Melania Trump To Oversee 'Renewal' Of White House Rose Garden

Aug 2, 2020
Originally published on August 2, 2020 2:25 pm

There are many rose gardens, but in Washington, D.C., at least, there is only one capital-R capital-G Rose Garden.

"It's one of the few spaces at the White House that I think most Americans know, both by name and by sight," says Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Association."You say 'the Rose Garden at the White House,' and it brings back presidential daughter's weddings and state dinners."

The Trump administration announced that it is undertaking a "significant renewal" of the Rose Garden, just outside of the West Wing of the White House.

The work is being funded by private donations and is expected to be completed later this summer. The project is being overseen by First Lady Melania Trump, much as one of her predecessors, Jackie Kennedy, helped design the garden as it exists today.

"The very act of planting a garden involves hard work and hope in the possibility of a bright future," Melania Trump said in announcing the work.

Beloved outdoor venue

McLaurin says President John F. Kennedy wanted "an outdoor room to the White House where he could have events which are very familiar to us now."

At the time of the initial design in 1961, there were flowers as well as vegetables in the space.

"President Kennedy was the first to envision that row of steps that we are now familiar with, where the president will come out of the Oval Office and address people or participate in a ceremony," McLaurin says.

There had been other gardens at the site, at least as far back as President Theodore Roosevelt. First Lady Edith Wilson reworked the site to include roses.

When Kennedy became president, McLaurin says, he called on a family friend, Rachel Lambert "Bunny" Mellon, to help with the design.

"They pirated some saucer magnolias from down by the Jefferson Memorial and brought those to the White House. It's just become a wonderful space."

McLaurin says there have been eight state dinners in the Rose Garden since the Johnson administration.

First Lady Melania Trump speaks as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison listens during a state dinner in the Rose Garden on Sept. 20, 2019.
Alex Brandon / AP

The most recent state dinner was hosted by President Trump for his Australian counterpart. Trump has made frequent use of the garden for bill signings, COVID-19 briefings and news conferences. He is said to favor the outdoor lighting.

Chapman University political science professor Lori Cox Han, who has written about women and politics, says the Rose Garden project is a chance for the White House to highlight Melania Trump's role.

"This is an opportunity for her to do something that's very traditional for a first lady, because Rose Gardens really are connected to first ladies, probably, maybe even more than how presidents use them," Cox Han says.

"This is an opportunity for her to get some attention for something that is probably mostly uncontroversial — although where the Trump presidency is concerned, everything seems to have some controversy, depending on who you're talking to."

One goal for the renovation Melania Trump is overseeing includes making the garden compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. There will be drainage improvements and new lighting, as well as better connections for broadcast coverage of events there.

New walkways will be added, with some subtractions, as well, including a row of crabapple trees. The White House also says there will be some new plantings as well, including more roses.

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The Trump administration announced that it is renovating the Rose Garden outside the West Wing of the White House. The work is expected to be completed later this summer, and the project is being overseen by first lady Melania Trump. One of her predecessors, Jackie Kennedy, helped design the garden we know today. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: There are many rose gardens, but in Washington, at least, there is only one capital R capital G Rose Garden. Stewart McLaurin is president of the White House Historical Association.

STEWART MCLAURIN: Well, it's one of the few spaces at the White House that I think most Americans know both by name and by sight. You say the Rose Garden at the White House, and it brings back presidential daughters' weddings and state dinners, ceremonies held there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Patricia, you repeat after me, looking at Edward. I, Patricia, take thee Edward to be my wedded husband.

NAYLOR: That was the ceremony in June 1971, when President Nixon's daughter Tricia married Edward Cox in the Rose Garden. McLaurin says the current design of the garden dates back 10 years earlier to the Kennedy administration.

MCLAURIN: President Kennedy wanted an outdoor room to the White House where he could have events, which are very familiar to us now, but at the time, they were not. There were flowers in the Rose Garden. There had been vegetables there. President Kennedy was the first to envision that row of steps that we are now fully with, where the president will come out of the Oval Office and address people or participate in a ceremony in the Rose Garden. But that was President Kennedy's idea.

NAYLOR: There had been other gardens at the site at least as far back as the Theodore Roosevelt administration. Edith Wilson reworked that garden to include roses. When Kennedy became president, McLaurin says, he called on a family friend, Rachel Lambert Mellon - known as Bunny - to help with the design.

MCLAURIN: They pirated some saucer magnolias from the - down by the Jefferson Memorial and brought those to the White House. It's just become a wonderful space. And, of course, over the years, the flowers have changed a bit. But all presidents and first ladies since the Kennedys have been able to use it as an outdoor room of the White House. In fact, there have been eight state dinners held out in the Rose Garden since the Johnson administration.

NAYLOR: The most recent state dinner was hosted by President Trump, who's made frequent use of the garden for bill signings, COVID briefings and news conferences. He's said to favor the outdoor lighting there. Political science professor Lori Cox Han at Chapman University, who has written on women and politics, says the Rose Garden project's a chance for the White House to highlight Melania Trump.

LORI COX HAN: This is an opportunity for her to do something that's very traditional for a first lady because Rose Gardens really are connected to first ladies, probably maybe even more than how presidents use them. So this is an opportunity for her to get some attention for something that is probably mostly uncontroversial, although where the term presidency is concerned, everything seems to have some controversy depending on who you're talking to.

NAYLOR: The renovation Melania Trump is overseeing is being funded by private donations. It includes making the garden compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. There will be drainage improvements and new lighting, as well as better connections for broadcast coverage of events there. The White House says there will be some new plantings as well, including more roses. Brian Naylor, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.