Thomas Jefferson’s English Landscape
Thomas Jefferson advocated for the modern, natural, picturesque landscape design at Monticello after his trip with John Adams to tour the estate gardens of England.
In his article “The Picturesque in the American Garden and Landscape Before 1800” James D. Kornwulf says, “Little documentary, and even less visual, evidence survives to prove that American gardeners followed picturesque principles on a large scale before 1786 when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams made their well-known tour of English (and, for Jefferson, of French) picturesque gardens.”
As his guide for what gardens to visit Jefferson used the book by English garden writer Thomas Whatley Observations on Modern Gardening. Some consider the book the best description of picturesque modern gardening, written before landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752 –1818) became England’s most famous landscape gardener in the final third of the century.
Whatley included the garden at Chatsworth, north of London, which became Jefferson’s favorite landscape. Capability Brown in the mid eighteenth century had redesigned Chatsworth to include extensive lawns.
In a 1917 article in the American magazine Landscape Architecture the architect Fiske Kimball (1888 – 1955) wrote: “Landscape gardening in America as an art, even though not as a profession, may claim as its father the father of American independence itself, a worthy forerunner of Downing, Olmsted, and Eliot.”
Jefferson created his landscape with the principles of the picturesque English style that he had experienced himself.
His friend, Philadelphia seedsman Bernard McMahon, author of the most important early book on gardening American Gardener (1806), also promoted the same style of English landscape gardening.
Jefferson’s picturesque style would continue to influence the American home landscape throughout the nineteenth century, especially in the books and articles coming from the pen of New York nurseryman turned landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing