Melania Trump has managed a few measurable things in her time as first lady. She’s remodeled the White House bowling alley. She donned a hard hat and added a pavilion to the tennis court and basketball court. She kept up Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden. But that was all little tweaks here and there, more useful for her family and first families to come than for their public impact. Now, however, she will take on the the White House’s biggest, most recognizable prize. The big kahuna. The most iconic outdoor space at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The Rose Garden will get its Melania touch this year, the New York Times reported on Monday. There may be federal agents quieting dissent in the west, there may be a pandemic threatening to further upend American life—but there is remodeling to focus on. Yes, you can’t help others until you help get your garden in order. I think Bono said that.
The garden itself is a comparatively late addition to the White House grounds. Midcentury landscaper to the affluent Bunny Mellon originally installed the redesign in 1962 with an assist from Jackie Kennedy (Mellon also helped Nancy Reagan deal with some testy crab apple trees in ‘81). The White House has the diplomatic tact from that era on their side as well. Quoth the official statement, “Decades of use and necessary changes made to support the modern presidency have taken a toll on the garden and have made it more difficult to appreciate the elegant symmetry of the Mellon plan.”
The president has taken to the garden in recent weeks as the site of his televised musings about the world and Joe Biden. While this plan has been in the works for months reportedly, there is no time like the present to get it all in order for the weekly propaganda briefing—especially now that optics dictate that such briefings be held out of doors when possible. As a salesman, Trump knows the importance of the look, and setting is part of the stagecraft. So what flowers will be the enormous Brioni suit of this garden? Which shrub pattern will lend pomp and credence to the verbal onslaught that is both unrelenting, circuitous, and difficult to parse? Will the trees have gilded drapes and the drainage pipes be leafed in gold? Will the titular roses of the Rose Garden get a promotion, landing finally within the television frame, something to look at when averting one’s eyes from whatever else is going on in there.
No, it will likely be tastefully, if not expensively, done. Mellon, having departed from this world in 2014, was not available for this revamp, but Trump has commissioned not one but two landscaping firms. (The White House said it would fund the renovation with private donations, not tax dollars.) One is Perry Guillot, a favorite of Hamptonites like Aerin Lauder, Tina Brown, and Tory Burch. “I mainly work on second homes,” he told the Wall Street Journal in 2016. “My clients are very busy, and they’re not the type to tiptoe in the tulips.” Which is perfect, tiptoeing not exactly having a place in the Trump skill set. The other firm is Oehme, van Sweden & Associates (OvS) whose previous federal contracts have included the National World War II Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, and the Virginia Avenue Gardens of the Federal Reserve.
What improvements should the American people expect? Crab apples will be swapped for white rose shrubs, and a drainage system will be installed. They’ll focus on “improved infrastructure,” a euphemism for an electrical update that will make televising the president from the garden an easier proposition, according to the Times.