Red, White & Blooming at the White House

In mid-April, some friends with an extra ticket to the White House Spring Garden Tour asked if I’d like to join them. I was thrilled – I’ve never been on the White House grounds before, Congress had just come to its senses (well, at least partially) and averted a government shut-down, and I was longing for a jolt of spring. I had no idea how much we’d get to see but I chose my Nikon 24-120mm f/4 lens for the D300 and we headed downtown.

White House Spring Garden tour

The ticket and our guide to the gardens!

The White House Grounds (according to our brochure) are “the oldest continually maintained landscape in the United States” and are open to the public twice a year, for Spring and Fall Garden Tours. Over the years, the grounds have been “enhanced” by a series of landscape architects “to seem idealistically natural” (again the brochure).  I can’t say that everything I saw quite fit with that concept (for example, on a large hill in the center of the South Lawn I saw a group of massive Camellia japonicas in bloom – beautiful, but hardly “natural” looking).  Here and there, usually on the periphery of the more formal areas, however, were stands of trees in bloom or leafing out that looked more like a woodland grove if you averted your eyes from the buildings behind them.

White House Gardens

Blooming redbuds and magnolias near the Northern Red Oak planted by President Eisenhower greet visitors as they enter the South Lawn area from East Executive Park.

The tour  sent us through paths along the South Lawn, and up towards the South Portico, where on the porch a military band was serenading the crowds. I was more entranced by the neatly clipped wisteria growing up the side of the Portico and along its beautiful ornate iron railings.

White House, South Portico

Wisteria growing up the side of the South Portico porch. See the bandleader on the left side of the porch? And check out the patriotic color scheme of the red tulips and blue hyacinths against the white building.

White House Gardens, wisteria

Couldn't take my eyes off this wisteria. Look closely - it's about to bloom! If only this tour had been a week later - with lots of sun in the meantime.

Moving away from the South Portico, we caught glimpses of the Rose Garden and the Oval Office as we headed down for a glimpse of the Kitchen Garden and the views around the central fountain that faces E Street N.W.  The Kitchen Garden was neatly planted (and mulched) with lots of lettuces and herbs – cool weather crops very appropriate for the kind of temperatures we’ve been having.

White House Kitchen Garden

The Kitchen Garden, with a cherry tree (?) in bloom in the background.

White House Gardens, White House grounds

The Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial are visible from the hill on the South Lawn. Pity about the bald sky, but you can't have everything.

The magnolias, most of which were still at peak bloom, were probably my favorite trees (along with a number of huge, magnificent dissected Japanese maples just leafing out). Here’s a favorite shot of one next to some more formal plantings near the fountain.

White House Gardens

A saucer magnolia in bloom softens the clipped yew hedge and bedding bulbs surrounding it on the South Lawn.

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5 Comments on “Red, White & Blooming at the White House”

  1. Liz Reed Says:

    This is really special, to get to see the grounds with your wonderful eye for design combined with your experience of plants. Just love the balance of your final photo.

    Thanks for showing us the wisteria bandleader. Might have been obscured by the giddiness of bloom a week later!

    • Melissa Says:

      Thanks, Liz! I had to ignore the “handlers” who were gently trying to move us along this path back from the Kitchen Garden to get into the right position, so I appreciate the composition comment! I was surprised to find no real areas of perennials – just lots of trees, some shrubs and acres of annuals. But perhaps we weren’t allowed into some of the more varied garden spaces.

  2. Laurrie Says:

    What a treat to be able to tour “our gardens” (it’s the people’s house and it’s the people’s gardens, but I understand the need to restrict access.) It all looked lovely in a formal and ancient kind of way.

    • Melissa Says:

      There were scads of volunteers all along the way, saying “Welcome to the White House,” and everyone there seemed to feel so happy to be there. The gardens do feel somewhat “formal” – at least the portions we saw – except perhaps for the Presidential Putting Green, which I didn’t include in my photos!

  3. John Says:

    Very interesting indeed. I’ll look forward to my invitation from Barack, though it may be Michelle that has the interest in the gardens…


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