Graduate Student to Investigate Jefferson's Botanic Garden

May 21, 2009 — Lily Fox-Bruguiere wants to realize one of Thomas Jefferson's visions.

Fox-Bruguiere, 30, of Charlottesville, a master's student in architectural history at the University of Virginia, will conduct research this summer on the botanic garden Jefferson designed for the University, but which was never built.

"After Jefferson's death, his plans to construct the garden were abandoned and Jefferson's botanic garden never reached completion," Fox-Bruguiere said. "I will fill a gap in our knowledge of Jefferson's Academical Village and argue that Jefferson intended the botanic garden to be a significant and integral part of his University."

Fox-Bruguiere will be able to conduct her research through a $4,000 research award funded by the William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment Fund of the Academical Village. The award is dedicated to funding research projects that focus on the Academical Village, according to Joan Fry, who spent several years organizing the awards as part of her duties as special assistant to the president.

"The endowment supports public understanding of the Lawn and how it has come to be," Fry said.

"The award provides a wonderful opportunity to pursue research in areas of personal interest to me such as botanic gardens, plants and Thomas Jefferson," said Fox-Bruguiere, who is conducting her research under the guidance of Richard Guy Wilson, Commonwealth Professor of Architectural History. "In addition to learning as much as possible about Jefferson's plans for a botanic garden, the broader research on early American gardens and botanic gardens, as well as their European precedents, will improve my knowledge of landscape history."

Fox-Bruguiere, who focuses on landscape history, said her personal interest in botanic gardens started during a horticultural internship at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Years later she discovered references to a botanic garden while researching Jefferson's years in France. She wants to find more documents with references to a botanic garden at U.Va. and other writings where Jefferson alludes to the importance of plants and botanic gardens in general.

"There are several important letters that Jefferson wrote during the last year of his life that give exacting specifications for the garden and also reveal his eagerness to begin construction of the garden immediately," she said. "I plan to submit a conjectural graphic representation of the University's botanic garden, following Jefferson's exacting specifications, as it would have appeared circa 1830."

Jefferson planned to plant the garden on the slope where Alderman and Clemons libraries are now. The hillside would have been terraced for an arboretum, and then the flat land below — about where Nameless Field is — was to contain the planting beds. The six-acre garden, enclosed by a serpentine wall, was to lie behind the Anatomical Theatre for medical and botany students to use.

Fox-Bruguiere wants Jefferson's garden built at the University and feels it would be an asset for the Grounds and for the University's educational mission. She has another year left on her master's program and after that she wants to work as a landscape preservationist.

"The Kenan Award provides students — undergraduates and graduate students alike — with the opportunity to do in-depth summer research on the Academical Village," said Lucy Russell, director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, which oversees the awards. "The ideal project advances scholarship on and contributes to the public understanding of the Academical Village. Lily Fox-Bruguiere's research on Thomas Jefferson's plans for a botanic garden at the University does both."

Students from all disciplines may apply for a Kenan Award. A committee reads the proposals and determines how closely they match the purpose of the awards. She said one year committee members made five awards and another they awarded none, because the proposals did not meet the criteria.

The projects are primarily research, but Fry said the students have many different skills, such as architecture students who submit elaborate drawings with their reports, and another student who put everything on a CD-ROM.

The most unusual project, she said, was the work of Nicholas Taylor, who graduated from the College of Arts & Sciences in 1998 and from the graduate writing program in 2005. Fry said Taylor wrote three stories set on the Lawn during the Civil War, and later he expanded one of the stories into the novel "The Disagreement."