Why People Are Still Angry About Melania Trump’s Drastic Changes to the White House Rose Garden

By this point, you might expect the Trump family controversies to have calmed down. After Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, many were hoping for some kind of return to normalcy.

However, one controversy just won’t die down. And it has nothing to do with Donald Trump. Instead, it’s about an unprecedented decision by former First Lady Melania Trump.

In August 2020, Melania renovated the White House Rose Garden. And many citizens are still angry at this decision!

But what were the renovations all about, and why are people mad? We’ve got the full details below.

White House Rose Garden renovations

White House Rose Garden before and after renovations | Getty Images

Melania Trump’s Rose Garden renovations were very ambitious. And some of them were long overdue. For example, she installed limestone pathways to help make the area compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The renovations also improved water drainage and upgraded the electrical cables to help with future media events.

So far, so good, right? But the main cause of renovation controversy is that Melania Trump removed the crab apple trees that were part of the Rose Garden since the days of JFK’s presidency. Additionally, her renovation changed the vibrant color tones of the old garden into a muted series of pastels.

In order to better understand why this caused such a controversy, you need to learn more about the history of the Rose Garden.

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History of the Rose Garden

White House Rose Garden before renovations | Getty Images

Technically, the Rose Garden (or at least, a version of the Rose Garden) goes back to 1902. This is when First Lady Edith Roosevelt planted what would become her “Colonial Garden.” 

Why the name change, then? There have always been roses in the area, and that area is where the White House “rose houses” (really, a series of greenhouses) used to be. And the area got a real upgrade thanks to JFK.

President Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline Kennedy went on a state visit to France, Austria, and England in 1961. During this trip, JFK noticed that other countries’ leaders had outdoor spaces that were good for both official events and entertaining guests. Needless to say, he wanted such an area for his own White House.

The responsibility for creating this space fell to White House gardener Rachel Mellon. She combined the existing magnolia trees with new crab apple trees. As the White House Historical Association points out, this created the aesthetic of “an early American garden in Southern Virginia.” And the flexible design allowed the roses to remain in the area even as different areas were bedded out for different seasons.

Melania’s renovation backlash

White House Rose Garden after renovations, photographed on August 22, 2020. | Getty Images

Part of what made Melania Trump’s renovations so controversial is the lingering public affection for JFK and Jacqueline Kennedy. The Rose Garden served as one of the most tangible reminders of their influence and legacy. And taking parts of the Rose Garden away was akin to taking away part of that legacy.

On an aesthetic level, some critics simply think the changes to the Rose Garden, including removing the crab apple trees and replacing the vibrant roses with pastel ones, have made the location appear dull.

Regardless of the reason, the public reaction to these renovations was swift. Many took to social media and demanded that the new administration restore the Rose Garden to its former glory. And because the old design is so closely associated with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, people are addressing their concerns to First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff.

A Change.org petition to restore the old Rose Garden has obtained over 78,000 signatures, surpassing its original goal of 50,000. But while passion for restoring the garden is high, it’s not clear what the final result will be.

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Hope for the future

First Lady Jill Biden with Dale Haney, the grounds superintendent at the White House, during a tree planting ceremony on Arbor Day, April 30, 2021. | T.J. Kirkpatrick / The New York Times

With all this interest in undoing the new renovations, there remains one big question: what is the Biden administration going to do about it? So far, the answer to that question is unclear.

The Guardian reported in April that so far, Jill Biden has made no public plans to restore the Rose Garden to its former state. But that doesn’t mean that those who signed the online petition should lose hope.

After all, Jill Biden chose Arbor Day (April 30) to plant a new tree on the North Lawn of the White House. It’s possible that she was just celebrating Arbor Day and encouraging others to do the same. But this move may also indicate that Jill Biden has an interest in leaving her own mark on the gardens of the White House.

Those who want to restore the old Rose Garden have hope. After all, the 10 crab apple trees that were removed were replanted elsewhere on the White House grounds, and could potentially be returned to their original spots.

In the future, Jill Biden may revert the Rose Garden to JFK’s previous design. Or she may do something else entirely. But, given that every president and first lady puts their own spin on the White House, Melania’s renovations may not be around for long.