Fact check: Facebook post wrong about Melania Trump's Rose Garden redesign

Posted August 25, 2020 4:51 p.m. EDT
Updated August 25, 2020 5:20 p.m. EDT

First lady Melania Trump is expected to deliver her Republican National Convention speech from the White House Rose Garden on Aug. 25, just days after the renovations she directed in the historic garden were revealed.

Not everyone was thrilled with the results of the month-long project.

"Melania dug up the WH Rose Garden, removing roses from every First Lady since 1913," one Facebook post said. "She is as clueless and classless as her husband."

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed.

We reached out to the White House about the post and did not receive a reply. But a landscape historian we consulted about its claim laughed and said, "People say the most outrageous things."

Here’s what we know about the Rose Garden.

First lady Ellen Wilson planted a rose garden in 1913, but its official name at the time is unclear, according to the White House Rose Garden Landscape Report published this year by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House.

In the second half of the century, "Rose Garden" started to appear more frequently, but it was used interchangeably with "West Garden." The Rose Garden that Americans are familiar with today reflects the 1962 design of Rachel Lambert Mellon, who was approached by President John F. Kennedy to help renew the space after he was inspired by the gardens he saw at official residences on a state visit to Europe.

"The garden had a simple plan," Mellon wrote in a 1983 essay posted on the White House Historical Association’s website. Saucer magnolia trees were planted in the garden’s four corners. A 50-by-100-foot lawn that could accommodate 1,000 people for ceremonies and receptions would be the garden’s center. Flanking the lawn: smaller trees, roses and other flowers.

"The one flower that unites all occupants through the history of the White House is the rose," the essay says. "Thus, for most of the 20th century, the Rose Garden has been a rose garden. Now, in 1961, President Kennedy wanted it restored in spirit but revised to become more than just a private garden."

The Trump administration’s overhaul was done in the spirit of the garden’s 1962 design, according to USA Today. The flowers in the garden are mostly pastels and include taller white roses in honor of the first papal visit to the White House in 1979. Boxwoods were added, crabapple trees were removed to be replanted elsewhere, and a limestone walking path now borders the central lawn. Speaking at the official reopening of the Rose Garden on Aug. 22, Melania Trump said improvements to the garden’s infrastructure and utilities would make it fully accessible to Americans with disabilities.

She also said that changes to the garden resulted from "a thoughtful and collaborative process carefully crafted with the help of scholars and experts in architecture, horticulture, design, and historic preservation."

Drawing from sources like newspaper articles and contemporaneous accounts, the Rose Garden Landscape Report lists 58 different roses that have been grown at the White House over the years, from the Cleveland administration to the Obama administration. The first documented, large scale plan of roses planted in the garden dates back to the Truman administration in 1952. There isn’t even a definitive rose planting plan for the Kennedy Rose Garden, according to the report, and "records are scarce" for plantings in the years after until the Carter administration. That was when the National Park Service started producing reports listing changes to the White House Grounds and Gardens, including the roses grown and their location in the garden.

"These reports, along with the scattered knowledge of roses grown previously at the White House, offer a glimpse into changing fashions and tastes in American gardens for roses," the Rose Garden Landscape Report says.

As the Washington Post reported in July, Melania Trump’s plans for the Rose Garden included the removal and replacement of most of the existing plants and lawn. But Adrian Higgins, the Post’s gardening columnist, writes that "the renovation is long overdue."

"Among the problems to be addressed," he wrote, "a poorly drained lawn that had to be replaced annually, constant disturbance of roots of trees and shrubs by the seasonal planting of annuals, the die-off of rose bushes to the point where only a dozen or so remained."

Roses are "fussy," said Marta McDowell, a landscape historian who wrote "All the Presidents’ Gardens," a 2016 book about White House gardens. "They don’t last forever — plants are living things — and so sometimes they do need to be replaced."

When Kennedy and Mellon redesigned the garden in 1962, for example, the roses from previous first ladies were largely gone because they died off or had been replaced, McDowell told us.

"Most of these were long gone by the time the Trumps moved in," McDowell said.

PolitiFact ruling

PolitiFact: False

The Facebook post claims Melania Trump removed the roses planted by her predecessors going back to 1913.

That’s wrong. Over the years, roses have both died and been replaced as different administrations have left their mark on the White House Rose Garden. Only about a dozen rose bushes remained before this most recent renovation.

We rate this Facebook post False.

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