I share everyone’s appreciation for Dale Haney, superintendent of the White House grounds, now retiring after 50 years working on that hallowed landscape (and walking some famous dogs, too). So I’m glad that the Washington Post considered him worthy of a profile upon his retirement.

Yet, not this story! (If you’re not a subscriber, it may be available through your public library’s website.)

This is my second post complaining about the Post’s lack of knowledgeable garden writing since the retirement of Adrian Higgins and its current practice of assigning articles on the topic to writers who have no clue about gardening – at all and especially in the Mid-Atlantic region. (See “Should garden advice pretend to cover the whole U.S.?”)

If it’s any consolation, there were nongardening errors in the article, too, a problem noted in comments like this one, in bold: “Recommend The Post hire more editors or improve the editing and fact-checking it’s doing.”

But related to gardening, here are the issues I have with the article.

Tulips are Planted in the Spring?

My April 2022 photo of the tulips in the Rose Garden.

From the Post’s article:

Any day in his current position might find Haney, for example, supervising the 8,000 tulips planted each spring around the White House fountains or helping select and install the White House Christmas tree.

My photo of tulips in the Kennedy Garden (East Wing) in May of 2016.

As Rant readers probably all know, the normal practice is to plant tulip in the fall, not the spring.  Brent and Becky’s website doesn’t rule out spring planting, but warns that “Spring planted tulip bulbs need at least 14 weeks of vernalization, a chilling period that induces a bulb to grow and flower. So, unless the temperature is still holding below 50℉ in spring when you are going to plant, you may not see flowers until next year at the earliest, if at all.”

But if the White House does give their tulips 14 weeks inside the kitchen cooler (or wherever) before planting them in the spring, that caveat needs to be mentioned, lest people get the wrong idea about when spring-blooming bulbs are planted.

But I’m betting that the author simply assumed the tulips are planted in the spring from a 2003 Q&A with Haney in which he said:

My favorite display is the spring. After a long winter, it is wonderful to see the bulbs come up. At the North Fountain there are 4,000 oxford tulips with a border of 8,000 grape hyacinth. The South Fountain is planted with 8,000 oxford tulips and 16,000 grape hyacinth.

Only a clueless nongardener would read it incorrectly, right?

Houseplants are Watered Daily?

From the Post’s article:

Haney starts each day personally watering the plants in the Oval Office before setting out to manage the rest of the grounds, he told the History Quarterly.“I want to be sure the plants are watered and healthy before the president arrives at his desk,” he told the magazine.

Here it looks like the author took a leap from Haney’s statement that every day he “makes sure the plants are watered and healthy” into Haney actually watering them daily. 

If there’s a houseplant expert in the house, isn’t daily watering the first thing you warn people not to do?

Mowing the Lawn Twice-Weekly Spring, Summer and Fall?

My photo of the South Lawn and putting green in April of 2022.

The quote from the Post’s article:

In the spring, summer and fall, the lawns are mowed twice a week. It takes eight hours to mow the lawns each time, according to a 2003 Q&A with Haney.

Well, I can read, too, and what Haney is quoted as saying in answer to “How long does it take to mow all the lawns of the White House?”was, “It takes 8 hours. We mow twice a week. The gardens are mowed at 2 1/2 inches and all other areas are mowed at 3 inches.”

As Haney knows and homeowners in this region quickly learn, by late summer and definitely by fall, lawns probably don’t enough new growth to warrant weekly mowing, much less twice weekly.

Those three flaws are so obvious, some of my nongardening friends even noticed. But moving on…

All Presidents “have an interest in gardening”?

In the 2003 interview Haney was asked, “Was there a president who loved to garden?” and answered:

All of our Presidents have had an interest in gardening. As you walk through the grounds there is so much to see from the past which have taken place here. It would be hard not to have an interest in these beautiful grounds.

I call BS on that. Or more politely, that’s what a seasoned White House employee knows to say to reporters – because there’s no way all U.S. presidents “have an interest in gardening.” But I think I’ll email an expert to confirm or refute my judgment on this point. (That’s Marta McDowell, of course. She wrote the book on presidents with an interest in gardening.)

The Anguish of a Royal Visit Just *After* Bloom Time – We Can All Relate!

About Queen Elizabeth’s 2007 visit, Haney commented that:

“By Monday morning, we’ll have mowed and South Lawn and edged it, mowed the North Lawn and edged it, and we have got a lot of plant material to bring into the house for the dinner to decorate the residence with,” Haney explained when C-SPAN caught up with him about the Queen’s 2007 visit. “It’s too bad because our dogwoods have just finished blooming and our apple trees have just finished. It’s too bad the queen couldn’t come a week earlier; there would have been so much more beauty to see here.”