Category Archives: Edible Trees and Plants

An Edible Past: The Historic Relationship Between the Kentucky Coffeetree and Our Grounds

My name is Sam Askenas and I am a second year student entering the McIntire School of Commerce this upcoming fall.  This blog post is part of the Spring 2015 Edible Plants BioGrounds group endeavor to create a virtual map of many the edible plants located hear on grounds.  My responsibility is to report on the Kentucky Coffeetree located in the Gardens at Pavilion X and Morea Gardens.

“The planting of a tree […] is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.” – George Orwell

Although predating this quote, Thomas Jefferson and the overarching University of Virginia community exudes the same sentiment in each and every way.  As many of these blog posts will address, the greater Charlottesville area – and more specifically the Pavilion Gardens – have a plethora of trees and other plant life.  Undoubtedly, all these trees and plants add to the beauty of our grounds, but what is more important is that this greenery can double as sustenance for people.  The Kentucky Coffeetree is one such pant that adds to the character of the gardens in which it inhabits and can also be eaten as a means of nutrition.

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Morea Garden: Kentucky Coffeetree.  Photo from

The Kentucky Coffeetree is native to North America, and was further introduced to new areas by the Native Americans.  Originally, the pulp and bark were utilized as tonics and herbal remedies, but the tree was also utilized for food!  A tea can easily be made from the leaves and pulp, and many Native American tribes roasted the beans for food.  Additionally, Settlers would also utilize the beans as a coffee substitute.  However, not the whole tree is edible.  The presence of cytisine in the seeds and pods makes them poisonous to the human body if they are not roasted.  It is a common belief that the cytisine in the seeds and pods is neutralized, thus rendered obsolete, in the roasting process.


Morea Garden: Seed Pod from Kentucky Coffeetree.  Photo from

Pavilion X is one home of the Kentucky Coffeetree here on grounds.  The Kentucky Coffeetree can be seen on either side of the picturesque white bench.  On top of the tree’s ability to be eaten, it offers a tremendous amount of shade and adds to the overall beauty and biodiversity of the garden.  From my own experience, I can say that it was extremely peaceful to break away from the hubbub of everyday life and rest underneath this gorgeous tree.


Pavilion X Garden: Kentucky Coffeetree

The Kentucky Coffeetree can also be found in the Morea Garden.  Morea was originally built in 1834 by the first professor of natural history at the University of Virginia – Dr. John Patten Emmet.  Following his death in 1843, Morea has served as the residents for many UVa professors who use the grounds as a teaching tool for botany.  Presently, the University of Virginia and the Albemarle Garden Club share usage and care of the garden.


Morea House. Photo from

Edible plants are located all around us.  With the help of our virtual map, students and faculty will be able to marvel at the edible beauty that surrounds us.  By making a map of these plants and trees, we hope that it will encourage more people to enjoy all the delicious wonder that they have to offer.

Post by Sam Askenas

Works Cited:


UVA Edible Gardens – Pavilion VII

My name is Trevor Ruegg and I am a second-year student from California. I am posting on behalf of the Edible Trees & Plants team.

Since first walking through the gardens during my first few weeks at UVA, the abundance of different plants and trees, both edible and not edible, has astounded me. I have had certain classes taught in the gardens, and some teachers have taken us there to encourage deeper, more reflective thought. Since Jefferson founded the University, gardens have had a critical presence on grounds. Many of the same plants here today have been there for hundreds of years. Most of my research consisted of exploring certain edible plants in the garden behind Pavilion VII.

Garden VII has a multitude of different plants, only some edible, but all beautiful. The apple, plum, and walnut trees provide penumbral lighting that is perfect for studying, thinking, and even a place to close your eyes and take a nap. This garden has a traditionally styled orchard, set in “old” style turf parterres (pictured below). Many of the elements in Garden VIII are reflective of what Jefferson saw traveling throughout Europe and other parts of the country not similar to Virginia.



I specifically focused on the plum tree, one of mine, as well as Jefferson’s, favorite fruits. The plum tree is popular throughout the entire world – in the US, Europe, and Asia. In America, plum trees begin to blossom in the spring and fruits are on the trees during the summer. As displayed in the picture below, the plum tree can reach heights of 15-20 feet when pruned properly. There are four different types of plum plants in this garden, out of the approximate 20 types across the world (depending on the taxonomist). Along with the sweet taste and juicy texture, plums have medicinal benefits for the digestive system and can function as a mild laxative when prepared certain ways. A plum tree is pictured below.


