Late last month, Melania Trump announced a sweeping renovation of the White House Rose Garden — a from-the-bulbs-up restoration that involved removing and replacing basically everything but the garden’s four magnolia trees. On Saturday, the First Lady revealed the finished product. For a rose garden? Not very rosy, and perhaps closer in appearance to a manicured lawn than a garden. But not totally out of step with this administration’s spare and haunting aesthetic.
Per CNN, this landscaping makeover was intended to “fulfill the dynamic needs of the modern presidency,” making it more technologically efficient for media coverage. President Trump enjoys speaking in the Rose Garden because, according to the Washington Post, “the natural light is flattering to his complexion.” In addition to making POTUS feel very beautiful, the Rose Garden is also a convenient place to hold press conferences during the pandemic, and then, Melania reportedly plans to give her speech to the Republican National Convention there. Which, according to House Democrats, could be an ethics violation.
The original Rose Garden was designed by Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, a close friend of Jackie Kennedy’s, with input from both her and President John F. Kennedy. According to Mellon, Kennedy wanted the White House to have a garden “equal in quality or attractiveness to the gardens that he had seen and in which he had been entertained in Europe.” Its contents was selected thoughtfully: a seasonal rotation of plants and flowers, plus a dozen Katherine crab apple trees, chosen because “crab apples belong to the rose family and would blend well with the roses, perennials, annuals, and herbs that would grow beneath and around them.” According to Mellon, the end result, finished in 1962, “was truly President Kennedy’s garden.”
Mellon’s Rose Garden was vibrant and lively; Melania’s by contrast, is much more muted, with white and pastel roses. She uprooted the crab apple trees — which the administration says will be replanted “elsewhere on the grounds” — and went heavy on the hedges, replacing the brightly colored flowers with pale blooms that, for Twitter at least, do not spark joy. Some on social media are, dramatically, calling the redesign a “massacre.”
The White House does say the restoration — the cost of which has not been disclosed, but was allegedly subsidized by private donations — included necessary accessibility updates, which may mean the concrete walkway poured around the perimeter. But the garden’s appearance isn’t the only thing drawing criticism. Melania announced the restoration on July 27 — days before added CARES Act unemployment benefits ran out; amid a dramatic resurgence in new coronavirus deaths and infections; and with her husband setting secret police on protesters. A landscaping overhaul in that context looked, to quote former member of Congress Katie Hill, like “some Marie Antoinette shit.” And an unveiling conveniently timed to her RNC speech? Same sentiment applies.