This issue looks at the evolution of the White House gardens, a succession of ideas. George Washington in 1792 set aside 85 acres for the “President’s Square,” presumably to have paddocks, sheepfolds, hay fields, meadows, and the other usual attachments to country houses, in addition to vegetable gardens to serve the table and ornamental plantings for pleasure. Thomas Jefferson was the first garden-loving president. Nearly two centuries later, John F. Kennedy pored over his distant predecessor’s published notebooks with relish, finding that President Jefferson had organized the site and created a barrier against unhealthy swamps and marshland that terminated the long southward slope of the grounds. Jefferson had fenced the 85 acres down to 18 and, by introducing a fortress-like stone retaining wall, “cut” the terrain vertically. His improvements, like the wall, remained characteristics of the grounds until a decade after the Civil War. Major change thus came to the White House grounds after long intervals. It was President Kennedy's wish for a useful little amphitheater, a green theatre, that inspired his renovation of the space outside the Oval Office where presidential obligations to speak, present awards, and the like could be
satisfied elegantly and in short time. The major renovation was designed and supervised, as a volunteer, by Rachel Lambert Mellon. Sensitive to the past, and the White House gardens as she found them, Mrs. Mellon modernized along the old landscape lines. She shifted the plan to symmetrical correctness and introduced to the White House more varieties of garden plants than it had ever known. Color became a prime element in her designs. Under Mrs. Mellon the grounds entered a new age. When she was finished with her work, the White House was literally nestled in flowers.