Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

April 17, 2014 Volume 35, No. 27

Celebrity gardener helps MU celebrate 175th anniversary, horticulture and Jefferson’s birthday

Alternate text

PBS gardener P. Allen Smith spoke of Jefferson, horticulture and gardening at a lecture April 13 in the Columns Ballroom of Reynolds Alumni Center. Photo by Mikala Compton.

Dark clouds and hard rain didn’t stop gardening fans from celebrating Thomas Jefferson’s 271st birthday with television host and gardening expert P. Allen Smith April 13.

Smith is host of P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home and P. Allen Smith’s Garden to Table on PBS. He’s also written books about food and garden design. He is known to have a special interest in Jefferson’s life and gardens. As a former board member of the Royal Oak Foundation, he has worked to preserve Jefferson’s Monticello plantation in Virginia.

The celebration, which included a nod to MU’s 175th anniversary, kicked off at 4:30 p.m. in the Jesse Hall lobby (rain forced the event indoors). 

Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin talked about the connection between Jefferson and MU. MU was the first university founded in Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase territory. Also, the Francis Quadrangle was inspired by a quadrangle at the University of Virginia, the layout of which was originally designed by Jefferson.

“Outside of my window, there’s the most incredible sight I’ve ever seen,” Loftin said. “I hope you enjoy this beautiful campus as much as I do every morning.”

After Loftin and Arthur Mehrhoff, an academic coordinator at the Museum of Art and Archaeology, blew out the candles on Jefferson’s birthday cake, the audience moved to Reynolds Alumni Center to listen to Smith’s 

lecture. Titled “The Horticultural Life and Gardens of Thomas Jefferson,” the lecture attracted more than 100 people to the Columns Ballroom.

Smith talked about Jefferson’s love for gardening and food rather than his legacy as the third president of the United States. Smith said that Jefferson grew 170 varieties of plants and 278 grape vines every season. 

“One hundred and seventy!” Smith exclaimed. “I can’t even keep up with 30!”

When Jefferson learned there was a popular cucumber species in Ohio, he wrote a letter to the Ohio governor and asked for seeds. “He was not a silk-stocking gentleman-type of farmer,” Smith said, adding that Jefferson loved to get out of the house and work with other gardeners.

During questions, Smith shared tips and opinions on organic gardening. When asked how to grow an edible plant in a small apartment, he gave a simple tip, or nonanswer: “Be bold with it. Have fun.”

He said children are the main reason he does not use garden chemicals. “Why would you poison the land where children step?” Smith said.

— JeongAn Choi