The White House Rose Garden, edging the Oval Office and West Wing, was instituted by First Lady Ellen Louise Axson Wilson in 1913. Throughout its history it has been used by multiple presidents for press conferences, to receive guests, to hold events and host ceremonies. While often utilized formally, it’s been used personally and privately as well, frequently employed as a quiet, contemplative space to work and think by past presidents who were interested in things like contemplation and thought.
It underwent a significant redesign in 1961 during the Kennedy administration. Crabapples and lindens brought vertical interest; thyme and boxwood hedges created borders; magnolias held the corners. Daffodil, hyacinth, and tulips bloomed a riot of exuberance in the bulb garden. But the superstars were roses, lush, velvety, and fragrant, glowing in swaths of soft pink, bright pink, yellow edged with coral.
In the above paragraph you may note the usage of the past tense, as much of this is no more. The new garden has just made its debut. This is a project of Melania Trump, with landscape architecture firms Perry Guillot, Inc. and Oehme, van Sweden & Associates/OvS, supposedly with the cooperation of the National Park Service; one imagines Ms. Trump holding a machete to the throat of an overly sedated Florida panther and demanding the participation of park representatives in exchange for his safety. “He can walk out, or I can wear him!”
According to the Rose Garden Landscape Report (this is real)-
“Informed by physical, cultural, and historical precedents as well as the first families who have shaped the Rose Garden, the research and analysis contained within this Report serve as a framework on which to curate an outdoor experience transcendent of each administration.”
The whole thing reads like that and I would like to applaud the person who managed to write 241 pages worth of it; I hope they were paid by the word.
But while this claims this sprucing up the old backyard transcends administrations, much like Melania’s starkly apocalyptic holiday decor, what has been done to this blameless patch of unsuspecting horticulture is deeply reflective of what this administration has done to this country. The First Lady has uprooted this botanical historical landmark with giddy abandon, taking what once was a vibrant haven as rich in elegance as it was in flora and ravaging the fuck out of it. She has laid waste to the graceful and stately plot, pillaging like a rural republican’s fearful imaginings of Antifa soldiers looting the cookie aisle of a Super Walmart, and replaced it with sterile landscaping less suited to the residence and workplace of the President of the United States of America than to a funeral home.
Considering her husband is murdering this country as 328 million people look on helplessly, I guess it’s apt.
The crabapples are gone, along with the superstars of soft pink, bright pink, yellow edged with coral. The remaining roses are white, and almost white. Everything is white. Goodbye dogwoods; hello dog-whistles. The remaining foliage has been manicured with stingy austerity that looks like it’s being punished.
A limestone path has been added around the perimeter so whoever might fancy a walkabout and closer peek (this is no one) may do so without the arduous chore of walking on grass. Melania herself can clippity-clop alongside her brutal handiwork and take pleasure in the destruction that she’s wreaked.
Also the grass looks like shit.
It is bleak and joyless and cold and awful. It’s the landscaping version of the haircut you gave yourself during quarantine that when you looked in the mirror when finished made you cry, then you realized no one was going to see it anyway, and that made you cry some more. My heart breaks for the gardeners on staff who have been there for years, and who likely went home and cried themselves.
I had never before realized that a garden could look mean.
Here are the elevator pitches for three horror movies for which I would like to utilize this garden as a set-
1. A woman wakes up in a hospital after an accident she can’t remember. She drifts in and out of consciousness, occasionally catching quick, disjointed glimpses of what’s happening around her- a nurse leaning in to cover her mouth with a surgical mask, the nurse and a doctor hurrying out of the room, plungers being drawn on gigantic syringes, the sound of an infant crying in the garden outside. She finally fully wakes, and the nurse tells her, “you were out for a while, but you’re going to be okay now,” a creepily serene smile plastered on her face. “What about my baby?” Is my baby okay?” says the woman. “Baby? What baby?” replies the nurse. Her face doesn’t change.
2. A man employed as a researcher for a pharmaceuticals company starts to feel that something sinister is happening with the new and very expensive drug that will stop the aging process for the few revoltingly wealthy enough to buy it. The exact formula is a secret. Interns keep disappearing. One day he’s walking through the garden and sees something that looks like a finger poking out of the dirt. As he approaches, the gardener walks over and stands on top of it. “Don’t worry about what’s planted here,” says the gardener. “You reap what you sow.” The man tries to walk away; the gardener screams after him. “What do you sow? WHAT? DO? YOU? SOW?”
3. Just Melania, standing there.
This will be the setting of the Republican National Convention speech she will be making this Tuesday. I can’t wait.
I’ve heard people who are not in favor of the Trumps but who are committed to accurate assessments make statements that the garden is not really as bad as it looks, because it’s the end of summer and it will look different in the spring and what we’re seeing now in photographs can’t give a clear and fair representation of how it will appear when at it’s best. This may be true, but if this is in fact the case, if at a different time of year it’s going to look good and not, you know, godforsaken and hateful, why would she unveil it now?
When I was a young punk, at the age to have just finished high school, I lived with two other girls in a shitty-ass house owned by a shitty-ass slumlord. We rented this shitty-ass house with the promise that its multiple major problems-like the broken back door, and the non-functioning kitchen appliances, and the boarded over windows, and the half-torn up carpet, and, and, and- would be fixed. Nothing ever was. Our shitty-ass slumlord used to walk into the house unannounced early in the mornings and come into our bedrooms when we were asleep and half-dressed. If we had company he would later call us whores. We stopped paying our rent and started having chaotic parties and before long were kicked out.
We left like thieves in the night, but on our way out we decorated that house with a great big “FUCK YOU” spray painted across every single wall. We knew it didn’t matter, because we were never coming back. We would never have to look at it again.
This is what I think of when I see what Melania Trump has done with the White House Rose Garden. This is the statement I think she’s making, as she prepares to leave and never return. Fuck you, and walk away.
I hope it’s the case and she can’t do it fast enough for me.