Unfortunately the quality and health of the plum yield has diminished over the past decades. During the present day, the plum trees, along with other edible trees in the UVA Gardens, are primarily for decorative and historical purposes, and do not produce the same yield that they would if they were used solely for harvesting purposes.

In an effort to explore edible weeds, I found ground ivy located under some of the trees outside Robertson Hall. Ground ivy is an edible weed that although not good tasting, have many medicinal purposes in ointments and teas. The ground ivy is pictured below.



UVA’s grounds have an incredible array of different plants, many of which are edible, and I encourage everyone to seek out not only the gardens, but also fruits here that are still produce an edible yield. As one can see by standing outside any garden entrance, the gardens are extremely underutilized by UVA students and often only visited by someone passing through. The environment of the garden provides students with an excellent biofphilic opportunity, and on a nice day can be a much more productive place to do coursework than somewhere like the stacks of Alderman Library. The isolation from other people, yet integration with nature inhibits a space for wonderful, contemplative thinking. In fact, I took this opportunity to write this blog post under the plum trees in Garden VIII and can attest that the UVA Gardens are fantastic places to work.


Post by Trevor Ruegg

A Deeper Look at what is Around You: Pavilion II

The Gardens at UVa, although beautiful and useful for gatherings, serve a purpose that many do not appreciate. Pavilion II hosts a plethora of aesthetically pleasing plants and trees, that are also edible, nutritious, and delicious. Not many know, but Pavilion II was originally intended to be practical, not ornamental. The large pecan tree, planted by late Dean Ivy F. Lewis, contributes shade and a nice place to read, but also nuts that are tasty and healthy. Interestingly, a pecan is technically not a nut; it is a “drupe,” which is a fruit with a single pit. Pecans can be eaten raw or cooked. Pick one from a Garden tree and it can make a healthy snack right then and there. Pecan trees are the only major nut trees that originate from North America. It is also known that Thomas Jefferson was a lover of pecan trees, as he planted them in his own personal garden in 1779.



Pecans growing in their husks. Photo from:

Blueberry and grape vines grow on a terrace dissecting through the middle of the garden, which aims to serve as a reminder of the utilitarian purpose of these gardens as opposed to just their aesthetic purpose (“The Gardens”). Grapes are actually berries and are a very popular and delicious snack. The grape vine needs very little maintenance and will last for 50 to 100 years, serving Garden goers for a lifetime. Similarly, blueberries average about a 60-year lifespan, but ideally can live forever if treated and pruned properly. Together the two create a beautiful, and edible, sight with the clusters of purple and dark blue fruit hanging from the vines. Grapes and blueberries can both be picked and eaten on the spot, so enjoy!



Vines along a serpentine wall in the Garden. Photo by: Caroline Kugler

The Garden is also home to four heirloom varieties of plums. Like pecans, plums are also considered to be drupes. Arguably the most nutritious edible plant in the Garden, the plum is a large provider of phenols, a type of antioxidant, and vitamin C, which is proven to increase the absorption of iron in the body. Plums are a great source of fiber, necessary for every diet. Plums can be eaten fresh or dried and made into prunes.

Along the serpentine walls of the Garden are crabapple trees. Although crabapple trees are a variety of apple trees, the fruit itself is very different. Crabapples are sharp and bitter and do not provide the same taste sensation as a traditional apple. Like apples, the seeds of a crabapple contain a form of cyanide, a toxin. Even though this toxin is present, it is only in the seeds and needs to be ingested in large quantities to take effect. Although not enjoyed fresh, crabapples can be used to make a delicious jam and still add value to the very useful Garden.



Crabapples. Photo from:

Daylilies, the beautiful orange flowers on the lower bank of the Garden, are actually edible as well. In fact, the entire plant is edible. The young shoots can be eaten when they are under 5 inches tall and they taste like onion when fried. The flower buds are a source of iron and the blossoms can be eaten as well, cooked or uncooked. The roots can also be harvested when they are white and new and can be eaten raw or cooked. The dried plant is a good source of vitamin A. Many do not think to eat plants, it is not common in the modern era, however, eating daylilies dates back to the 1500s with the Europeans and is a common practice in many cultures, including a famous Portuguese dish made with daylilies.

