Just months after breaking ground on a tennis pavilion pointedly inspired by classical architecture, the Trump administration has announced that it will also renovate the White House Rose Garden. First Lady Melania Trump is expected to formally announce the landscape revamp, which the New York Times referred to as a “signature showcase of power used by presidents for decades,” later today.
As reported by CNN, the extensive overhaul, which will include excavation work, will put the Rose Garden out of use for “several weeks.” In recent months the famed half-acre green space flanking the Oval Office and the West Wing has become the preferred venue for the administration to host news conferences and ceremonial goings-on, as its outdoor nature makes it an inherently safer place, per public health experts, to hold small gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. (Also, Trump believes the natural outdoor lighting to be more flattering, per the Times.) It’s unclear if press briefings and news conferences will now move back indoors or be relocated to another outdoor space on the White House grounds while the renovation is underway. The decision to renovate the garden was reportedly made several months ago.
As noted by the Times, the Rose Garden renovation, overseen by Long Island, New York-based landscape architect Perry Guillot, will include electrical upgrades for future television appearances, two new limestone walkways, and new flower and shrub plantings. (Best known for work on numerous Hamptons estates, Guillot is somewhat of an authority on privacy-affording shrubbery.) The overall intent, per CNN, is to revert the garden to more closely resemble the way it appeared following an extensive 1962 redesign spearheaded by the Kennedy administration and executed by well-heeled horticulturist Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon and Perry Wheeler.
In prepared remarks, Melania Trump told the Committee For Preservation of the White House that the revamp should be viewed as an “act of expressing hope and optimism for the future.”
“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,” she said.
Despite Trump equating the Rose Garden to a symbol of resilience and strength, the timing of the aesthetic overhaul—less than 100 days before the presidential election, during a worsening public health crisis, and as the nation, gripped by social unrest, deals with a deep recession—has, not surprisingly, raised eyebrows. It’s also led many to wonder if taxpayers will be footing the bill. As of now, this does not appear to be the case, with the Times reporting that it will be funded by private donors with logistical support from the National Park Service.
I had the same initial reaction as you. But then I saw that Perry Guillot has been retained as landscape architect. He is talented and thoughtful, and I think will not countenance undermining the essence of Bunny Mellon’s original design. Or so I hope. https://t.co/UO8HR552hH
— Paul Goldberger (@paulgoldberger) July 27, 2020
While the White House Rose Garden is largely associated with the Kennedy administration and Mellon’s signature redesign, the space was first established by First Lady Ellen Louise Axon Wilson in 1913 on the site of a previous garden inaugurated by Edith Roosevelt, wife of Theodore Roosevelt, just a decade prior. Various administrations have altered and added to the landscape, which has long served as the well-manicured backdrop for numerous consequential meetings and events (and at least three weddings) held at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, to some extent. In 1935, for example, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt tapped Fredrick Law Olmsted Jr. for a redesign.