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Oct 11, 2018 Washington, D.C.

Twice every year, in the fall and spring, the White House opens the Grounds to visitors for self-guided tours of the South Lawn. As summer turns to fall, trees at the White House reflect the changing season by turning beautiful shades of yellow, orange and brown, providing a wonderful opportunity to admire the foliage, gardens, and nature around the White House.

Ahead of this year’s Fall Garden Tours on Saturday, October 20 and Sunday, October 21, we’ve put together a list of facts and stories related to the history of the White House Grounds:

  • One chestnut oak just southeast of the White House may be older than the mansion itself. Chestnut oaks of similar diameter have been found to be over 300 years old. If the tree proves to be similarly old, it would be the only living thing to have seen the comings and goings of every American president.
  • President Rutherford B. Hayes began the tradition of planting commemorative trees in the 1870s. Today, the South Lawn features more than three dozen special commemorative trees, which add to the wonderful fall foliage of the White House.
  • James Buchanan completed a glass conservatory in 1857 above the West Colonnade. By the turn of the twentieth century, the conservatory had expanded to nine service buildings, including a grapery, fern house, orchid house, geranium house, and rose house. These greenhouses stood until 1902 when they were removed to make way for the Temporary Executive Office Building, today known as the West Wing.
  • In 1943, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt announced the planting of a victory garden for the White House Grounds. 10-year-old Diana Hopkins, who lived at the White House from 1940-1943 with her father Harry Hopkins, a friend and advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, tended to the new garden.
  • To encourage Americans to conserve resources for the war effort, President Woodrow Wilson replaced lawn mowers with a flock of sheep. Additionally, the flock’s wool was auctioned off to raise funds for the Red Cross.
  • President John F. Kennedy asked family friend and celebrated horticulturalist Rachel Lambert “Bunny” Mellon if she would redesign the White House gardens. She oversaw the redesign of the now famous Rose Garden outside the Oval Office, but work on the East Garden was delayed by the assassination of President Kennedy. First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson called on Bunny Mellon to finish the work, dedicating the garden to her predecessor Mrs. Kennedy.
  • On March 20, 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama created a 1,100-square-foot garden on the South Grounds. During her time in the White House, Mrs. Obama invited children to plant and harvest seasonal vegetables and herbs, teaching them about nutrition and healthy eating.
  • First Lady Melania Trump has continued cultivating the garden and inviting children to help plant vegetables for White House events. The unused produce is donated to local foodbanks and charities in Washington, D.C.

AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW: Jonathan Pliska, author of A Garden for the President: A History of the White House Grounds. Pliska can speak on the grounds, gardens, uses, and plantings of the White House. His research has uncovered new information about a range of topics, including the earliest White House planting lists, the true origins of the Jefferson Mounds, and the legend surrounding the famous Jackson Magnolia.

For more information please contact press@whha.org or Jessica Fredericks, Communications Director, at JFredericks@whha.org.

P.D.F. Resources

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About the white house historical association

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy envisioned a restored White House that conveyed a sense of history through its decorative and fine arts. She sought to inspire Americans, especially children, to explore and engage with American history and its presidents. In 1961, the White House Historical Association was established to support her vision to preserve and share the Executive Mansion’s legacy for generations to come. Supported entirely by private resources, the Association’s mission is to assist in the preservation of the state and public rooms, fund acquisitions for the White House permanent collection, and educate the public on the history of the White House. Since its founding, the Association has given more than $45 million to the White House in fulfillment of its mission. 

To learn more about the White House Historical Association, please visit WhiteHouseHistory.org

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