How can we promote the education and use of edible trees and plants on Grounds? There should be an initiative to build an On-Grounds, edible garden. It can be sustained by students or through a company called Cville Foodscapes that builds low-maintenance, edible gardens. By creating an edible garden open to all University students, students will unknowingly learn about nature and contribute to a sustainable university and world.

When it comes to planning, it is important to think about the impact that the trees and plants you choose will have on the visitors to your site. A tree is beautiful and serves many purposes, (shade, a seat, a climbing apparatus) but if it can also provide fruit, which is an added bonus. Edible plants and trees add to the sustainability of areas and encourage citizens to become more connected to and educated about nature.


A view of Pavilion II. Photo by: Caroline Kugler

 With our knowledge, we must encourage students to look deeper at the nature around them, to look past the aesthetics to the nutritional value that the world around them can provide.

To learn more about where to find edible plants and trees on Grounds, view our team virtual map!

Post by Caroline Kugler



Cultivated Edibles at the University

My name is Ellen Choi and I am a fourth year studying Foreign Affairs and Economics. This blog post will contribute to the Edible Trees and Plants team blog by describing the history and abundance of edibles in the Pavilion Gardens.

The gardens at UVA have traditionally been associated with contemplative thinking and scholarly life. Thomas Jefferson “arranged [the University] around an open square of grass and trees”, demonstrating how central (both literally and figuratively) gardens were in relation to the character of the school. In regards to the gardens, they were restored in the 1950s. Mary Hughes, the University landscape architect, stated that the pavilion gardens were “an extension of [the pavilions and hotels]”, and as a result, it connects the pavilions to be “completely integral to the experience of the house”. Faculty residents used to have not only the garden immediately outside their pavilion, but they were also given five acres to raise vegetables and ten acres of pastures. With this no longer being the case, the Garden Club has done a fantastic job maintaining these beautiful gardens and opening them up to the public.

The West Pavilion Gardens

Pavilion Garden I is reflective of Jefferson’s period, with it formerly being bordered by rows of fruits and trees along with rectilinear beds once used for vegetable and herbs. Today, It hold shrubs and trees like the sweetgum tree whose dried up sap makes a fragrant, but bitter chewing gum. The sap is also used to add flavor to smoking tobacco. Pavilion Garden V has the more edible and useful “Albemarle Pippin” Apple Trees, one of Jefferson’s favorite apples. The ‘Albemarle Pippin’ has fruit whose flesh is greenish-white and is juicy and crisp, with a fine aroma. Garden V also contains the purple flowering Hostas, which has nutritional value. Every part of the plant is edible and with its asparagus-like taste, you could add it to flavor your salads.

Garden V: Flowering Hostas in its prime.
Garden V: Flowering Hostas in its prime.
Garden V: “Albemarle Pippin.”
Garden V: “Albemarle Pippin.”

What Pavilion Garden IX lacks in size, it makes up for it in edible abundance. Although one of the smallest gardens, Garden IX has “Albemarle Pippin” apple trees like Garden V and is lined with pomegranate shrubs. A large fig tree looks over the garden from the corner and annually provides deliciously sweet figs during the fall, while pomegranate bushes lines the serpentine walls.

Garden IX “Albemarle Pippin” Orchard.
Garden IX “Albemarle Pippin” Orchard.

The East Pavilion Gardens

A large pecan tree with seeds that have a rich, buttery flavor was planted in Pavilion Garden II in the middle of the 20th century. In the hotel garden, four types of plums grow with several crabapple trees lining the walls. Crabapples are more known for their beautiful, pink flowers, but they do produce a fruit that is about 2 inches thick. While Gardens IV and VI contain mostly decorative plants, the Rose of Sharon in Garden VIII Has edible leaves that taste like lettuce and a mild tasting, edible flower that may even lower blood pressure. This fruitful garden also contains an orchard with apples, plums, and walnuts set the style in turf parterres.

