George Washington: Innovative Gardener (A Visit To Mount Vernon)

When I was in Maryland, we took a trip to Mount Vernon – the estate and gardens of President George Washington.

It is definitely worth a trip. I’ve never been much of a history buff, and to be honest, I knew basically nothing about George Washington, except that he was our first president, before visiting Mount Vernon. Turns out, George Washington was a gardener!

Mount Vernon is an 8,000 acre plantation. The land was initially acquired by George Washington’s great-grandfather. He got the land from the Colony of Virginia (who, I suppose, stole the land from the Native Americans). Through a series of inheritances, George Washington ended up with the estate.

He was very wealthy (in part from his father, in part from his marriage to a wealthy widow, and in part from his own businesses). His father had grown tobacco, but George Washington didn’t seem to get very good yields with tobacco. According to wikipedia, “He took a scientific approach to farming and kept extensive and meticulous records of both labor and results.” Given the poor results with growing tobacco, he switched to growing other crops like wheat, corn, and rye. He built a very successful gristmill, as well as a distillery to make whiskey from the rye he grew.

In addition to those crops, he had a number of other gardens and orchards.

Formal vegetable garden
More of the formal vegetable garden lined by grape vines.

He also like to experiment with new or unusual plants, such as jatropha and mangelwurzel.

He even had a greenhouse! Here it is:

The greenhouse

This is not what I think of when I think of a greenhouse, but it apparently gets enough light from those big windows to grow pineapple and citrus. He kept plants in here during the winter and brought them out into the courtyard in front of the greenhouse in summer.

George Washington liked all things green…even his dining room.

He called this color “grateful to the eye.” Hmm….interesting.

None of Washington’s success would be possible, of course, without the 300 people he kept enslaved. The enslaved people worked on the plantation 6 days a week. For each day that they worked, they were given a ration of quart of cornmeal and 8 oz of salted meat. They didn’t get any food on the day they didn’t work. The enslaved people tended their own gardens in their very limited spare time in order to provide more sustenance for themselves.

Garden and home for a family of six or eight (I forget, exactly) enslaved people.

There were some really beautiful gardens. None of my photos did them justice.

The day we were there was a humid summer day with a threat of rain and thunder. We luckily only caught a few rain drops of the passing storm. We spent nearly an entire day there, and I could make another trip and still have more things to see.

One thought on “George Washington: Innovative Gardener (A Visit To Mount Vernon)”

  1. Great photos – – the gardens were so impressive. I was fascinated by the espalier fruit trees that also served as fences.

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