Creating a Life of Plenty

Discovering The Genius of Thomas Jefferson (Part Two), Creating Microclimates


One of the interesting things I learned on my garden research trip to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia is how the 18th and 19th century amateur botanist and gentleman gardener managed the climate and seasons on his mountaintop home and still managed to grow some incredible specimens of warm area crops such as artichokes, certain grapes and other fruits.

While most of Virginia resides firmly in the USDA hardiness zone 7a today which has a shorter winter and a warmer summer; 200 years ago there was a much colder climate in the area of Monticello and particularly at the elevation of this “little mountain”. The trick, I was to learn, was the fact that he created the garden plateau as well as the trellised gardens below. By creating the plateau, he created a space for the sun’s warmth and light to hit the plants all day long (positioning the plateau from east to West). He enhanced the climate of the lower gardens by taking the large rocks and stones from the excavation of the upper plateau to create a rock wall to hold back the plateaued earth. The rocks absorb the heat from the sun and reflect that heat to the grape arbors and fruit trees below. This was way ahead of the time that Jefferson lived, particularly in the new United States. While microclimates have always existed and were definitely exploited by primitive agricultural societies, this knowledge was lost during the world’s rush to industrialize.

Creating micro-climates in our gardens doesn’t have to take an army of workers (thank goodness), you can add medium to large rocks in certain beds like I have in my herb garden. You can also locate the beds specifically to capture surrounding heat (near a house or other large structure, in full sun, in part shade, etc.). By creating climates, you can grow certain plants that may not be specifically designed for your hardiness zone.

To learn what your zone is and what plants do best in it and the surrounding zones, visit

Happy Gardening!

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