Garden VIII: Turf parterres shown. Photo from:
Garden VIII: Turf parterres shown. Photo from:

Pavilion X has a unique tree, the Kentucky Coffee, which have seeds that you can roast, grind and brew like coffee. These seeds can also be eaten like nuts and have less caffeine than regular coffee beans. You can enjoy these trees by sitting on the iron benches that are places around these beautiful trees with in the eighteenth-century styled gardens.

Garden X: Kentucky Coffee Tree.
Garden X: Kentucky Coffee Tree.

There are several other places on grounds where you can find cultivated edible plants. Fig trees located near Gilmer Hall produce the sweetest figs in the fall. With personal experience, I can tell you that they are delicious and very accessible.

Fig tree outside Gilmer Hall.
Fig tree outside Gilmer Hall.


Post by Ellen Choi, Fourth-Year, Foreign Affairs and Economics

Edible AND Educational: How Food Grown On-Grounds Could Serve in Multiple Ways

As the Edible Tree & Shrub team’s previous blog posts have pointed out, there is a unique combination of Jeffersonian history and “foodie” interests that coincides at UVA, especially in the Pavilion Gardens. While these spaces currently stand-out primarily in their botanical purpose, which is useful for garden parties and ceremonies, and a quiet place to study, the edible nature of these spaces has the potential to highlight their utilitarian history and serve as places for engaged and hands-on learning. It is with this in mind that the quantity and quality of edible trees and shrubs on-grounds could be enhanced to better facilitate our connectedness to the nature around us.

From his letters and notes about UVA grounds, the Pavilion Gardens, and his intentions for a school of botany, it is clear that Thomas Jefferson fully intended for the students of his University to obtain as deep and fundamental an appreciation for and understanding of gardening and agriculture as any other science, such as chemistry. His belief that “cultivators of the earth” are the “most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous” compelled him to stress that the University experience be rounded out with knowledge of the tended natural world, and his plans thoroughly indicate that this may have occurred in these kinds of “educational landscapes.”

Figure 1: Jefferson garden plans (Photo credit: U.Va Special Collections Library).
Figure 1: Jefferson garden plans (Photo credit: U.Va Special Collections Library).

Although we have since moved away from that vision, models of educational landscapes based on edible foods and shrubs highlight the capacity for us to respect Jefferson’s ideas. For example, apart from providing a local source of ingredients for university dining halls, the Yale Sustainable Food Project includes a large educational component that fosters “exploration and academic inquiry into food and agriculture.” Numerous conferences, weekly lecture event series, and hands-on programs allow students to learn about sustainable agriculture and its relation to the environment, health, politics, and the global economy. Its growth has led to the introduction of a sustainable agriculture concentration in Yale’s forestry school. This use of edible landscaping for educational purposes is also seen at schools such as Vassar, Wellesley, and Virginia Tech.

Figure 2: Yale Sustainable Food Project (credit:
Figure 2: Yale Sustainable Food Project (credit:

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Professor of Landscape Architecture Nancy Takahashi to discuss this concept during research for another planning class. She emphasized that by highlighting the existing edible trees and shrubs at UVA, and adding to them in spaces such as Nameless Field that were originally intended for cultivation purposes, the University would promote the establishment of spaces that educate people, so that we may “learn & be inspired  from our surroundings.” By adding to the existing food gardens that are associated with dining halls (e.g. Hereford is associated with Runk, the student garden is associated with OHill), there is opportunity to extend this to central grounds in historically-relevant manners. The Pavilion 9 garden, which currently features orchard-style landscaping and vast expanses of monoculture grass, could be used a garden for West Range Café to source food locally. A part of nameless field could similarly be designated to work with Newcomb Dining hall. The University could in turn institutionalize the academic nature of such places by affiliating them with the existing Global Sustainability minor or by creating a garden-based USEM, and by promoting STEM learning and experimentation in these spaces.  Additionally, by emphasizing Jefferson’s intentions for cultivated places on-grounds, there is great potential to expand opportunities for learning about UVa’s history.

Figure 3: Pavilion 9 garden. Photo by Katie Woodward.
Figure 3: Pavilion 9 garden. Photo by Katie Woodward.

