A tour of the White House through its gardens


It was around 8:20 am in Washington DC, Saturday in early October, when I ran from the McPherson Square subway station, one of the closest subway stations to the White House Visitor Center, to buy a free ticket to snatch, which should be distributed first come, first base for ‘Fall Garden Tours’. I wasn’t late considering the distribution time starts at 8:30am but when I arrived I immediately felt terribly late. Thanks to the endless line of locals and tourists who had been queuing since 6am. Fearing that tickets might run out, I joined anyway. At 9:30 am, joy flooded my hands as they were holding the same ticket.

Garden tours for the public at the White House have been an annual tradition since 1972, offered at the beginning of spring and fall. I found out about them just a few days before this Saturday when I heard an official from the same center tell a family about it. I joined them and got the details.

After passing through security, everyone entered from the south side of the lawn while Secret Service personnel and tour volunteers were scattered. But even before we got inside, we could hear the live band playing at the famous house. Jazz was her theme, which did not forget about themes of patriotism. Just as one entered, a brochure was handed out by young volunteers with a map of the White House grounds, which spanned 18 acres. ‘Is it a self-guided tour?’ I asked curiously and yes it was, but there were many from the White House nearby, including Secret Service officials, anxious to answer us.

The splendor of the South Lawn, with a series of low hills mainly on its south side, enchanted me within a New York minute. It is also the landing pad of the President’s helicopter called Marine One. This Saturday it was missing, but luckily not the President’s car – the black beast, a one-of-a-kind Cadillac, was parked next to that lawn just steps from the gate we entered. It was an obvious cynosure for everyone.

It wasn’t hard to tear myself away from Cadillac given the live band under the house’s famous Truman balcony. As I stood below, I pictured the view from there, but in order to experience a few percent of it, I turned and focused my eyes again on the south lawn, the large fountain at one end, and the George Washington memorial within Shape of an Egyptian style obelisk. just a few minutes walk from this house.

As I stood there and looked at the 360 ​​degree view from there, I noticed many trees that were grown by almost every first family that lived here. When I identified them, the leaflet in my hand became my guide, but what amazed me more, and certainly others, were the large images displayed along them, introducing visitors to the moment of planting. Interestingly, some images show Presidents planting alone, while others show them accompanied by their wives, surrounded by a large White House team. But what I adored most was where President Bush and his wife were seen with their pet Barney, a Scottish Terrier, planting Cut Leaf Silver Maple in July 2001.

“I also liked to look at the fashion of business suits in the past, there are also pictures from the 70s, 80s and 90s,” said a young visitor from Oslo when we crossed paths.

There are 500 trees in all, according to the White House, many of which also date back to the 19th century, with the oldest being a “southern magnolia” planted by President Andrew Jackson in 1830, which is the neighbor of the newest, also of the same variety current residents Joe and Bill Biden who planted them this year.

Both trees, the oldest and the newest, are in the nursery, at the feet of the south side of the house, which was established in January 1969 by First Lady Mrs. Johnson to keep an eye on the children. It houses a small pond, small iron benches painted white and most interesting hand and foot casts of children from many early families. In addition to his grandchildren, Joe Biden also got paw prints from his pet.

Many of us also wanted to go to the north lawn overlooking the front of the house but it wasn’t on the tour itinerary but we admired the east and west side gardens with walkways and hedges called Jacqueline Kennedy Garden and Wilson Rose Garden, located right next to the Oval Office – the President’s workplace. “The gardens here have seen many changes, there are countless stories. It was President Kennedy who elegantly decorated the Rose Garden after his trip to Europe in the early 1960s, where he was inspired by gardens,” a duty Intelligence agent told me, adding that each garden has also been the site of countless historical artistic and cultural events to reception dinner.

We also saw something very personal – the kitchen garden, the last stop, filled with vegetables. Kitchen gardens have come and gone, but this one was born in 2009, led by Michelle Obama. Its produce is used to prepare food for the President’s table, and there are also beehives whose honey is an ingredient in several desserts at the White House Kitchen. First Lady Jill Biden also added flowers to this garden, continuing her tradition of bringing fresh cut flowers as gifts when traveling, a volunteer told a couple.

When I finally began to read the brochure, I had to say goodbye to the head gardener here—in my mind, Dale Haney, who has worked in the White House since 1972 and hundreds of trees, thousands of shrubs, flowers, and acres of manicured lawns. But just before I left, a senior duty officer reminded me of something beautiful: “When you come to spring tours, you also see a lot of colors, including the beauty of tulips.” I smiled. “Of course I will.”


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