In August 2020, then-First Lady Melania Trump unveiled a newly renovated Rose Garden, just in time for her Republican National Convention speech. The changes — which were “long overdue,” according to The Washington Post — saw the installation of limestone pathways lining the space to help facilitate water drainage and to help make the Rose Garden compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The redo also upgraded the electrical cables present in the space to help better address the needs of the media and the president.
But the renovation was also controversial. One of the biggest changes Trump made was the removal of the crabapple trees that had been in the garden since the Kennedy administration. She also changed the color palette, switching out the roses and other flowers from ones with vibrant hues to a more subdued pastel. And like anything to do with the Trump administration, the changes elicited significant backlash. In fact, there has been such pushback against Trump’s Rose Garden changes that a petition was started in April 2021, asking First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff to restore the Rose Garden to the way it was under the Kennedy administration. The petition has gained ground, with Newsweek reporting that it has surpassed its original goal of 50,000 signatures and its organizers are now hoping to achieve 75,000.
But just why were the changes so controversial? Keep scrolling to find out.
The Rose Garden has a rich history
According to the White House Historical Association, the Rose Garden has existed in some form since 1902, when First Lady Edith Roosevelt planted her “Colonial Garden.” The Rose Garden was the spot where the White House’s “rose house” used to be, part of a large series of greenhouses that sprawled the grounds. While the White House gardens have changed throughout the years, Rachel Mellon — the gardener who designed the Kennedy Rose Garden — stated that roses have always existed in the Rose Garden.
However, changing technology required the grounds to keep up with the times. After a trip to France, Austria, and England, President John Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, asked for an outdoor space similar to those they saw overseas. He wanted a space that was “both useful and attractive,” per Mellon, and in which he could entertain, as he’d experienced in Europe. Mellon was up to the task and formed a French-inspired garden that centered around a combination of horticulture and floral arrangements. She used four magnolia trees in the garden’s corners to anchor the design and used crabapple trees, which were part of the rose family, to create a repeating design that made it look like “an early American garden in Southern Virginia.” She also designed it so the “areas could be bedded out as the season demanded: but the roses could remain.”
It was this change to the fundamental design of the garden that upset some people.
A petition calls for a restoration of the Rose Garden
Although many changes to the garden were necessary improvements, there were some that have upset fans of Rachel Mellon’s design. Namely, the removal of the iconic crabapple trees and the reduction of the vibrant flowers — which were installed at the request of President John Kennedy, per the White House Historical Association — have saddened enough people that a petition has been created to urge the first lady and second gentleman to restore it to its former glory. Many have taken to Twitter to express their hope that Dr. Jill Biden and Doug Emhoff will take it upon themselves to at least plant more colorful flowers in the space.
“First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s design was destroyed by Melania Trump. Hopefully the Rose Garden will be returned to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s,” one Twitter user wrote. “Melania Trump, third wife of an illegitimate president, completely got rid of Jackie Kennedy’s beautiful rose garden. FLOTUS please restore it. Melania Trump has no sense of beauty,” a second user tweeted. “‘Melania Trump’ should be arrested for the destruction of government property…” a third person penned.
As The Guardian has reported, the current first lady hasn’t mentioned any plans to renovate the White House Rose Garden. She did, however, plant a tree on the North Lawn of the White House in honor of Arbor Day, where she made a quip about planting trees in heels.
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