardener’s dreams were beginning to come true.  By the end of the 1800′s England had become a nation of gardeners.

Mr. Bartram’s trees and flowers laid the foundations for the English garden and by the time of his death his American plants were available across Britain. The English gardening style was widely copied across Europe. “Le jardin anglais”, “il giardino inglese” and “der Englische garten” were all recreations of an English garden filled with American plants.


In the late 1700′s garden touring became popular, so much so that in 1786 Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went on a tour of English gardens. Mr. Jefferson soon realized that the beautiful gardens they were seeing were more American than English. He said to recreate the look in America, “we have only to cut out the superabundant plants”. With many of our early leaders like Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, and others setting the example, Americans soon turned into plant collectors.


Colonial Williamsburg garden

John Bartram’s garden is the oldest surviving botanical garden in North America. It’s near Philadelphia, PA and is located on the west bank of the Schuylkill River. It covers 46 acres which include an historic botanical garden and an 8 acre arboretum which was established in 1728. Three generations of the Bartram family have continued the garden as the premier collection of North American plant species in the world. The current collection contains a wide variety of herbaceous and woody plants. Most were listed in the Bartrams’ 1783 Catalogue of American Trees, Shrubs and Herbacious Plants and subsequent editions.

BartramsGarden2 Image

If you’re in the area, plan to see the the American birthplace of the English garden!

For more info: Bartram’s Garden

Posted by Sylvia Hacker, Dona Ana Co. New Mexico Master Gardener Sharing Your Garden Bounty with Neighbors in Need

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

What has 180,000 hands and is changing the world? The Extension Master Gardeners of the USA! That’s how we at think of you—thousands of hands working in the soil, sharing valuable knowledge with growers in every corner of America, and changing the world one garden at a time! is a national program, connecting gardeners with local food pantries so that excess garden bounty can be shared with those in need. Gardeners everywhere can use our site to find a pantry for those times when they just have too many greens or cucumbers (or any other extra veggies, fruits, herbs, or nuts).

Food Pantry volunteers, happy to receive donations of fresh food to share with their clients

Food Pantry volunteers, happy to receive donations of fresh food to share with their clients

We have nearly 7,000 food pantries registered on our site from every state. These are pantries that may not have the time or budget required to maintain a website or advertise their services online. For many pantries, their free profile on our site is the only web presence they have, and the only way that gardeners can find them when they have food to share.

We’ve got some exciting news! We’re celebrating our 5th birthday with a complete overhaul of our website. We will be adding new and exciting features to make it easier for gardeners and pantries to work together to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in America. We hope you’ll bookmark our page ( so you can see the new site when it’s up and let us know what you think.

If you’re growing food at home, helping in a community garden, or working with Plant-A-Row, we want our site to be another one of your gardening tools. Whenever someone asks us for gardening help, we send them your way and we hope that when you encounter someone whose gardening experiments yield too many tomatoes, you will send them our way so they can help feed a hungry family.


Harvest day at a community garden and this is just what was left over after the gardeners took their share! It all went straight to a pantry found on  Send photos of what you’re growing and sharing to

Harvest day at a community garden and this is just what was left over after the gardeners took their share! It all went straight to a pantry found on Send photos of what you’re growing and sharing to

Like us on Facebook and share our page with your gardening friends to help us spread the word. If you are already growing and sharing with a food pantry, share this blog with the pantry coordinator to encourage them to register on our site so that other gardeners can find them and donate their excess produce as well.

Thank you for teaching and leading by example. Thank you for keeping the knowledge of our national agricultural traditions alive in your communities. Thank you for changing the world.
Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at She is a back (and front!) yard vegetable gardener and she has recently added a small flock of Buff Orpington hens to her tiny urban farm. You can reach her at

A Home for Your Pollintors

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Looking for a home for your pollinators?

