Creating a Life of Plenty

Discovering The Genius of Thomas Jefferson (Part Three), Where’s the Water?


Monticello is a wealth of information and ideas for the amateur and professional botanist and gardener and sustainability nerd (that pretty much sums me up).

One of the questions I had before visiting the “mountain” was how the crops were watered? I know Virginia has an average amount of rainfall, but that is not adequate to keep the kind of garden that Jefferson maintained properly irrigated or the trees for that matter, particularly at the top of a small mountain. I questioned how the crops were kept alive, the household water supply maintained, etc.

Water is available pretty much everywhere but on Monticello. At the north base of the mountain there lies a small stream where water could have had to be drawn, brought up to the house and stored, there is also an ice house on the property (more about that in another post) where run off from melting ice and snow could be harvested for small amounts of water and finally there are springs on neighboring Mt. Alto that Jefferson had planned on tapping and transporting via aqueduct to the Monticello but never accomplished in his lifetime; so how was the water collected for the plants?

Jefferson engineered a system of rainwater collection that collected water from the house roofs as well as the expansive north and south promenade porches. He designed and installed four cisterns to collect that rainwater, each over 3,200 gallons to supply water for irrigation as well as cooking, bathing and other uses…the idea of “the grid” hadn’t even been invented yet, so this was definitely living off of it!

Happy Gardening!

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