Although, as mentioned in earlier posts, it is implausible to fully amend for the great environmental costs of dining halls by localizing food sources entirely, the sustainability role of merely demonstrative on-grounds gardens is still great. Using the Pavilion gardens as demonstrative food spaces could serve to exemplify how local food sources address environmental concerns in each of these realms. Among the environmental solutions that could be demonstrated are the use of dining hall compost as fertilizer, rainwater collection for watering, the cultivation of native produce, etc. The presence of this garden as a model for attainable and everyday green practices could encourage and solidify eco-conscious mindsets in the University community, and in turn, students might adopt more environmentally-friendly habits, passively helping the University to meet its sustainability goals.

The edible plants that exist at U.Va speak to Jefferson’s agrarian character and parallel the Charlottesville’s place as the “local food capital of the world.”  There is great potential to increase the visibility of these features on-grounds in unique, academically-relevant ways to allow the University community to fully experience such biophilic elements.

Post by Katie Woodward

Edible Surprises in the Pavilion Gardens

“I rank [botany] with the most valuable sciences… it’s subjects as… delicious varieties for our tables, refreshments from our orchards, the adornments of our flowerborders, shade and perfume of our groves…”

Thomas Jefferson, 1814

View of one of the Pavilion Gardens. Photo from:
View of one of the Pavilion Gardens. Photo from:

Jefferson’s love of all things gardening is evident in his writings, his illustrations, his influence over the grounds of the University of Virginia, and particularly his own home. However, Jefferson did actually not design the pavilion or hotel gardens – defining spaces at UVA for their serpentine walls and distinctly unique spaces – at all. Rather, upon the completion of the walls in 1824, the design, initial planting, and maintenance of the gardens were left in the care of the hotel and pavilion residences. This resulted in a diverse and unconnected series of spaces, and as the residents frequently changed, so did the gardens. After some time, buildings, roads, and walls were added, but did not necessarily share characteristics or adhere to Jefferson’s original plan.

Whereas Pavilion III (left) has abundant dogwood trees and azaleas, Pavilion V (right) is much more formal with dwarf boxwood. Photos from: Virginia Historical Society.
Whereas Pavilion III (left) has abundant dogwood trees and azaleas, Pavilion V (right) is much more formal with dwarf boxwood. Photos from: Virginia Historical Society.

In 1948, a renewed interest was sparked for the Pavilion Gardens when the Garden Club of Virginia offered to restore and unify them in a way that was consistent with Jefferson’s designs. Alden Hopkins, the landscape architect for Colonial Williamsburg, began the process in the West Gardens, drawing plans and overseeing initial restoration. After his death, however, Donald H. Parker stepped into his shoes and completed what needed to be done in the East Gardens. As a result of two separate designers, the series of gardens have distinct style differences, yet they each draw inspiration from the gardens at Monticello and Jefferson’s writings.

Gardens at Monticello. Photo from: Artstor.
Gardens at Monticello. Photo from: Artstor.
Pavilion II features a grape arbor and is similar to some of the gardens present at Monticello. Photo from: Virginia Historical Society.
Pavilion II features a grape arbor and is similar to some of the gardens present at Monticello. Photo from: Virginia Historical Society.

The plants chosen for planting were drawn from a collection that would have been known to Jefferson, reflecting his vast knowledge and love of botany. Jefferson had a love of both native Virginian and exotic plants, and said, “the greatest service which can be rendered by any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.” Design elements in the gardens reflect international styles, and his legacy of extensive knowledge encouraged the great variety of plants. His interest in living self-sufficiently also inspired the designers and gardeners to include a number of edible trees and plants. The gardens’ main function remains ornamental, however, and the edibles do not generate the same yield as they would be if they were pruned for production.

Given better information about the pleasant spaces and natural foods available in the Pavilion Gardens, it is our hope that they can be better appreciated and utilized by the student body. That said, moderation is key, and the importance of maintaining a vibrant, healthy appearance in the gardens should be stressed.

Melissa Reese’s 2008 report entitled Edible Lawn: An Inventory of the Edible Landscape at the University of Virginia on the Lawn Pavilion Gardens is a tremendous resource for anyone looking to learn more about edibles in the Pavilion Gardens. Beautifully arranged, with a simple, effective layout, the report lists and graphically presents the various edible trees, plants, and herbs that can be found in different gardens, including when they will be in bloom. In addition, at the end of the report is a photo guide to the plants previously listed, which is enormously helpful for novice gardeners and botanists.


