Has this petition to “Restore Jackie Kennedy’s Rose Garden” come across your feed yet? It makes this pitch:
In 1961 President 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. To honor Jacqueline Kennedy’s contributions to the White House and its grounds, her immediate successor, First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, renamed the East Garden as the “Jacqueline Kennedy Garden” during a ceremony on 22 April 1965.
In 2019, Melania Trump had the cherry trees, a gift from Japan, removed as well as the rest of the foliage and replaced with a boring tribute to herself. Jackie’s legacy was ripped away from Americans who remembered all that the Kennedy’s meant to us. We want Jill Biden and Doug Emhoff to take this on and restore the Rose Garden to Jackie’s oriiginal [sic] design.
The petition is gaining signers by the day and will eventually – have no impact at all.
Last summer when Melania Trump announced the Rose Garden redo I opined that “Even Garden Writers Who Hate Trump are Defending the Rose Garden Upgrade,” pointing out that it had been in the works for a long time and that some of the best-known and respected designers had been hired for the job.
White House gardens historian Marta McDowell (“All the Presidents’ Gardens“) also defended the changes when asked by fact-checkers for Reuters.
Asked if the claim seen on social media was true that roses from “all previous First Ladies since 1913” would have been in place and removed by the Trump redesign she said there is “Not a chance… In 1962, the construction of the Kennedy rose garden took the site down to the dirt. Since then, most administrations have changed out some of the roses—hybrid tea and floribunda roses don’t always thrive, especially in D.C. humidity. So that statement is not factually correct.”
As you can see, the West Garden hasn’t always been a rose garden. Photo credits
Upon seeing the petition I immediately questioned the accuracy of its pitch, starting with calling the garden in question “Jackie Kennedy’s Rose Garden.” That’s because the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden is the East Garden, not the famous Rose Garden outside the West Wing that is the subject of the redesign. (See the White House Historical Association’s History of the President Kennedy’s Rose Garden.”)
I asked Marta for her take on the petition and she responded:
Lots of inaccuracies in this petition. (Plus this really a mountain out of a molehill when there are so many big battles to fight.)
President Kennedy (not Jacqueline Kennedy) worked with Rachel Lambert “Bunny” Mellon on the West (Rose) Garden. That is the one that had the renovation under Melania Trump. And under Nancy Reagan. Mrs Mellon, now deceased, consulted on the Reagan-era replanting. They considered removing the crabapples then. As any gardener knows, it’s hard to grow roses under trees.
Mrs. Mellon also designed the East/First Ladies Garden for Jacqueline Kennedy, but Dallas happened. It wasn’t installed until the Johnson Admin under Lady Bird.
The Katherine crabapples were removed this go round—the only substantive design change other than some paving, IMO. [The garden is now more handicapped-accessible.]
The landscape architects did their homework on this latest rose garden redo. Their consulting committee included top garden historians and horticulturists, and the pre-installation report was impressive.
She then added: PS. I’m a registered Dem and a supporter of Biden/Harris. But a stickler for accuracy regardless of whoever is in the White House. Let’s ‘Go higher,’ people!” Indeed!
And who exactly created the petition? Weirdly, there’s no way to know.
And the sexist expectations of First Ladies really stand out now that they’re being applied to our very first Second Gentleman. Why would we expect a California entertainment lawyer to take up the cause of historic gardens? Or for that matter, why expect it of Dr. Biden, a working college professor with lots on her plate?
Many commenters opined that the “before” photo was prettier – well, duh! It was taken at the height of spring blooms while the “after” was taken in late summer. Others had specific suggestions – why not clover instead of turfgrass? And permaculture and vegetables, too? Mostly there were just anti-Trump sentiments in the comments, as well as reference to news stories claiming Biden will undo everything Trump did.
Well, on the subject of undoing, people in my town were thrilled this week to learn that Biden had indeed scrapped Trump’s plan to create a “Garden of Heroes” somewhere in the DC area, including Greenbelt National Park in my neighborhood as one of the suggested sites. (Reported here in this post.)