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The garden is steps from the Oval Office and is the stage for numerous receptions, bill signings and media events annually. More than 30 different types of tulips and grape hyacinth are planted in the flower beds that are framed and crisscrossed with boxwood. Lavender cotton, planted in the shape of diamonds, surrounds the crabapple trees. The Rose Garden was once a formal flower garden, but it was eventually converted to a broad lawn surrounded by flower and shrub plantings so that presidents could hold press conferences out in the sunny, open area with the West Wing colonnade as a backdrop.

The Rose Garden in Dcunited. The Rose Garden in , looking southeast Reagan Library. Herbert Hoover right with outgoing secretary George Akerson in Corbis. The garden in ; note the clothesline Library of Congress. The garden in Library of Congress.

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The old colonial garden in the Taft era, circa note the clothes line on the side Library of Congress. It was a picnic for a few friends and included President and Mrs. Hardly had the President came ashore from his boat when he suggested we sit down and discuss a garden for the White House. He and Mrs. Kennedy had just returned from a state visit to France, followed by stops in England and Austria.

The President had noted that the White House had no garden equal in quality or attractiveness to the gardens that he had seen and in which he had been entertained in Europe. There he had recognized the importance of gardens surrounding an official residence and their appeal to the sensibilities of all people. He wanted to start, in the greatest haste, to remake the area near his office at the west end of the White House, known as the Rose Garden, into an area both useful and attractive. Would I design it for him? It was a startling request to say the least. As an amateur, I questioned my ability to design a garden of such importance.

Paying little attention to that doubt, he bubbled with enthusiasm, with fascinating details of how he wanted a garden to appeal to the most discriminating taste, yet a garden that would hold a thousand people for a ceremony. What gardener could resist? I agreed, on the spot, to meet in September. Time passed, and the day came when I called the White House as promised and spoke to J. West, the chief usher, who arranged a day for our meeting in the garden. Perry Wheeler, a friend and a landscape architect living and practicing in Washington, agreed to come with me.

White House Rose Garden

He seemed to me a likely collaborator. I was fortunate in this choice for from the beginning to the end of the project, he remained always interested, always helpful, and ever the honest critic. Show Me More. I vividly remember my first impression of the scene and the setting for the projected garden. The White House proper seemed exceptionally tall where it joined the long, low colonnade that linked it to the Oval Office and Cabinet Room. The garden had a simple plan. Four rows of clipped privet hedges about four feet tall ran the full length.

In the plan of parallel lines were tucked away Tom Thumb roses and occasional standard roses. We sat a long time trying to imagine how this area could be designed to reflect the requirements the President had so clearly outlined to me that day at the Cape. Beyond the colonnade, the door of the Oval Office opened suddenly, and the President came out and in his usual brisk way crossed the lawn to greet us.

Have you any ideas? I explained that I would have to think about it now that I had seen the space.


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The tall central block of the White House in one corner and the West Wing, with its two low colonnades forming boundaries west and north, would have to be united in a harmonious and uncomplicated way. After that first impression of the garden and my talk with the President, my sense of responsibility for redesigning the garden was very strong.

It was not until the end of October—the trees had lost their leaves—when late one afternoon, cold with the feeling of approaching winter and descending darkness, I was walking along Fifth Avenue in New York and looked up and saw three lovely magnolia trees growing in front of the Frick museum. The saucer magnolias transplanted from the Tidal Basin continue to thrive in the Rose Garden today. I had often admired these trees before, but this evening they had a special importance to me.

Their pale silvery branches with heavy twigs seemed to retain the light of summer. I knew their pattern of growth would continue to give form in winter and would catch raindrops as well as tufts of falling snow.

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I envisioned all four corners planted with Magnolia soulangeana. These trees would soften the difficult corners that were now bare and would permit sufficient light to fall beneath and around them to allow planting. A byfoot lawn, large enough to accommodate a thousand people for ceremonial activities and receptions and small enough to be covered by a tent, would be in the center of the garden.

On either side of the large lawn there could be a border 12 feet wide in which to plant smaller trees, roses, and other flowers. The President loved flowers and asked if a variety of other types could be mixed with the roses. At the west end near his office, the steps were to be redesigned for the President wanted them to serve both as steps and as a platform or stage.

A central step was to be wider than the others, so that he could stand a little above the heads of the crowd in order that they might see and hear him more clearly. Opposite the steps, at the east end of the garden, a flagstone terrace was to be laid under the historic Magnolia grandiflora. Here the President wished to have a place where he could sit and entertain his guests or, perhaps, hold a small luncheon.

I had before me an interesting problem involving a fascinating place. The site had once been a stable yard; but due to its location beneath the great windows of the State Dining Room, the stable was soon relocated. Vegetables had been planted there by President Grant. The Rose Garden as planted in according to Mrs. Wilsons modifications of plans by George Burnap. The first rose garden known there had been a dream-like Victorian garden under glass, part of a large complex of greenhouses begun before the Civil War. As the greenhouses grew, their magnificence increased.

The rose house, as it was called was a plain, but very tall, rectangular glass structure that fit into the ell of the West Wing, the area of the present Rose Garden. These rows were crisscrossed by water pipes with low sprinklers. Canvas curtains, like the studio curtains in La Boheme , protected the masses of delicate blossoms from violent summer sunshine. Her charming portrait in the White House shows her seated in the Colonial Garden on a pretty wooden bench, with the South Portico in the background. Here she wanted only sweet peas, black-eyed susans, quince—and the jasmine in which she and Theodore Roosevelt took great delight on summer evenings, as they sat in white painted rocking chairs on the South Portico.

Through time, the White House has had occupants who have loved gardens and some who have not. Taft, for example, preferred potted tropical plants inside to flower beds outside. The one flower that unites all the occupants through the history of the White House is the rose. Thus, for most of the 20 th century, the Rose Garden has been a rose garden. Now, in , President Kennedy wanted it restored in spirit but revised to become more than just a private garden.

Designing a garden is not unlike designing a building: You begin with the skeleton sketch, a general pleasing outline or form, and proceed from there. Within this structure, you can make subdivisions as you choose, more complicated or more detailed than the general form.

During the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, Rachel Mellon also supervised the redesign of the East Garden seen here in I was seated across the table from the President. President, not yet down on paper, but I will finish it and send it to you soon. This informal exchange, brief as it was, spurred me to move ahead more quickly.

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A plan went down on paper, and I sent it to the President for approval. Within two days, I received his note of acceptance. I would have the cooperation of the National Park Service. All costs would be covered by the Park Service, but I was to keep expenses as low as possible.

An important first step was to find someone to manage and implement the work of the Rose Garden. There was an official over the gardens and grounds at the White House, but we needed a specialist with varied experience who understood all aspects of the undertaking.

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I set out to study local National Park Service gardens. Talking with Mr. Williams, I felt almost immediately that he was the right man to direct and oversee the new garden at the White House, as well as to make other improvements to the White House grounds. I spoke to Mrs. Kennedy about this, with the hope that if he were willing, Mr.


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  5. Williams could be transferred by the Park Service to become head gardener at the White House. This strategy worked out well for everyone, and Mr. Williams soon took up his duties there, becoming involved with all the details of building a new garden. Much of the beauty of the White House landscape today is to his credit, as is the quality of the Rose Garden and the corresponding Jacqueline Kennedy Garden on the east side of the house. He has remained ever since as the guiding spirit of the work begun in West helped complete our management team at the White House.