A Tour Of The White House Through Its Gardens

A different kind of experience at the worlds most famous address
A Tour Of The White House Through Its Gardens
A Tour Of The White House Through Its Gardens

It was around 820 am in Washington DC, Saturday of this early October when I rushed out running from McPherson Square metro station, one of the closest to the White House visitor centre, to grab a free ticket, to be distributed on a first come, first basis for &lsquoFall Garden Tours&rsquo. I wasn&rsquot late, considering the distribution time beginning from 830 am, but as I arrived, I instantly felt terribly late. Thanks to the unending queue of locals and tourists, who had queued up since 6 am. Fearing the tickets may run out, I still joined. By 930 am, elation in my hands overflowed as they held the same ticket.

Garden tours for the public at the White House have been an annual tradition since 1972, offered at the start of spring and fall. I learnt about them just a few days before this Saturday as I overheard an official at the same centre telling a family about them. I joined them and fetched the details.

Passing through the security, everyone proceeded in from the south lawn side, with secret service staff and tour volunteers dotted around. But even before we were in, we could hear the live band playing at the famous house. Jazz was their theme, which didn&rsquot forget themes of patriotism. Just as one stepped in, a booklet, carrying the map of White House grounds, spread in 18 acres was handed by young volunteers. &lsquoIs it a self-guided tour&rsquo I asked curiously and yes it was but there were many around from the White House, including the secret service staff, who remained eager to answer us.

Magnificence of the south lawn, with a series of low hills chiefly on its southern side enthralled me within a New York minute. It&rsquos also the landing site of the president's chopper, called Marine One. That Saturday, it was absent but thankfully, not the President&rsquos car &ndashthe black beast, a unique Cadillac, parked next to this lawn, steps away from the gate we entered. It was an obvious cynosure for all.

It wasn&rsquot hard to tear myself away from Cadillac, considering the live band under the famous Truman balcony of the house. Standing down, I imagined views from there but to experience some percent of it, I turned back, clapping my eyes on the south lawn again, the large fountain in one end and the George Washington monument, in the form of an Egyptian styled obelisk, standing at a walking distance from this house.

Standing there, as I took in the 360 degrees view from there, I took note of many trees, grown by almost every first family which lived here. Identifying them, the brochure in my hand became my guide but what excited me more and surely others were the large pictures which were exhibited along, introducing the visitors to the moment of plantation. Interestingly, in some pictures presidents can be seen planting on their own, in some they are also joined by their wives, surrounded by a large team of the White House. But the one I adored the most was where President Bush and his wife are seen with their pet Barney, a Scottish Terrier while planting &lsquocut leaf silver maple&rsquo in July 2001.

&ldquoI also loved taking note of fashion of business suits in the old days as there are also pictures from the 70s, 80s and 90s,&rdquo shared a young visitor from Oslo as we crossed our paths.

In total, according to the White House, there are 500 trees, many also dating back to the 1800s, with the oldest being a &lsquosouthern magnolia&rsquo, planted by President Andrew Jackson in 1830. It&rsquos given the support of a large iron pole and is the neighbour of the latest, also the same variety by the current residents Joe and Bill Biden, who planted it this year.

Both the trees, the oldest and the latest are in the Children's garden, along the feet of the southern side of the house, launched in January 1969 by first lady Mrs. Johnson, keeping children in mind. It is home to a small pond, small iron benches painted in white and most interestingly imprints of hands and feet of children of many first families. Joe Biden also got paw prints of his pet, besides his grandchildren.

Many of us also wanted to go to the north lawn, facing the front of the house but it wasn&rsquot on the tour&rsquos plan but we did admire the gardens on east and west side with walking paths and hedges, named Jacqueline Kennedy Garden and Wilson Rose Garden respectively, which sit right along the Oval Office &ndashthe President&rsquos workplace. &ldquoGardens here have seen many changes, there are tons of stories. It was President Kennedy who made the Rose Garden elegant, after his trip to Europe in the early 60s, where gardens inspired him&rdquo, a secret service agent on duty told me, adding every garden has also hosted infinite historic events, from art, culture to reception dinners.

We also got to catch its very personal &ndash the kitchen garden, the last stop, filled with veggies. Kitchen gardens have come and gone but this one was birthed under guidance of Michelle Obama in 2009. Its produce is used to prepare food for the president&rsquos table and next to it are also beehives, honey of which is an ingredient of several desserts in the White House kitchen. First lady Jill Biden, also added flowers to this garden, which she uses to continue her tradition of bringing fresh cut flowers as gifts when she travels, a volunteer was telling one couple.

Making an exit, as I finally began to read the brochure, I couldn&rsquot help thanking the head gardener here &ndashDale Haney in my mind, who has been working at the White House since 1972, overseeing hundreds of trees, thousands of shrubs, flowers and acres of manicured lawns. But just before my exit, an elderly official on duty reminded me something beautiful &ldquoWhen you come for spring tours, you also see many colours including the beauty of Tulips.&rdquo I smiled. &ldquoOf course, I will.&rdquo

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