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Tucked away on the South Lawn, behind a tall hedge of hollies, is the White House Children’s Garden, a special jewel, created by President and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson as their family’s time in the White House drew to a close. Mrs. Johnson wrote of the opening in her diary, “Sunday, January 19 [1969]. Today dawned gray and dreary with a light rain falling . . . Carrying an umbrella, I went down to the Children’s Garden, which will be our departing gift to the White House . . . Even in the gray day, the garden was a charming little spot . . . a very secret, quiet place.”

Today the garden remains a symbol of the connectivity of presidential families to the home they once occupied. In the forty-five years since the garden was established, seventeen presidential grandchildren have pressed their handprints and footprints into clay to be cast in bronze, yet there is plenty of room for the prints of future generations to be added to the flagstone paths.

Lucinda Robb Florio, granddaughter of President Johnson, has a keen interest in history and recently reflected for me upon the context she sees for the garden today. Hers were the first handprints left there. “The White House was my first home . . . but as I was only a few months old, I didn’t properly appreciate it! So it is interesting to know that I?made some small, lasting mark in my short time there. The garden strikes me as a particularly appropriate gift, especially given my grandmother’s love of nature. Having the prints of the grandchildren in such a private place was a reminder that it was a home loved by many families, who upon leaving office would share a special bond with the other occupants.”

The first prints were made for the garden by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s grandchildren, three-year old Patrick Lyndon Nugent and infant Lucinda Robb.

Lauren Bush Lauren, one of twelve grandchildren of President George H. W. Bush whose prints are in the garden, says, “I do vaguely remember the day that all of my cousins and I placed our handprints . . . It was a fun, chaotic day . . . I believe we were all in the Third Floor Solarium and fresh blocks of cement were brought in. I was around five years old at the time, so I certainly did not grasp the significance . . .I now feel a greater sense of pride and history in being part of the garden.”

President George H. W. Bush's granddaughter, Lauren Bush Lauren, in the garden.

Lauren’s younger brother Pierce Bush, who was three years old when his prints were made, observed, “When your grandfather serves as president—no matter what you do in your own life—you will always be known to some extent as the grandchild of that president . . . The fact that we permanently have our handprints in the Children’s Garden is a small way that we, as grandkids of presidents, will literally leave our mark on the magical place that we Bushes once called Gampy and Granny’s house.”

First Lady Barbara Bush, spoke nostalgically, “I loved the Children’s Garden and often walked our dogs around the South Lawn and would stop and step into the garden for a quiet moment. It was very nice.”

Rarely do the progeny of presidents return to the garden, but all remember it as the secret place Lauren describes. The number of stones grows and the terrace they compose likewise is enlarged and rearranged. And there is plenty of space for the grandchildren of future presidents...

Jenna and Barbara Bush are among the many grandchildren of President George H. W. Bush whose hand prints are included in the garden.

This article was originally published January 16, 2015

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