George Washington’s gardener is coming to Bristol

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 5/30/24

Employed at Mount Vernon for more than 50 years, J. Dean Norton has devoted his career to researching 18th-century gardens and gardening practices. On June 3, he'll bring his nationally recognized expertise to Linden Place.

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George Washington’s gardener is coming to Bristol


J. Dean Norton, the Horticultural Director of Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s estate on the Potomac River in Virginia, is coming to Bristol next week. Events offering the opportunity to meet Norton, who also serves on the advisory committee charged with preserving the current White House gardens, will be held on two consecutive nights.

On Monday, June 3 at 7:30 p.m. there will be a Whiskey Tasting event featuring fine whiskeys from George Washington's Distillery and Gristmill and O’Brien & Brough of Bristol. The next day, on Tuesday, June 4 at 7 p.m., Norton will give a talk in the Linden Place ballroom.

“See to it that you keep it the Home of Washington,” was the charge of Ann Pamela Cunningham, the founder of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association upon her retirement in 1874. For over 160 years, people have studied, researched and dug the earth for clues to help make the home of George Washington one of the most accurately restored 18th-century estates in America.

“I call it ‘Welcome Home George Washington’ because at Mt. Vernon, our mission and hope is that if George Washington returned he would be very comfortable with things as they are now,” said Norton.

Employed at Mount Vernon for more than 50 years, Norton has devoted his career to researching 18th-century gardens and gardening practices. Nationally and internationally renowned for his work restoring the historic gardens and magnificent landscape at Mount Vernon, he is one of the country’s foremost horticulturalists. He is also known for his engaging, informative and entertaining presentations, which bring history to life through fascinating personal stories.

For more than a half-century, Norton has strived to keep the grounds at Mt. Vernon authentically true to how they would have been in Washington’s day, from the plant cultivars to the layout — though it’s not always possible to be 100% accurate.

“It’s tough to find an 18th-century vegetable,” he said. “We’ve built a better vegetable.”

Vegetables are the priority in Mt. Vernon’s gardens — flowers were appreciated but the “gardens of necessity”, as they were called, fed the residents of Washington’s estate. He was, however, fond of floral borders.

One of the lesser-known facts about Mount Vernon is that George Washington owned one of the largest distilleries in the country at the time. According to Norton, about two years before he died, Washington hired James Anderson, a Scottish farm manager. On his arrival at Mt. Vernon, observing the abundance of corn and barley, Anderson determined he would like to open a distillery. Washington rebuffed him at first, but Anderson wouldn’t let it go. In little over a year, Mt. Vernon was home to the largest distillery in the young United States, with five stills. In 1799 alone, it produced almost 11,000 gallons.

“Washington realized the social importance of whiskey at the time, but he also realized it could ruin people,” said Norton. “He spent a lot of time writing about the importance of moderation after that…Washington was really the poster child of spirits.”

In 2007, Mt. Vernon brought the distillery back, with the original recipe and kind assistance from contemporary producers including Makers Mark and Jack Daniels. The faithfully reconstructed distillery produces small batches of whiskey for those with discerning tastes, as well as those who attend Linden Place’s whiskey tasting event.

“We are honored to bring this noted horticulturalist from one of the country’s most famous and historic estates to Bristol’s own beloved mansion,” said Cara Massey, Linden Place’s executive director.

Tickets for the June 3 Whiskey Tasting are $40 ($35 to members). The next day’s lecture is $20 ($15 to members). Attendance is limited; for more information about these events, or to reserve your spot, call 401/253-0390 or visit

2024 by East Bay Media Group

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