Melania Trump To Oversee 'Renewal' Of White House Rose Garden

Aug 2, 2020
Originally published on August 2, 2020 2:25 pm

There are many rose gardens, but in Washington, D.C., at least, there is only one capital-R capital-G Rose Garden.

"It's one of the few spaces at the White House that I think most Americans know, both by name and by sight," says Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Association."You say 'the Rose Garden at the White House,' and it brings back presidential daughter's weddings and state dinners."

The Trump administration announced that it is undertaking a "significant renewal" of the Rose Garden, just outside of the West Wing of the White House.

The work is being funded by private donations and is expected to be completed later this summer. The project is being overseen by First Lady Melania Trump, much as one of her predecessors, Jackie Kennedy, helped design the garden as it exists today.

"The very act of planting a garden involves hard work and hope in the possibility of a bright future," Melania Trump said in announcing the work.

Beloved outdoor venue

McLaurin says President John F. Kennedy wanted "an outdoor room to the White House where he could have events which are very familiar to us now."

At the time of the initial design in 1961, there were flowers as well as vegetables in the space.

"President Kennedy was the first to envision that row of steps that we are now familiar with, where the president will come out of the Oval Office and address people or participate in a ceremony," McLaurin says.

There had been other gardens at the site, at least as far back as President Theodore Roosevelt. First Lady Edith Wilson reworked the site to include roses.

When Kennedy became president, McLaurin says, he called on a family friend, Rachel Lambert "Bunny" Mellon, to help with the design.

"They pirated some saucer magnolias from down by the Jefferson Memorial and brought those to the White House. It's just become a wonderful space."

McLaurin says there have been eight state dinners in the Rose Garden since the Johnson administration.

First Lady Melania Trump speaks as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison listens during a state dinner in the Rose Garden on Sept. 20, 2019.
Alex Brandon / AP

The most recent state dinner was hosted by President Trump for his Australian counterpart. Trump has made frequent use of the garden for bill signings, COVID-19 briefings and news conferences. He is said to favor the outdoor lighting.

Chapman University political science professor Lori Cox Han, who has written about women and politics, says the Rose Garden project is a chance for the White House to highlight Melania Trump's role.

"This is an opportunity for her to do something that's very traditional for a first lady, because Rose Gardens really are connected to first ladies, probably, maybe even more than how presidents use them," Cox Han says.

"This is an opportunity for her to get some attention for something that is probably mostly uncontroversial — although where the Trump presidency is concerned, everything seems to have some controversy, depending on who you're talking to."

One goal for the renovation Melania Trump is overseeing includes making the garden compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. There will be drainage improvements and new lighting, as well as better connections for broadcast coverage of events there.

New walkways will be added, with some subtractions, as well, including a row of crabapple trees. The White House also says there will be some new plantings as well, including more roses.

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DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

Time to check in once more with an athlete who'd been hoping to be at the Tokyo Olympics right about now. We've been seeking out aspiring members of Team USA to learn what it's like to push off such a big competition by a year. Today, we hear from a player in the new Olympic discipline of three-on-three basketball.

KAREEM MADDOX: My name is Kareem Maddox, and I'm a 3x3 basketball player. And I would have been playing for Team USA in the Olympic qualification tournament. And the goal is to make it to the Olympics. We still have to go to that tournament, finish in the top three as USA, and then we will be qualified for Tokyo. So when the Olympics got postponed, I wouldn't say I was devastated, but it definitely threw a wrench into my plans. I actually quit my job on January 31, so that I could train full-time for the Olympics. And when it got postponed, I realized that at some point I was going to have to make some decisions about how I was going to sustain for the next year.

So there was never a doubt that I would still be going for it because, you know, it's a lifelong dream. But, you know, it will take some creativity to figure out what I'm going to do for the next year. But I've seen it as an opportunity to become the best basketball player that I can possibly be. And, you know, one way to look at it is I have a whole extra year to do that because, you know, this is the first time 3x3 is in the Olympics. I want to do everything that I can to make sure that it is an enjoyable experience for the spectators and that, you know, I can leave my mark. And my teammates feel the same way about that.

FOLKENFLIK: And what's coursing through Maddox's headphones while he keeps driving toward Tokyo 2021? It's the soundtrack to the hit Broadway musical "Hamilton," which he watched for the first time during quarantine.

MADDOX: The song has been on repeat for me is "Right Hand Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIGHT HAND MAN")

CHRISTOPHER JACKSON: (As George Washington, rapping) Embellishing my elegance and eloquence, but the elephant is in the room. The truth is in your face when you hear the British cannons go boom.

MADDOX: It's just such a work of genius. And it's something that is, like, so powerful and so smart and poignant now because I think a lot of people are looking for ways to believe in the promise of America. Yeah. I mean, you know, pick any song off of it, and I will sing a duet with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIGHT HAND MAN")

JACKSON: (As George Washington, rapping) And boom goes the cannon. We're abandoning Kips Bay. And boom...

FOLKENFLIK: That's Kareem Maddox, a three-on-three basketball player hoping to compete for Team USA at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo next year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIGHT HAND MAN")

JACKSON: (As George Washington, rapping) Guns and horses giddy-up. I decide to divvy up my forces. They're skittish as the British cut the city up. This close to giving up, facing mad scrutiny. I scream in the face of this mass mutiny. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.