White House Garden Tours Bridge America’s Divide
WASHINGTON — There were the young women in cool fall coats, a guy in a suit, hooded parents with children, all maneuvering for selfies with the South Facade of the White House. Plant lovers and history buffs alike leaned in to admire the perennials and century-old trees on the lawns where the Commander dog lounges and the Marine One helicopter lands.
Again and again, Secret Service agents have risen to the challenge of visiting the White House Fall Garden over the weekend, open to all with a free ticket: “Off the grass!” shouted a black-uniformed agent, straightening his shoulders, not for the first time, not for the last. A lost visitor jumped in the way.
A total of about 30,000 people poured through the black metal gates of the White House on Saturday and Sunday, as the red-uniformed Marine Band, overlooking the South Lawn, played everyone.
With some of the toughest temporary security fencing and pandemic restrictions eased, non-rainy weekend tours were a throwback to the early days of the White House, when there were fewer restrictions on access to the House. People. Over a weekend, the tour bridged some of the distance between the national executive and a curious and divided audience.
Annual fall and spring tours open the doors to gardens over 200 years old – the oldest continuously maintained landscape in the United States, according to the National Park Service
“It’s kind of a checklist,” said 29-year-old Ryan Harrison. He and his wife Lindsey Harrison, 30, arrived hours early from their Washington home to line up at 7:07 a.m. Saturday. They wanted to see the rose garden, and maybe more.
“There’s a chance the president will come out and say hello,” she said.
President Joe Biden, indeed, was at home in Delaware.
There were limits to hospitality: Field crews carried evergreens in containers to block the path to a back garden, where the palm prints of grandchildren and the paw prints of animals of companionship offer a glimpse into the lives of White House residents.
The human occupants weren’t on site, but the bees in the hives were, searching for head-high orange marigolds in the blooming, flowery patch that houses the kitchen garden started by Michelle Obama and the cut flower garden started by Jill Biden.
John Adams is credited with laying the groundwork for the first White House vegetable garden, although a re-election loss meant he left before the spring 1801 planting season, historians say. He hired white and black laborers during his term as president, although the White House Historical Association notes that other presidents brought in black people they held as slaves to work as gardeners.
The current head groundskeeper is Dale Haney, who was honored by the Bidens last week for his 50 years of service in the White House. Within minutes when the visiting areas were open to reporters on weekends but not yet to the general public, a gardener pulled out a final cartload of branches and leaves. Another tidied up with what appeared to be a battery-operated leaf blower (an aha moment for gardeners in these days of controversy over gas-powered leaf blowers).
Public access to the White House grounds may have reached its peak in 1837, when Andrew Jackson celebrated George Washington’s birthday by opening the gates of the White House to all – men and boys in frock coats and hats. straw, women and girls in bonnets — who wanted a slice of a given 1,400 pound (635 kilogram) cheese.
“For hours a crowd of men, women and boys cut the cheese, many taking large chunks with them,” wrote a journalist at the time. “There was nothing else being talked about in Washington that day.”
World War II, 9/11 and other security issues gradually reduced access to ordinary Americans.
When First Lady Pat Nixon began spring and fall garden tours in 1973, the White House itself was still open to visitors lining up for tours.
These days, members of the public are typically asked to drop by congressional offices to secure seats on White House tours. Families enter a lottery for a spot in the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.
For weekend garden visits, the line wraps around metal gates surrounding approximately 18 acres (7 hectares).
A VIP group that came out on top on Saturday’s garden tour were allowed to get close enough to gaze out the windows, set against the backdrop of people’s photos of a serene rose garden brightened by yellow flowers and lift questions about who got the first gnaw on the big cheese.
Washington-area SEED school administrator Rashida Holman-Jones walked through the doors with her 7-year-old twin daughters, 17-year-old student Simona Weimer and others.
Weimer has been great with compost and has been involved in the school garden, Holman-Jones said. Holman-Jones became involved in school gardening as a direct extension of Michelle Obama’s desire to promote gardening for better child nutrition.
At the time, “I wasn’t into gardening,” she said. “But I was a really, really big fan of Michelle Obama.”
In the White House gardens last weekend, neatly trimmed boxwood plantings kept all the pollinator-friendly red, green, yellow, purple and orange fall blooms alive.
The topiary was large. Photos and plaques marked trees planted by past presidents, with Queen Elizabeth II, Hillary Clinton and others also part of planting pedigrees. The oldest trees are identified as two southern magnolias, planted by Jackson.
On Saturday, a man in a suit approached from outside the White House. A Secret Service agent looming next to hip-high shrubbery told him to come back.
Holman-Jones, a friend, and their beaming little girls rushed for their photo. Weimer, from Ethiopia, took a photo for the people at home, capturing her moment at the White House.