The country is in the middle of a pandemic, parents are panicking about whether their children will be able to return to school in a few weeks, and we are only 99 days from an election that may well turn her husband out of office. But Melania Trump has apparently decided that there is no time like the present to renovate the White House Rose Garden.
Three years into Donald Trump’s presidency, the first lady has struggled to champion a signature cause like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign or Laura Bush’s focus on literacy. Her one main initiative—the Be Best campaign—has repeatedly been undermined by her husband’s cyberbullying on Twitter. So this may be her final attempt to leave a lasting mark on the White House. According to a report on Monday in the New York Times, her plans for the garden include “electrical upgrades for television appearances, a new walkway, and new flowers and shrubs.”
Given Mrs. Trump’s past horticultural choices—who can forget her chilling, Tim Burton–esque Christmas decor?—the announcement had the potential to be concerning. Is the storied green space about to get the gilt-and-marble Mar-a-Lago treatment? But according to a “landscape report” submitted to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House that was obtained by the Times, Melania’s plan adheres to Jacqueline Kennedy and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon’s original Rose Garden revamp, including newly planted white “J.F.K.” and pale pink “peace” roses.
In a first-person piece that Mellon wrote for the White House Historical Association in the early 1980s, she said the inspiration for the garden makeover came when President Kennedy and the first lady were visiting her on Cape Cod in the summer of 1961, soon after they had returned from a state visit to France. She said that Kennedy “noted that the White House had no garden equal in quality or attractiveness to the gardens that he had seen and in which he had been entertained in Europe. There he had recognized the importance of gardens surrounding an official residence and their appeal to the sensibilities of all people.”
As work progressed, Mellon recalled, Kennedy continued to take a deep interest in the renovation. “Often in the late afternoon working there by myself, changing and pruning plants, I would notice that his door would be open,” wrote Mellon, who died in 2014. “He would be working at his desk. I was aware of and touched by the serious tranquility of this scene. As he left the office, he always stopped to say, ‘Hi,’ or ‘How is the garden doing?’”