House and garden ideas to steal from Thomas Jefferson

Monticello flowerwalkBy Michael Leach

 

Many Americans are mixed up when it comes to their home landscapes.

 

Too often we put all the emphasis on an attractive border across the front and give scant (if any) attention to the patio. Little wonder the back 40 is rarely used.

 

Ideally, house and garden ought to be of one piece, with windows framing views and doors opening into al fresco “rooms” as appealing in their natural way as those under the roof. Our landscapes should be a part of – not walled off from – our interiors.

 

Thomas Jefferson can inspire us in domestic design. He was ahead of his time in creating Monticello, the elegant, hilltop mansion that invited the outside in. It’s been about 20 years since I last visited, but some impressions remain fresh.

 

Where others of his day and ours put all the emphasis on decorating interiors to wow visitors and make themselves feel good, Jefferson looked beyond the walls literally. Monticello diningroom

 

For instance, the tea room on the west side of the house probably cost a king’s ransom in the amount of glass used. Those windows were a luxury, yes, but the mountain view to the west is spectacular. No doubt sunlight pouring in during winter was almost as welcome as the scenery.

 

Few homes boast such vast, magnificent vistas, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have something lovely to look upon outside a window or patio doors. A variety of landscape elements, from fountains and bird baths, to specimen plants and sculpture, can be framed by a window. This is especially important for windows we frequently gaze through, such as the one over the kitchen sink.

 

The greenhouse that opens off his study is an early version of a three-season room. Nothing wrong with copying this, except you probably should plan on heat to make it a four-season room. Walls of glass that protect tropical plants and offer views of a pleasing natural scene beyond will tempt you out of the house year around. Sunny winter days spent in such confines make that long, difficult season much easier to bear.

 

This I know to be true. At my house, a tiny enclosed porch with large windows faces south. Napping there on a winter afternoon is a delight. The garden beyond was planted to become a living landscape mural with visual appeal in all seasons.Monticello westlawn_tulips

 

He welcomed natural light and imported the concept of skylights, a new architectural device he saw in France. The soft, diffuse natural light flatters everything it touches and cuts lighting costs, whether it be candles or electric bulbs.

 

An avid gardener, he apparently put most effort into the back 40, rather than a front garden. The capacious parlor opens onto a covered terrace (technically the West Portico). This glorious porch overlooks the curving, flowery walk that rings the west lawn at the rear of the house. (This is the side depicted on the nickel.)

 

One can imagine string quartets playing Mozart and guests in silky finery gliding from inside to outside, laughter and music mingling with the fragrance of flowers on a summer breeze.

 

Your backyard may never equal this, but creating appealing outdoor space will enhance your life each day your are at home.

 

For more, please visit Monticello’s website.

 

 

 

Photos included with permission and copyright of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.

 

 

 

Garden Topics

%d bloggers like this: