All About The White House Rose Garden
As lovers and vendors of high-quality flowers, we at Venus ET Fleur® fully appreciate and are in awe of the iconic White House Rose Garden that encloses the West Wing and Oval Office of the famous presidential residence in Washington D.C. With an impressive assortment of lush greenery and vibrant flowers in nearly every color, this historical garden is truly any plant fanatic’s dream come true.
The Rose Garden has bloomed from just a pleasant sight full of beautiful botany into a powerful location where Presidential events, ceremonies, and press conferences are held and draw the entire world’s attention. With the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden on the east side and the Rose Garden as the west garden, the building truly is flanked by two stunning works of nature.
But how did this garden begin in the first place, and how did it progress past these humble roots and become the attraction and international symbol it is today? Keep reading to find the answers to your burning questions and learn more about one of our nation’s most memorable planned spaces.
How Did The Rose Garden Begin?
Presidents have a long history of beautiful gardens at their official residences, dating back at least to Thomas Jefferson. That said, the history of the White House Rose Garden as we know it today came a bit later.
The idea for a more official garden space at the White House was raised by First Lady Edith Roosevelt in 1902, who replaced the rose house that was on the premises at the time with a proper colonial garden during the 1902 Roosevelt renovation. This effort planted the seeds for a dedication to cultivating flowers on the White House land that was continued by First Lady Ellen Wilson in 1913.
Wilson chose to replace Roosevelt’s colonial garden with a more specialized rose garden, thus earning that garden space just outside of the present-day Oval Office and West Wing the official moniker of “the Rose Garden.”
However, it was ultimately the Kennedy administration and its 1961 renewal and renovation venture that created the layout and vision of the Rose Garden we know and adore now.
Who Planted The Rose Garden?
After traveling abroad on a state visit and noticing the stunning and high-quality gardens that stood as pillars of culture and politics in Europe, particularly England, France, and Austria, newly-elected president John F. Kennedy decided to take action. There were no gardens at the White House that equaled the attractiveness of those he saw abroad, and he wanted to remedy that immediately. He hoped to create something that appealed to the sensibilities of all people.
President Kennedy asked Rachel Lambert Mellon (also known as Bunny Mellon), an amateur enthusiast of local gardening and horticulture, to redesign the Rose Garden. He and former First Lady Jackie Kennedy wanted her to create something more than the private gardens that had been the standard in the past, to instead make a lasting meeting space that would welcome people inside the White House gates in an unprecedented way.
While Mellon initially felt out of her depth with the scale and prestige of the project, she was bolstered by President Kennedy’s enthusiasm for the task and his desire to transform the space into one of gathering and importance. They also brought on landscape architect Perry Wheeler to work on the infrastructure. The group felt that the importance of gardens could not be overstated.
Inspiration first struck in the form of magnolia trees, which she would place in each of the corners of the Rose Garden’s new wide-open lawn space. From there, she decided to create a 12-foot border out of roses in addition to perennials, herbs, and small trees, including ”Katherine” crab apples. While the garden was designed in a more formal and traditional French style, the plant specimens themselves were mostly those native to the United States.
Types of Roses in The Rose Garden
While the White House Rose Garden is known for its variety in flowers and shrubbery surrounding the central lawn, it still has stayed true to its name by having roses as a main focal point.
In her renovation for the Kennedys, Mellon’s design incorporated Tom Thumb and standard roses, and Irvin Williams, the White House chief gardener at the time, helped plant and tend to these and the other varieties that flourished there. Such rose types throughout the decades include Queen Elizabeth, King’s Ransom, Pat Nixon, Nevada, and Pascali roses.
Queen Elizabeth Rose
One of the classic and most beloved rose types available, Queen Elizabeth is a Grandiflora rose first bred in the United States in 1954, specifically for Queen Elizabeth II. Popular throughout the US and UK, this rose can reach up to six feet tall at full maturity and is known for its large bloom, moderate sweet fragrance, and light pink petals.
The flower is not only regal in appearance, but also is as strong and lasting as the British monarchy itself, with a durable build that makes it resistant to most disease and harsh weather.
King’s Ransom Rose
This Hybrid tea (garden) rose was first bred in 1961 and brought to the United States in 1962. The King’s Ransom rose reaches full maturity at four feet tall and is distinguished by its large and fragrant yellow blossoms. It is a repeat bloomer, and despite the climate, weather, or flower’s age, its petals’ vibrant color does not fade.
Pat Nixon Rose
Named after the wife of 37th United States president, Richard Nixon, the Pat Nixon is a floribunda rose first bred in France in 1972. It is identified by its dark red appearance, strong scent, and slight black tinge on the outer edges of its petals. This flower was created to honor the First Lady’s love for roses and has since found its place at the Rose Garden and outside of the Nixon Library in California.
The Nevada is a rose cultivar that was first cultivated in Spain in 1927. Its name “Nevada” refers to the Spanish word for snowy, in reference to the color of these white roses. This flower tends to initially have white petals and a yellow stamen, but after blooming more than once, the petals take on a pinkish hue. It is also known to have a mild and sweet smell.
This Hybrid tea rose is capable of blooming more than once and was first bred in Belgium in 1963. The Pascali rose grows on a thorny shrub to reach between three to five feet in height at maturity. It has a light fragrance and medium bloom and is most distinguished by the creamy, pure white coloring of its double-layered petals.
The White House Rose Garden Today
While the White House currently maintains the same general French-style layout first devised during the Kennedy renovations (as well as some of the same original plants), there have been some changes in the years since.
Over time, we have seen the Rose Gardens evolve both physically as the plants and flowers there changed with each new president, but also in its deeper meaning, usage, and notoriety.
What Is The Rose Garden Used For?
While the Rose Garden is and always has been a place where the president can go to get privacy, reflection time, and gorgeous botanical views, it has also developed into a place for meetings, events, and coming together.
Various presidents have used the garden to speak to the press, welcome prominent and influential visitors, and host special events like large dinners or the annual pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey. There are even tours that usually take place in the Spring and Fall seasons for one or two days each, which give regular citizens the incredible opportunity to visit the Rose Garden themselves.
Clearly, presidents and their administrations are making the most out of this gorgeous space both publicly and privately, cementing its status as one of the most prominent gardens in the world.
All presidents and their spouses have the opportunity to make changes to the grounds when it is their time in office. First Lady Melania Trump made some renovations to the Rose Garden before the 2020 Republican National Convention that sparked a surprising controversy. She made improvements to drainage and ensured that it would be more accessible to people with disabilities, as well as some audiovisual enhancements, but that’s not where the controversy stems from.
Led by Oehme, van Sweden, and Perry Guillot, the First Lady’s efforts ended up removing ten crabapple trees and much of the rest of the foliage, which widened the view of the West Wing Colonnade. This decision immediately received some backlash from the public. The crabapples were a staple of the Rose Garden, and their removal left many feeling as if the tradition of Jackie’s original design and a rich presidential history were ignored.
In any event, with the new occupants of the White House, perhaps we will see some other renovations to the White House Rose Garden, perhaps even ones that bring back those beloved crabapple trees.
Roses Are Stunning in Any Setting
Although the Rose Garden has existed in its various iterations for over a century, the roses themselves require plenty of upkeep and tending in order to stay looking healthy and fresh. Plants are cycled in and out, both with renovations and as each one’s life span reaches an end, to maintain Jackie's legacy.
The careful and diligent pruning at the White House sustains the lives of these plants for as long as possible. However, typically, once a rose’s stem has been cut, it will live around one to two weeks more, depending on how they are tended to. This fact makes our Eternity® Roses that much more impressive since they can live a year or more if looked after properly.
If you want to attempt to replicate the vibrant beauty of the White House Rose Garden in your own home but are put off by the short lifespans of typical store-bought roses, you still have options. We at Venus ET Fleur are here for you, and we are determined to help you make your own Rose Garden dreams come true.