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University of Missouri

Planting the Seed

Gardening expert P. Allen Smith plants herbs with children during Mizzou’s 175th anniversary event.

P. Allen Smith at Mizzou

P. Allen Smith, left, plants herbs with Jessica Jang, Nova Marschall and Sophia Li during the gardening expert’s April visit to Mizzou. The young sprouts are wearing “Eat Local” T-shirts. Photo courtesy of Mizzou Botanic Garden.

When P. Allen Smith visited Mizzou April 13–14 for a special 175th anniversary event, the television host, author, and gardening and lifestyle expert shed light on Thomas Jefferson as gardener. Jefferson, the third U.S. president, is famous for the Louisiana Purchase. The University of Missouri is the first university in that territory, and Francis Quadrangle is modeled after the University of Virginia, which Jefferson founded.

Perhaps less known is Jefferson’s affinity for gardening. Though Jefferson’s vegetable gardens were never photographed while he was alive, Smith speculated that “his gardens might have been scruffy — not exactly tidy.” Jefferson enjoyed planning, planting and harvesting. “He was a hopeful guy. He was all about trying things.” So much so that he traded seeds with everybody. He grew 330 varieties of vegetables. “He thought about things in a different way — how they come to the table as fruits, roots and leaves.”

While comfortable talking gardening with adult horticulture aficionados, Smith also enjoyed doing gardening with preschoolers enrolled in the MU Child Development Laboratory. The day care center is affiliated with the human development and family studies department in the College of Human Environmental Sciences. Despite a wet and cold April Monday morning, he got on eye level with the 4- and 5-year-olds to plant herbs in a newly minted MU Children’s Learning Garden located east of the Ernie and Lottie Sears Plant Growth Facility. It’s Smith’s way of helping children learn that vegetables don’t grow on grocery store shelves.

See more 175th anniversary coverage from MIZZOU magazine and Mizzou News.