Your Guide to Melania Trump’s Rose Garden Renovations

Your Guide to Melania Trump’s Rose Garden Renovations
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks about the White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative in the Rose Garden, on July 9, 2020 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty Images)

On July 27, First Lady Melania Trump’s office released a statement announcing a massive renovation of the iconic White House Rose Garden.

Construction has already begun on the space, seen by many as the most recognizable and important outdoor arena in American politics.

But what exactly does the overhaul entail? How will it change the landscape? And will it still have roses?

White House Rose Garden
Melania Trump Rose Garden Redesign. (Committee for the Preservation of the White House)

Here’s a run-through answering key questions around the redesign, based on the more-than-200-page report issued on the project.

Why Does the Rose Garden Need a Renovation?

The Rose Garden as we know it today was established in 1962, under President John F. Kennedy. And although there are yearly changes and updates and there have been several smaller facelifts throughout the last five decades, it has been quite some time since a full makeover has taken place.

In that time, roots have grown and spread, affecting some plants, and larger trees have created too much shade, according to the report. Additionally, the turf has suffered continued damage due to drainage issues and sloping, and the walkways are made of eight separate paving materials—each having been built or redone during disparate renovation projects.

In short, taking into account experts’ assessments of the design, agriculture, environment, infrastructure, irrigation, wear and tear—it is time for a significant update.

When Did Melania Trump Decide Now Was a Good Time for the Renovation?

In May of 2019, according to a White House official, when Trump began planning for a clearer garden that would allow for more sunshine and healthier botanicals. She expanded the project to include more extensive upgrades after the September 2019 State Dinner in the Rose Garden. “The first lady recognized room for improvement, not only to plantings, but to technological issues, lighting, drainage, etc.,” said the official. Shortly thereafter, Trump engaged landscape architectural firms, Perry Guillot Inc. and DC-based Oehme, van Sweden, as well as the National Park Service and Dale Haney, the White House superintendent of grounds. There is perhaps no one alive who knows the outdoor spaces of the White House better than Haney, who has worked on them since 1972 when he first was a gardener for the National Park Service. In 2008, Haney was promoted to his current position, which falls under the Executive Office of the President.

What Does the New Rose Garden Mean for the President’s Events?

For the next three weeks while the project is completed, according to a White House official, it means a lot of work going on outside his Oval Office doors, as teams of workers and gardeners and electricians tear up and then replace the entire garden.

In the long term, it means Trump and future presidents will have a more technologically capable spot for televised and streamed events. One of Melania Trump’s stated goals in the renovation is to “fulfill the dynamic needs of the modern presidency,” according to a letter she wrote as part of the submitted and approved garden plan.

Not only will the lighting be updated for more TV-friendly viewing, there also will be an entirely modernized and updated system of utility cables and power, placed beneath the pallets of a new limestone border surrounding the grassy area of the garden. By running under the paving, unsightly wires, cords and plugs remain hidden from sight—while providing an easier and more effective place for the president to convene the media or to host events and ceremonial speeches.

The Rose Garden redesign
Melania Trump Rose Garden Redesign. (Committee for the Preservation of the White House)

Did Melania Trump Actually Design the New Rose Garden?

No, not exactly. She did once take a few university classes in architecture in her home country of Slovenia, but for this project, she relied on the landscape architects to present their designs based on her preferences, says a source familiar with the project. Trump did come up with the aesthetic direction, which a White House official tells CNN includes “a lighter palette of flowers in white, yellow and pink.” The first lady also worked with her personal interior decorator, Tham Kannalikham, who the official says served as an “adviser to the team.” Kannalikham is the New York City-based decorator hired by Trump to re-do the Executive Residence at the start of the administration.

The team also considered thousands of pages of historic documents and adhered to the guidelines of renovation outlined by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, as well as the needs and services of the National Park Service, which is responsible for the care and upkeep of all of the White House outdoor grounds.

Trump also wanted the enhanced Rose Garden to more closely resemble the original 1962 design implemented during the Kennedy administration. The Rose Garden is just one of the renovation projects at the White House that Trump has overseen.

