Much has been written about what happens within the White House's walls, but its outdoor spaces are just as intriguing, according to Marta McDowell's new book . This charming, copiously illustrated book is a treasure trove for historians and horticulturists alike.
In the spring of 1918, during World War I, twenty Hampshire sheep took up residence on the South Lawn of the White House to keep the grass closely cropped. Since wool was in high demand during the war, the wool shorn from the sheep was auctioned as a novelty item to benefit the American Red Cross.
President Carter had a tree house built for his tween daughter, Amy, in a blue atlas cedar tree on the South Lawn. She often used it for sleepovers with friends (Secret Service oversight included).
When President Nixon's daughter, Tricia, married Edward Cox, it was the first ceremony performed in the Rose Garden. Extra roses and gardenias were added to the garden for the wedding. The garden was President Kennedy's pet project, and officially dedicated as the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden on April 22, 1965.
George Washington was a president with a botanical passion, and asked his friends to send seeds and cuttings for his garden. Soon, packets were arriving from England, the Caribbean, and the deep South. He built an expansive brick orangery — a building heated with stoves — for his fragile oranges, lemons, palms, and palmettos. Washington planted so many roses that it took twelve days each June to pick the petals, which his wife, Martha, distilled into rosewater.
Though the White House grounds have hosted many state dinners, tense negotiations, and commemorations, it has also been the playground of the children who considered the executive mansion their home. The two youngest Lincoln boys, Willie and Tad, were the first children to live in the White House. Their two pet goats notoriously ate the gardens' flowers. This photo shows the South Lawn during the Civil War.
First Lady Mary Lincoln came from a wealthy Kentucky family and had a love for retail. Her purchases for renovating the White House far exceeded the $20,000 allocated by Congress. To help pay off her debts, her gardener padded his bills for plants, supplies, and labor to give the First Lady wiggle room. The "Manure Fund" helped pay off what Mrs. Lincoln owed from buying china, crystal, carpets, wallpaper, and paint.
When the Kennedy's arrived at the White House, the lawn was never quite right. "It is driving the President crazy," said Jacqueline Kennedy, "and I agree with him. In Glen Ora [the Kennedy's weekend retreat in Middleburg, Virginia] where we have a man who cuts the lawn every two weeks, it looks like green velvet — and this place looks as well as cornfields in Virginia." National Park Service employees tried everything to quickly spruce the grounds, even spray-painting brown patches green before important guests arrived.
Perhaps the Obamas' most popular addition to the White House grounds is the kitchen garden (the hallmark of Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign) filled with healthy fruits and vegetables. The garden also includes a pollinator bed filled with bug- and bird-friendly plants native to the mid-Atlantic that provide fuel for the White House honeybees.
Adapted from All the Presidents' Gardens© Copyright 2016 by Marta McDowell. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.