Look into making this work of art to house your solitary bees!
Solitary Bee House

Solitary Bee House


See more on how this solitary bee house is made





Celebrating Christmas with Regional Wreaths

Monday, December 9th, 2013

I’m intrigued by regional wreaths made with unusual materials. Since moving to North Carolina, I’ve seen the beautiful magnolia leaf wreaths they have here. Having lived in the desert near Palm Springs, I’ve see the red pepper wreaths of the Southwest and the spiny cactus in people’s yards decorated with lights like trees - incongruous symbols of the season but strangely satisfying. I was especially amazed at the diversity of materials people used and the creativity with which they met the challenges of decorating without traditional evergreens handy.


Traditional Christmas Wreath from West Virginia State University

Traditional Christmas Wreath from West Virginia State University

They used corn cobs, wheat straw, holly, bittersweet, eucalyptus leaves in the West, palm fronds in Hawaii, Japanese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi), pine cones, dried hydrangea flowers, bird seed, hellebores, olive leaves, oranges, gourds, lavender, colorful fall leaves, jar lids (that’s right – jar lids), and more. (You can visit my Pinterest Wreath board to see some pictures.)


Traditional wreath from JC Raulston Arboretum NCSU

Traditional wreath from JC Raulston Arboretum, NCSU


If you have a picture of a regional wreath or a wreath made with some unusual plant material, would you share it with us? Please email it to We’d love to share them here and on our Facebook page. Be sure to include you name, where you live (what state), what the picture is of, and anything else that will help your photo tell its story and your permission to use your photo (along with your name credit) in a future eXtension blog post or through other social media/promotional channels.We’ll share the season by sharing wreaths!

Connie Schultz, Extension Master Gardener/Composter (’95 Cornell Extension) now volunteering in Johnston County, NC


Bees 101 – 2013 – WOW a Tough Year on Honeybees!

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Well, the honey harvest is over and the bees are busily getting ready for winter.  Just as in the spring, there are flowers that the honeybee visits to bring in pollen and nectar.  There are not as many flowering plants that contain nectar in the fall, so feeding the honey bees with sugar syrup may be necessary.  So far in 2013 in North Carolina and in most of the Southeastern part of the US, there has been a drastic shortage of both pollen and nectar all year long.

Three of our Four Hives

Three of our Four Hives

As I stated in a previous blog, the weather has a lot to do with the bees success or failure.  In 2013 we had late cold spells in March and April and then continual rain through most of May, June & July.  The cold made it hard for the Queen to lay and for the worker bees to be able to keep the brood warm.  The cold also made the honey flow in 2013 very short.  The blooms on the flowers froze or the blooms were never produced by the plant or tree.   This cold weather made it impossible for the bees to collect, make and store honey.  Most of the  nectar that the bees collected was used immediately to feed the Queen, the brood and themselves.

Then the rain started.  It rained all spring and a big part of the summer.   It rained almost everyday and when it rains, not only are the bees stuck in the house, but when the rain stops, all of the nectar and pollen have been washed out of the flowers.   When we went into the hives to check things out, we saw very empty grocery cupboards!

So we fed the bees sugar syrup and pollen.  The sugar syrup is mixed with a solution called “Honey Bee Healthy”.  It is a product that closely mimics flower nectar.  We also fed the bees pollen.  It comes in granular form and we just poured it into a bird feeder and hung it about 100 feet from the hives.

Old Bird Feeder Used to Feed the Bees Pollen

Old Bird Feeder Used to Feed the Bees Pollen


It’s Necessary to Go Into Your Hives Monthly

The bees were nourished from the sugar syrup and pollen substitute until the weather broke.   Finally, about middle July, the rain stopped and the bees were then again free to gather nectar and pollen from the flowers in the area.   Who would ever think that in a wonderfully green agriculture area like North Carolina, our bees would be starving.   For those beekeepers that did not go into their bees, at least monthly, bee hives were probably lost to starvation.

Our bees are now filling up the hives with brood and food in order to make it through another winter.

-Gladys Hutson
North Carolina -Union County Extension Master Gardener
Union County Beekeeper’s Assoc.


Consumer Horticulture iBook Publication Contest Winner Announced

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Mary Free, a Northern Virginia Master Gardener, is the winner of the Virginia Cooperative Extension 2012 consumer horticulture iBook publication contest.

