Many of us have been sprucing up our digs while stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Well, so has First Lady Melania Trump, in the White House. She’s swapped out furniture in the Blue Room, wall coverings in the Red Room, and even redecorated the bowling alley. Now, she’s turned her eye to improving the great outdoors, by renovating the famed Rose Garden.
According to a White House news release, the first lady is spearheading a project to “restore and enhance” this version of the garden, which President John F. Kennedy revamped nearly 60 years ago, and which has been the site of many bill signings, state dinners, and other presidential ceremonies.
More recently, President Donald Trump has been using the garden to host his coronavirus press briefings.
Melania Trump came in for some criticism on social media for lavishing attention on a garden in the midst of a pandemic. (The project is said to be privately funded.)
We’re not going to take sides on that, but since it’s happening anyway, we can’t deny that we’re fascinated by what she’ll do with this iconic space.
“The very act of planting a garden involves hard work and hope in the possibility of a bright future,” the first lady said in a statement.
“Preserving the history and beauty of the White House and its grounds is a testament to our nation’s commitment to the care of this landscape and our dedication to American ideals, safeguarding them for our children and their children for generations to come.”
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Even in the most difficult times, the @WhiteHouse Rose Garden has stood as a symbol of strength & continuity. Today, it is my pleasure to announce our plans to renew & restore this iconic space so that we preserve its history & beauty for generations to come. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/first-lady-melania-trump-announces-plans-restore-enhance-white-house-rose-garden/
Inside Melania Trump’s plans for the White House Rose Garden
The Rose Garden dates back to 1913, when Ellen Axson Wilson—wife of President Woodrow Wilson—first unveiled this half-acre plot to the public.
The best-known garden redesign, though, occurred under President John F. Kennedy in 1962, when the president tasked his family friend Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon with overhauling this outdoor space.
Mellon created the iconic layout in place today: a lush rectangle flanked by geometric planting beds, flowering crabapple trees, boxwood shrubs, magnolia trees, and pale roses.
Melania Trump’s updates to the Rose Garden will stick closely to the 1962 design. She’ll be collaborating with members of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, as well as the landscape architecture firms Perry Guillot and Oehme, van Sweden.
So what changes will they make? A lot of their work seems more focused on repairs than an aesthetic overhaul. One goal is to improve drainage, which we’re guessing means that the lawn tends to get soggy. There are also plans to reduce leaf blight—a fungal infection due to poor soil and other environmental factors.
In other words, just as the White House has become a bit run-down over the years (prompting the president to complain that it was a “dump” when he moved in), its outdoor areas, too, appear to be crying out for some much-needed maintenance.
“Helping any garden look its best requires regular maintenance and a certain level of vigilance, in order to prevent new troubles as well as to manage existing problems,” says Susan Brandt, co-founder of Blooming Secrets, a gardening website and shop.
“No garden is ever static. A garden is made up of primarily living organisms that change from day to day as well as year to year. The White House Rose Garden and grounds are no exception.”
Since the Trumps are holding more meetings and conferences in the garden than ever, some of the changes will improve support for audiovisual and broadcasting equipment, so people can see and hear what’s going on clearly. The garden will also be made more accessible to people with disabilities.
As for more aesthetic changes, Melania Trump plans to add a limestone walkway and replace a few crabapple trees with white rose shrubs. These classic plants are surprisingly hardy. They don’t just look good, they smell good, too (scent gardens are a hot trend right now).
“Roses look good in a garden, and they also add fragrance, and the scent of roses helps reduce stress and calms nerves,” Brandt says.
“Having roses in a garden has benefits for your health and the environment, as bees, butterflies, and other pollinators enjoy any garden in which they can find nectar.”
She predicts that the first lady could inspire a renewed interest across the country in planting roses in home gardens.
What could go wrong with this Rose Garden reno?
Although Melania Trump’s proposed changes appear to be relatively understated, there’s always a chance that the garden could lose some of its natural charm as a result of the renovation.
“The danger in redoing any garden is overdesigning it,” says Richard Mullen, an architect and managing partner of Demesne in Aspen, CO.
“You can overdo things. There’s a happy medium or a sweet spot with having enough hardscape.”
Here’s hoping the first lady can strike the right balance, since as far as gardens go, this is one we’ll be seeing for a while.
As Brandt points out, “The White House Rose Garden has been the backdrop for many important and memorable events in American history. These upgrades are intended to preserve its symbolic importance, while helping it remain the beautiful and peaceful sanctuary that it was always intended to be.”