Others include the Bowling Alley, the Blue Room furniture restoration, the wall coverings in the Red Room, the rug in the Diplomatic Reception Room, the draperies in the Green Room and the ongoing redo of the White House tennis pavilion on the South Lawn.

Will There Still be Roses?

Yes, the flowers will be predominantly roses.

Through the years, the Rose Garden has been planted and replanted with seasonal flowers of many species, but the mainstay has been the rose, which then-President Ronald Reagan designated the national flower in 1986. There have been more than 50 varieties of roses planted in the White House Rose Garden since its inception, according to documents released in the new garden plan, and Trump intends to utilize several of the most iconic American species in the new iteration.

Most notably, she has selected the “White House Rose,” a white varietal with a tall, vertical shrub style; the “JFK Rose,” which is cream-colored; and the “Peace Rose,” a smaller tea rose with a pale yellow center and light pink edges.

Whose Idea Was the Rose Garden in the First Place?

First Lady Ellen Wilson, the wife of Woodrow Wilson, was the first to design what was then the “West Garden” and include a large amount of roses. Sadly, midway through her plan in 1914, Ellen Wilson died of kidney disease. President Wilson remarried shortly thereafter and his second wife, Edith Wilson, took up the mantle of continuing Ellen Wilson’s rose garden.

In 1961, inspired by a trip to Europe, President John F. Kennedy conceived of a new Rose Garden and tasked his friend and amateur horticulturalist Rachel “Bunny” Mellon with implementing the design, which was unveiled in 1962. Keen on the new impact of television in America, Kennedy asked Mellon to make sure the new Rose Garden had a ceremonial space, or stage, so that he could make important political announcements.

In a letter to Mellon in 1966, after JFK’s death, his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, wrote that her late husband had wanted a flat space large enough for him to “stand with, and not above, the men he was honoring.”

Mellon complied and to this day the stage space between two small sets of steps remains. Jackie Kennedy also thanked Mellon for the peace and serenity the garden gave her husband during the difficult moments of his presidency, writing to her, “When he had to talk about things that might change the world, it helped to look out at his garden.”

Who Is Paying for the Rose Garden Renovation?

The entire project is being funded by private donations, according to a source familiar with the plan. Donations were solicited by the Trust for the National Mall, a nonprofit entity that often helps source financing for large restoration and upkeep projects for some of Washington’s most important public outdoor spaces.

No taxpayer money is allotted for the renovation, according to a White House official.

August in Washington—is That the Right Time to Plant Roses?

Yes and no. While horticulturalists say planting roses and other seasonal plants is not ideal in the heat of summer—late spring and early fall are best for mid-Atlantic climates—the renovation is taking place in early August mostly because this is traditionally when most major upkeep projects are completed at the White House. Also, the rose plants and other flowers will be planted and cultivated in containers, which allows for more successful growth in August, so the roots won’t have to contend with the heat and dense soil, says a source familiar with the White House plan.

The first family typically decamps to a vacation spot in August, though the Trumps have not made an announcement for a summer sojourn as of yet, and the lack of events and visitors is conducive to getting work done quickly and efficiently.

Planting the botanicals is only one small part of the Rose Garden renovation, with the larger parts being infrastructure, technological and paving, a White House official tells CNN as to why the August timing was selected.

Is the Rose Garden Losing Anything in the Redesign?

Yes. Currently, there are 10 crabapple trees, five on each side, following the original Mellon design. Mellon chose the tree because it is a relative of the rose family, and its fragrant and delicate blossoms were a nice counterpoint to the boxwoods and other flowers. The Trump-approved plan eliminates two crabapples from each side and puts a larger, boxier planting area around them.

Trump has also given the nod to new outdoor furniture for the entire Rose Garden area, which now includes random pieces of furniture from previous administrations.

The first lady has elected to work with outdoor furniture expert John Danzer to create furnishings with a “cohesive color palette,” according to the plan. Trump will also commission a bench similar to the one Ellen Wilson had placed in the garden, which remained there from 1913 until 1962.

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