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March 18 1812: Thomas Jefferson and Alpine Strawberry Plants

Thomas Jefferson, for more than forty years, devoted much of his prodigious imagination and energy into the design and repeated redesigns of various parts of his estate at  
Monticello. The gardens of the estate were a special source of pride for him. The gardens had plants that he had acquired from all over the world. Jefferson also experimented with different plants and seeds.  He had about 170 fruit varieties of different fruits and 330 different vegetable varieties in Monticello. These majestic gardens were maintained by slaves that Jefferson employed during his whole life despite his eloquent words in the defence of American liberty. In this way, the Monticello gardens, that one can visit today, are a variegated expression of  an ordered liberty much like the American ideal whose seeds were beginning to bear green shoots in 1812, together with the thorns to come.

On March 18, 1812, Jefferson wrote to his friend, George Divers, sending him some Alpine Strawberry plants.  The two were close friends and exchanged many seeds and letters on gardening. The Alpine Strawberry is originally a European wildflower that has white flowers and small edible crimson berries.  Jefferson's letter to George Divers reads:
"I promised to stock you with the Alpine Strawberry as soon as my beds would permit. I now send you a basket of plants & can spare you 10. baskets more if you desire it. their value, you know, is the giving strawberries 8. months in the year. but they require a large piece of ground and therefore I am moving them into the truck patch, as I cannot afford them room enough in the garden."
George Divers replied, on the same day,"I receiv'd the alpine strawberry plants sent by your Servant, for which accept my thanks."

The Jefferson Monticello website, which has most of the information found above, also provides this interesting history of Thomas Jefferson and the Alpine Strawberry plant:
"Thomas Jefferson first noted sowing three rows of seeds of "Fragole Alpine" at Monticello on March 31, 1774. Having evidently acquired specimens of the plant in Europe, Jefferson included the Alpine strawberry in a list of baggage he had shipped from France in 1789. In a later letter to James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson included the Alpine strawberry as one of the "three objects which you should endeavor to enrich our country with." Jefferson grew this variety both at Monticello and at Poplar Forest. In 1798, he sent more Alpine strawberries to Thomas Mann Randolph from Philadelphia for planting at Monticello. In 1807, he asked Bernard McMahon for Alpine strawberry seeds, but McMahon had trouble fulfilling the order, which might suggest a scarcity of this plant in gardens at the time. Jefferson also obtained seeds of the Alpine strawberry from James Worthington in 1805 and 1808, and purchased plants from both McMahon and John Bartram, Jr. 
Although the Alpine strawberry flourished at Monticello, a sometimes-troublesome characteristic of this variety was the tiny size of the fruit. Jefferson stated bluntly, "it would take acres to yield a dish."






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