First Ladies style the White House garden
bonnets, one of the first lady’s favorites, for a spring display in the rose garden. described by National Public radio as a ‘closet preservationist,’ Bush laughed and said, ‘Well, not a closet preservationist. I’m a very active preservationist…’
Michelle Obama took a shovel to the South Lawn in 2009 to make a food garden. edible gardening was the fastest growing market segment according to the National gardening Survey. The location of the new garden, tucked to the side of the South Lawn, adhered to the 1935 Olmsted plan, keeping the vista across the South Fountain clear. The plant selections reached back through history to some of the previous occupants of the house and grounds.
The White House Kitchen garden was planted as a sort of national demonstration garden to promote healthy eating, especially for children, taking up a banner long held aloft by chefs such as alice Waters and writers like Michael Pollan. It is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ initiative. a few lucky school groups get to dig in the garden, planting and harvesting, then helping to cook and eat veggie pizza.
The new garden set more than the media abuzz. White House carpenter Charlie Brandt, who kept hives at home, added beekeeper to his job description. The hives are the first on record at the White House. Like the sculpture installations, the hives are secured—strapped down—to withstand air turbulence from Marine One. The colonies prospered and produced 140 pounds of honey in their first year, used in the White House kitchen and for state gifts. along with excess produce from the garden, some of the honey was also donated to Miriam’s Kitchen, a nonprofit serving d.c.’s homeless.
Like trees, seeds can be goodwill ambassadors. Seeds are beginnings, encapsulated hope. In 2014, President Obama made a state visit to rome’s new pontiff carrying a box of seeds, his gift to Pope Francis. They were not just any seeds, but paper packets of heirloom varieties grown in the White House garden. They were presented in a handcrafted chest made from wood reclaimed from the Baltimore Basilica, the first cathedral built in the United States. ‘If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well,’ Obama offered. Francis responded with a Spanish phrase that could be translated as ‘Why not?’ or ‘For sure.’ In September 2015, the president welcomed the pope to the White House in a ceremony on the South Lawn.
Why shouldn’t the White House gardens be our common ground, a way to look forward into the future and back through the layers of american landscape design and garden history? The gardens are one of the oldest continually cultivated patches on the North american continent. Extract from All the Presidentsõ Gardens by Marta Mcdowell, published by Timber Press, £20 (www.timberpress.com)
What happened to the trees?
Bill and Hillary Clinton in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden