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The Neat Retreat: Host an Outdoor Garden Party Inspired by the Monticello Gardens

Michael Nolan
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Monticello Themed Garden Party

Most of the world may know him as the author of the Declaration of Independence who would become our third President, but Thomas Jefferson was also an avid gardener and one of our nation’s first foodies. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has visited Monticello that Jefferson was known for his love of vegetables. Historian Karen Hess even referred to him as “our only epicurean President”. Imagine the possibilities if you were to host your own outdoor garden party with a Monticello-inspired theme!

Garden Party Décor

It’s easy to get distracted by the size of the one-thousand-foot long Monticello Vegetable Garden, but the most important thing to remember is that Thomas Jefferson valued function over form in his natural, easy to maintain gardens. So focus your attention on making the food and conversation the star of the show. Don’t worry about making sure every weed is pulled and every bloom is perfect for your garden party. Just keep your décor natural, with a relaxed, casual feel that brings to mind an English cottage garden. Combine entertainment with education by framing printed quotes and trivia about Thomas Jefferson and Monticello, and placing them around the garden for your guests to enjoy.

Garden Party Food

From French fries to pumpkin pie, Thomas Jefferson loved to wow his guests with his latest food finds. Some sources credit Jefferson for bringing some of our favorite foods to America. While that may be debated, we know for certain that diners at Jefferson’s table enjoyed a meal where fresh vegetables always took center stage. No matter what you choose to serve at your garden party, follow Jefferson’s lead and keep it fresh and flavorful. Some ideas include:

  • A simple heirloom tomato salad. Jefferson proudly grew and served tomatoes even though the conventional wisdom of the time said that they were deadly.
  • Roasted broccoli and cauliflower. While common today, these tasty vegetables were largely unheard of at the time.
  • Sweet potato pie tartlets. Monticello’s unique microclimates made it possible to grow these usually tropical tubers though they were grown almost exclusively in South and Central America at the time.

Monticello’s wine cellar was always well stocked with a selection of wines from all over Europe. Be sure to have a few options on-hand as well as sparkling water, juices, and other beverages for those who choose not to imbibe.

Small party takeaways like this are simple and inexpensive, but they make a lasting impression on your guests.

Small party takeaways like this are simple and inexpensive, but they make a lasting impression on your guests.


Unique Ideas for Fun Garden Party Takeaways

Jefferson was known to share seeds for new vegetable varieties. Keep his gardening legacy alive by sending guests home with seeds inspired by the diversity of the Monticello Vegetable Garden. Tie an inexpensive thimble to a packet of lettuce seed and explain that at Monticello, the former President planted a thimbleful of lettuce every Monday morning between February and September. Give each guest a set of decorative recipe cards with the recipes they enjoyed at your outdoor garden party. This will save you loads of time answering all the recipe requests and make you look like a superstar party host at the same time. Celebrate Jefferson’s dedication to soil improvement by giving attendees a small bag of ready-to-use compost. Include a list of household items that can be composted and tips on starting their own compost pile.

(Photos by Michael Nolan)

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