The 2011 University of Virginia Sustainability Assessment details the initiatives that have been completed since 2006, and relevant items include: expand procurement of local and organic foods in all dining facilities, host special events and establish specific dining outlets to promote local organic foods, explore opportunities for establishing a University demonstration garden/farm. While the university has certainly made good strides toward these objectives, it seems that an additional possible action could be to make students aware of the abundant edible foods present on grounds. Slow Food at UVA recently held a workshop that taught students how to make dandelion wine, and it seems that similar (perhaps more applicable) workshops regarding the cultivation and treatment of edible plants and trees would be educational, helpful, and interesting.

Reese, Melissa. Edible Lawn: An Inventory of the Edible Landscape at the University of Virginia in the Lawn Pavilion Gardens. Fall 2008.

Post by Emma Troller, Second-Year, Urban and Environmental Planning

Edible Weeds

My name is Lane Rylander and I am a 3rd year Architectural History major.  For my Biogrounds Edible Plants project blog post, I will address the unplanted edibles that can be found on the grounds at the University of Virginia.

Jefferson’s design of the University of Virginia includes multitudes of planted edibles in the gardens and throughout the grounds. Though there are numerous ways to get a snack through the various kitchen gardens, there are still a couple of unusual plants that make up much of the University of Virginia’s natural garden. As an experiment, I journeyed around our area to find both the unplanted edibles and researched ways to enjoy our most recognizable edibles around grounds.

Unfortunately, most of UVa has been trimmed into submission but there were many more weeds and grasses to munch on than I had previously thought!

Here are a few of the edible weeds I found around UVa:


Though most grass is not edible, most lawn grasses have edible parts! The roots of grasses such as Quackgrass (dried roots) and the seeds of Crabgrass (toasted) can be ground into flour and used to make muffins and cakes. These methods are a little time consuming but the grasses can be found on and around the lawn in bulk. Who knew we could think of the lawn as a food source?!



Chickweed is one of the most common edibles around town. I found this Chickweed next to the daffodils on the University Ave. side of the Rotunda. It can be prepared Raw, boiled, and fried. It has ten white delicate petals and blooms right now during the spring.



Dandelions are hard to find on UVa grounds but easy to find all around the area in the open fields of house lawns and median strips. This plant is extremely eatable, especially when it’s young. More mature plants become bitter and the flowers become only good for wish-making.  I was surprised to see that Dandelion blossom soda is actually sold by Fentimens with Burdock. Dandelion tea, fried dandelion flowers,  and salads made with Dandelion greens are also widely accepted.



Found in many lawns around UVa as well, Ground Ivy is one of those plants that is easy to overlook.  Young ground Ivy has a strong minty flavor and can be used in soups and salads. Older Ground Ivy can be dried for tea and used to help ferment and clarify home-brewed beer.  The flowers are a light purple and the leaves are scalloped and heart-shaped.



My friends and I growing up used to eat Onion Grass, which is like a wild chive, on the playground. At some point we all forgot about the weed and let it grow rampant in the schoolyard. This plant is a little bit more tough and stringy than the chives bought at a supermarket. However, they hold a similar taste and appearance. They can be used to make broth, chopped up raw, and used in soups, salads, and sandwiches. The stems are smooth and waxy to the touch and have a strong onion smell. I found this particular clump of Onion Grass next to the first Range dorm across the road from Alderman Library.



Periwinkle plants are not quite as tasty as many other ground weeds but they do have many medicinal uses! Periwinkles are useful in treating wasp stings, anemia, bleeding, and memory loss. Adding a teaspoon of the dried plant to boiling water and infusing for 10 minutes may make a good, healing, tea. I found these periwinkle plants in the shade of an exterior garden wall off the lawn.


There are many more wild edible plants out there, but these are a few that can easily be spotted around UVa! Remember, before eating these plants it is important to carefully compare the plant in person to the description in a plant manual, there are many look-alikes out there! The first website in the sources has a massive index of wild edibles complete with recipes and descriptions that are very helpful when identifying wild plants.


