The announcement from the office of Melania Trump that the Rose Garden is getting an upgrade next month came at the worst possible time. It also came from one of the worst possible sources – a First Lady whose design tastes, whether it’s gilded apartments or Handmaid’s Tale-style Christmas trees – have come in for widespread abuse. (And then there’s who she’s married to, but no need to cover that topic here.)

So what does she have in store for the hallowed ground that is the White House Rose Garden?

So I bring you good news – it’s not her design – it’s a much-needed upgrade planned by two very prominent landscape architects and their firms, along with the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, as well as the keepers of the 18-acre property – the National Park Service.

The local landscape architecture firm hired for the job is none other than Oehme van Sweden, arguably the best known firm in this area, if not the whole country. I’ve fan-blogged them several times myself – here, here, here, here and here. Nuf said.

The other designer I’d never heard of but want to know more about. According to Washingtonian Magazine:

Trump tapped a New Yorker, a landscape architect from the Hamptons named Perry Guillot. Guillot is a favorite of Hamptonites like Aerin Lauder, Tina Brown, and Tory Burch,’ according to Vanity Fair, and is ‘somewhat of an authority on privacy-affording shrubbery,’ according to The Architect’s Newspaper, and even penned a coffee-table book about the privet, that ‘privacy-affording’ shrub ubiquitous around Southhampton.”

(Living among historic privet hedges myself, I’m curious to read his take on them.)

But if you just skim the 241-page Rose Garden Landscape Report that was attached to the announcement, as I did, you’ll see that it’s been in the works for quite a while. You might even notice that the groups consulted for the project include some of the most respected people in the DC area. (For example.)

That’s me pointing to the Rose Garden during the fall tour of 2010. I’ll try to get closer next time.

So this garden critic will withhold judgment until I get to see the new design in person and after the new plants have had a chance to settle in.  Seems only fair.

What Other Garden Writers are Saying

While the Twittersphere was going nuts over the announcement, and by nuts I mean full of references to Marie Antoinette, I was happy to see that Adrian Higgins’s take in the Washington Post was quite sensible. (In order words, we agree.)

 …the lavish redo of the Rose Garden has generated Marie Antoinette comparisons. In reality, the renovation is long overdue.

Among the problems to be addressed: a poorly drained lawn that had to be replaced annually, constant disturbance of roots of trees and shrubs by the seasonal planting of annuals, the die-off of rose bushes to the point where only a dozen or so remained, and the susceptibility of the defining boxwood parterres to a new, devastating disease named boxwood blight.

One valid criticism that gardeners are raising is the timing of the work, including the planting of lots of new plants – in August. Higgins writes:

The rapid installation of the design is in contrast to the time spent developing it; we are told that construction projects at the White House are typically done in high summer when the first family is vacationing. But as any gardener in Washington knows, this is one of the most challenging periods of the year to plant living things, including turf grass.

Still seems crazy but if that’s what the gardening team there has to contend with, more power to them! I imagine landscapers everywhere can identify with clients making their job much harder than necessary.

Moving on, Kathy Jentz, editor of Washington Gardener Magazine, wrote in an email to me:

I actually don’t have an issue with it – looking at the plans it is really a tweak and partial restoration plus installing new underground irrigation and drainage pipes that are failing on the site.

Of course, certain media outlets are hyping it to make it political and about her, but I think this is actually staff-driven (national park service) and long overdue.

Gotta agree with Kathy. Though surely the announcement could have been handled differently – maybe had it come from a National Park Service bureaucrat instead of Melania herself? Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.

Or maybe the announcement could have been worded differently.  Something other than saying “Our country has seen difficult times before, but the White House and the Rose Garden have always stood as a symbol of our strength, resilience and continuity.” Which brings us back to timing. Summer of 2020? Really unfortunate timing.

By the way, there were similar reactions to Melania Trump’s announcement in March (yes, of this year!) that a Classically styled tennis pavilion was being installed on the White House grounds. As one does to cope with life-threatening national crises.

For nonpolitical reactions I turned to a prominent architecture blog and found a few mentions of the architecture itself – that it’s just fine – but lots more mentions of Marie Antoinette. It’s just that kind of year.

Photo credit:  Trump apartment.