On a recent vacation, awesome Husband and I visited Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s mountaintop home. In addition to all his other attributes, TJ was a gardener. The Monticello trust has taken great pains in recent years to restore the gardens to how they would have looked in Jefferson’s time. The gardens are truly stunning and I didn’t have near enough time to explore. I wasn’t quite sure what expect, but among the surprises was my encounter with a Western friend: Philadelphus lewisii.
Monticello’s beautiful, arching shrub looks only a little more mature than the Philadelphus lewisii in my garden. But how did this California native come to be in an 18th century Virginia garden?
The name gives it away. “Lewisii” for Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition. Recall that president Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition after the Louisiana purchase to explore and map the newly acquired territory. The expedition’s other mission (and perhaps the closest to Jefferson’s heart) was scientific. Lewis and Clark were charged to study the area’s plants and animal life and to collect samples. Jefferson appointed horticulturist Bernard McMahon to curate, and grow if possible, the plants amassed by the expedition. Philadelphus lewisii was one of those plants and was named after Lewis. Jefferson subsequently grew many of the plant discovered by the expedition. It is no wonder that this lovely Western shrub ended up at Monticello.
And in my garden!
P.S. If you enjoy history and gardening, you might enjoy this book: Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation, by Andrea Wulf.