Eat The Weeds

West Virginia Department of Agriculture

Lifestyle Lounge: Benefits of Periwinkle

Discovery News: Guide to Common Edible Plants:

Post by Lane Rylander, Third-Year, Architectural History

Edibles and the larger movement toward local foods

“Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1781

As described in our previous two blog posts, Thomas Jefferson was deeply committed to integrating horticulture and agriculture into the core foundation of the University of Virginia. His agrarian ideals were achieved through the construction of ten pavilion gardens adjacent to the Lawn. These gardens, and their rich plant and animal life, were intended to be “a place in which to study and a subject of study themselves;” and, with at least 40 edible species of plants in the gardens to-date, it is safe to say that the gardens are certainly a viable subject of study.1 While they are a wonderful example of Jefferson’s original agrarian principles in action, the gardens are unfortunately not a source of large-scale harvestable food for the University.

Although the UVA and greater Charlottesville community cannot produce all the food it needs in its own backyards, gardens, etc. (as Jefferson would have originally wanted), an incredibly strong local food movement has formed in recent years. In the past decade a whole new generation of young farmers and entrepreneurs have steadily changed the way we grow, purchase, and think about our food. The general trend is toward organic, humanly raised, and fairly traded food, which perfectly aligns with Jefferson’s veneration of the yeomen farmer. A food is considered ‘local’ if it comes from within a 250-mile radius, as opposed to the average 1,500 miles food travels to get from farm to plate.2 The Local Food Hub [LFH] in Charlottesville was established in 2008 to “improve small farm viability and increase community access to local food.”3 Today the LFH services many restaurants, schools, and businesses in the Albemarle region.

This sweeping movement has impacted the University as well. 25% of UVA Dining’s total purchases are now ‘sustainable,’ a feat that was accomplished through a partnership with the LFH. Students have joined the movement too, this year the group Greens to Grounds was established, with the sole aim of providing students with local, seasonal produce on a regular basis.4 The organization operates like a community supported agriculture (CSA); students place an order for a basket of produce and receive whatever food is available from farms that week.

UVA dining hosts one of many meals that features locally sourced produce. Photo from: UVA Dining.
UVA dining hosts one of many meals that features locally sourced produce. Photo from: UVA Dining.

The push for locally and sustainably sourced foods has already sparked significant changes at UVA, so what lies ahead? Rather than looking to external farms and businesses for food, we could likely see an increase in the amount of harvestable foods on-grounds, or in UVA affiliated areas. The Morven Kitchen Garden (owned by UVA, and located approximately 15 miles from central grounds) already supplies UVA dining with some of its produce.5 The vital and most difficult transition will be increasing these operations on-grounds. Perhaps the UVA student gardens will expand in size, or dormitories will each establish their own edible gardens. Whatever direction the student body and administration decide to go, edibles will only continue to grow at The University of Virginia.

Students explore the Morven Kitchen Garden, which is often used as an outdoor classroom. Photo from:
Students explore the Morven Kitchen Garden, which is often used as an outdoor classroom. Photo from:






Post by Vanessa Ehrenpreis, Second-Year, Environmental Science and Environmental Thought & Practice

Established Gardens on Grounds

“I have often thought that if heaven had given me a choice of my position and calling, it would have been on a rich spot of earth … No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1811 

My name is Cristina Ramirez and I am a third year Environmental Thought and Practice major. For this blog post of the Edible Trees and Plants group I will be talking about the current established gardens on Grounds and their importance to student and community life.

All of these gardens fulfill Jefferson’s intentions of having a botanical garden added to the Academical Village. He understood what spending time outdoors and with nature could do for one’s mental and physical health, as well as the importance of having a proper scientific understanding of plants. His visions have taken form in a variety of ways on Grounds, from being primarily ornamental and a place for relaxation to areas where students can grow their own food and study plant life. Here are just a few of the gardens that you can find in the UVa community:

UVa Community Garden

The UVa Community Garden has a mission to provide a space for the University and Charlottesville communities to learn more about organic farming. Not only is this a important education resource for students and faculty, but it is an opportunity for connections to be made between the community and school. They have successfully grown Asparagus, Rainbow Chard, Arugula, Herbs (Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, Flat-leaf Parsley), Bulls Blood Beets, Golden Beets, China Rose Winter Radish, Florence Fennel, Carrots, Peruvian Zinnias, French-Stripe Marigolds, Sunflowers, and Strawberries.

Hereford Heritage Gardens

The Hereford Heritage Garden is student run and allows them to learn about where their food comes from. Among their plants they have grown tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, lettuces, cabbage, kale, turnips, and herbs.