Her publication, For the Birds, Butterflies & Hummingbirds: Creating Inviting Habitats, is now available for download as an iBook, as well as in PDF and ePub formats, on the VCE publications website,

“I’m excited to be able to share this information with a wider audience,” Free said. “Education is a priority for cooperative extension, and I’m glad to be able to contribute to that.”MaryFreeCover

The 2012 contest, designed to get VCE Master Gardeners involved in the creation of VCE publications to use with their clientele, was the first of its kind. To give added incentive for Master Gardeners to submit their manuscripts, an iPad2 was offered as the prize for winning.

“A few years ago we began encouraging Master Gardeners to submit articles,” said Dave Close, Consumer Horticulture and Master Gardener Specialist. “The idea for the contest was to potentially attract more entries with the intent of making them available as Extension publications in the new iBook and ePub formats.”

Contest submissions were accepted from active VCE Master Gardeners and judged on educational content, creativity, use of multimedia resources and quality of illustrations. Free’s publication won the statewide contest.

“When the contest was announced I looked on the VCE website and saw there were no publications about birds and butterflies,” Free said. “There were some on one or the other, but not both.”

Free said her winning manuscript is a natural progression of the publications she has been doing since becoming a Master Gardener in 2010. While volunteering in the shade garden at Bon Air Park in Arlington, Free did the photography for educational posters and pamphlets about birds, butterflies and other insects in the garden.

“Our brochure was popular so I thought there would be a need for a publication about it and that other people would enjoy it,” Free said.

Although she had been involved with the creation of these Master Gardener publications about birds and butterflies in the garden, Free admits she had to do a lot of research to complete the manuscript for the contest. The photography, on the other hand, was something she already had. Almost all of the nearly 70 photos for the publication are ones she has taken.

“The photographs that Mary submitted helped her entry stand out from the others,” said contest judge Mark Sumner, Senior Information Technology Analyst for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “I had no problem visualizing how the iBook would turn out with the text and photos that she submitted.”

The publication contest is being held again this year, with an iPad4 being offered as the prize for the winner. Submissions will be accepted until November 27, 2013.


For more information contact:
Dave Close, Consumer Horticulture and Master Gardener Specialist
(540) 231-4026


Celebrating the Native Plant

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

This week we are celebrating the Native Plant! All week the EMG Blog is taking a closer look at native plants. Although every region across the country has different natives we can all appreciate the workhorse model many of these plants convey in our landscapes.

native 1

Aster – Nebraska – zone 5

native 2

Blue Grama Grass – Nebraska – zone 5


What is a ‘Native Plant”?

According to Wikipedia “Native plant is a term to describe plants endemic (indigenous) or naturalized to a given area in geologic time. This includes plants that have developed, occur naturally, or existed for many years in an area (e.g. trees, flowers, grasses, and other plants). In North America a plant is often deemed native if it was present before colonization. Some native plants have adapted to very limited, unusual environments or very harsh climates or exceptional soil conditions. Although some types of plants for these reasons exist only within a very limited range (endemism), others can live in diverse areas or by adaptation to different surroundings”  Wikipedia Link

Gardeners have many go-to plants and often times those turn out to be the native plants!
Native 3

Lead Plant – Nebraska – zone 5

Native 4

Sumac – Nebraska – zone 5

Enjoy this week of natives and let’s see if we can create a great list of our favorite native plants. List your:

  • State
  • growing zone
  • and your favorite natives

in the comment area below -


(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Ohio Ask a Master Gardener at the State Fair and Online

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Ohio Master Gardener Volunteers recently answered gardening questions and shared the latest information about emerald ash borer, asian longhorned beetle, and vegetable gardening concerns at their state fair booth this past month.

Ohio State Fair Ask a MGV Booth

Ohio State Fair Ask a MGV Booth (click to enlarge photo)

They also shared the news about their Ask a Master Gardener service, a 24/7 email-based question answering service, powered by eXtension’s Ask an Expert. Using the link to their site, Ohio fairgoers can email a question to Ohio Master Gardener Volunteers months later if a garden question or problem emerges.

Ask a Master Gardener

Ask a Master Gardener display (click to enlarge photo)