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Over the past several weeks, as they have for centuries in middle Tennessee, skilled masons have been hand-shaping and stacking locally harvested limestone into low walls that designate areas of Southall’s Kitchen Gardens. By early spring, compost from the farm will be added and seedlings from the greenhouse will be tucked into the virgin soil.
Located on the southwest corner of the property, right along Carter’s Creek Pike, the gardens will be as aesthetically impressive as they are functional. Once Southall opens, the overarching objective is for guests to have the opportunity to learn about the agriculture nuances that culminate in ingredient-forward dishes at our signature restaurant.
Chef and Farmer Tyler Brown had a vision five years ago, one inspired by his study of Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, which detailed the former U.S. president’s efforts to push the bounds of growing seasons and techniques at Monticello – purely for the love of food.
“There’s such a plethora of knowledge in the Monticello garden journals, and I’ve always been intrigued by his curiosity and sense of exploration in culinary agriculture,” Brown says. “The Kitchen Gardens at Southall will be a place where guests can touch and feel food production without the use of machinery, and learn about crop rotation and soil conditions and companion plantings, among other things. We’ll be experimenting with a lot of techniques and species, and we’ll be eager to share it all.
“Reading through Jefferson’s journals, I learned about cultivars of plants brought back to Monticello from out west via the Lewis and Clark expedition, and his experimentation with growing rice in Virginia,” Brown says. “He had a competition each spring with his neighbors to see who could advance the growing season using hot compost and other tactics to produce the earliest crop of English peas, and the winner got to serve them at an early spring dinner.”
That sense of wonder and spirit of camaraderie tends to be common among gardeners, and promises to be a hallmark at Southall.
“Jefferson had a 17-year crop plan, and there’s so much we can learn from that, even 200 years later,” Brown says. “Some things work and some things don’t in the garden, and you learn and apply that experience moving forward. It’s all part of the lifelong pursuit of producing food that brings people together.”
Soil health is sacred at Southall, and in our other growing areas, concerns about compaction might prevent guests from being able to walk the open rows that will serve as next season’s planting beds. In the Kitchen Gardens, dedicated paths will allow for visitors to get their hands dirty alongside the Southall staff working carrots, turnips or radishes. Within the gardens, cover crops like buckwheat, clover, cereal rye and vetch will replenish the soil while those areas rest between seasons.
For those looking to deepen their gardening knowledge, educational sessions will answer questions on topics such as companion planting. Who knew that beans won’t grow well next to peppers, cucumbers can’t stand potatoes and legumes add nitrogen, which benefits other crops. All of this and more will be available through our gardening series. Stay tuned for more details as the Kitchen Gardens come to life.