Students work together to create arches to support crop cover fabric, which will prevent the frost from settling on the plants. It also should help insulate the plants with heat absorbed during day. Photo from herefordgardens.wordpress.

The gardens at UVa are not just on Grounds. They extend to the surrounding Charlottesville area and showcase the other ways gardens can contribute to one’s daily life.

Blandy Experimental Farm

These 700 acres in the Shenandoah Valley are used as a field station and base for experimental projects and programs. Research is done by UVa faculty and students on plant pollination, plant-animal interactions, and deforestation caused by the gypsy moth. Education and Public Programs offer workshops, lectures, and tours to learn about environmental issues and the history of gardening. Finally, the State Arboretum of Virginia holds over 5000 living trees, and herb garden, and the Virginia Native Plant Trail. Many of their public events run from March to May, you can find out more about what they offer on their website:

Morven Farm

Donated to the University in 2001, it has since been used for academic and educational purposes. The 7,379 acre piece of land consists of 11 farms and gardens. In 1930 landscape architect Annette Hoyt Flanders restored the gardens. The gardens included extensive planning of various types of shrubs and flowers of all colors. Today the area has public outreach programs where community members can come visit the formal gardens and observe the farms. Students and faculty participate in the Morven Kitchen Garden during the year and can attend the Morven Summer Institute in the summer:

Sources used:

Post by Cristina Ramirez, Third-Year, Environmental Thought and Practice

Thomas Jefferson, Horticulturalist

“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.”¹

From his Bedford County residence at Poplar Forest, Mr. Jefferson wrote to his friend and fellow naturalist, Charles W. Peale.  He likened the climate of central Virginia to that of southern France, where he served as a diplomat for years.  Like France, he found Virginia “exaggerates the summer warmth, tempers the winter cold, and captures an abundant wealth of crop-ripening sunshine.”²

His home was a testament to his love of the outdoors.  “The proportion of exotic plants which Jefferson possessed at Monticello was truly remarkable, for only a man extremely interested in horticulture would have gone to so much trouble and expense to possess them.”1  Mr. Jefferson is responsible for the introduction of flat rice, olives, figs and mulberry plants to southern plantations with the assistance of the South Carolina Society for Promoting and Improving Agriculture – perhaps today, he would be proud of the commercial nature each has taken on in the wake of his influence.

Horticultural diary Jefferson kept from 1766 until 1824, as well as selections from letters, sketches and other unpublished materials later added by Betts.
Photo by Margaret Eastham.

The building of Central College – now known as the University of Virginia – soon occupied the majority of his time.  “Our Virginia University is now my sole occupation,” he wrote to Henry Dearborn in 1822.³

Three short years later, the University opened its doors to students.  Jefferson was ailing in health, but relieved to see the doors open to his Academical Village.  However, the completion of the vision he had for his university was not yet realized.

In the August of 1826, Jefferson penned a letter to University proctor A. S. Brokenbrough, requesting that his hope of a botanical garden “be pursued at all spare time.”3  Jefferson ceded his plans to Dr. John P. Emmett, professor of natural history.  He described the vision he had for the gardens – four acres of exotic plants, two of trees, built onto terraces and enclosed by the ever-familiar brick serpentine walls as funds would allow.3  He described all of these plans in a late-April letter to Emmett.  Jefferson passed on July 4, 1826, and unfortunately, his dreams of a botany school here at the University of Virginia never came to fruition.

Mr. Jefferson’s prototype for the serpentine walls that surround the gardens on Grounds today. Photo from

“The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to its culture.”1  The fondness Jefferson had for the outdoors was defining of his image, and continues to influence Monticello, the University of Virginia, the White House and all of their respective constituents today.  “The Jefferson legacy in gardening and good is not a mere historical curiosity, but is a compelling force in the movement toward a more sustainable agricultural future.”2

A recent look at Monticello and its blooming, terraced gardens.
Photo from

¹ Glass, Powell.  “Jefferson and Plant Introduction.” The National Horticulture Magazine. July 1944.

² Hatch, Peter J. “Thomas Jefferson’s Legacy in Gardening and Food.” 2010.

³ Betts, Edwin Morris. “Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book.” American Philosophical Society. 1999.


Post by Margaret W. Eastham, Second-Year, Foreign Affairs