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Garden Lifestyle

The White House Garden in April

What does the White House vegetable look like a month after the groundbreaking?

  • The White House, seen from the South Lawn.
    Photo/Illustration: Ruth Dobsevage
  • The Obamas' vegetable garden is quite a hike from the second-floor West Wing kitchen.
    Photo/Illustration: U.S. Department of Defense
  • The month-old garden, as glimpsed through the fence along E Street, is an island of serenity and a model for home gardeners.
    Photo/Illustration: Ruth Dobsevage
  • The White House North Portico.
    Photo/Illustration: Ruth Dobsevage
  • In 1919, as part of the wartime cost-cutting effort, sheep trimmed the lawn. Shall they safely graze there again?
    Photo/Illustration: Library of Congress

Last weekend I found myself in Washington, DC, for my daughter’s baby shower. Like much of the East Coast, Washington was in the throes of an early-season heat wave. With temperatures in the mid-nineties, we—sister, son, son-in-law, nephew, and myself—headed to the Mall for a Sunday morning stroll, while daughter caught up on her sleep. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the Obamas’ new vegetable garden and check on its progress.

White House, North Portico  

White House, South Portico
At the north-facing front entrance to the White House (left), tulips and a fountain lend a stiff formality. The South Lawn (right) has a different feel entirely. 
     
 

White House garden site
  The White House garden can be glimpsed from E Street. It’s at the southwest corner of the South Lawn. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense.
   
  White House vegetable garden
  The White House vegetable garden on April 26, 2009. Like most of our home gardens, it’s a work in progress.
   
  Sheep lawn service
 

In 1919, as part of the wartime cost-cutting effort, sheep trimmed the lawn. Shall they safely graze there again? Photo: Library of Congress.

Along with hundreds of tourists, we circled the White House enclave, starting on the western side and proceeding in a clockwise direction. The front of the building is not too exciting visually, with its fountain and a predictable circle of perfect red tulips. It’s the view from the south that is grand. Mature trees, each with historical significance, flank the South Portico and the South Lawn, a magnificent setting for affairs of state, Easter egg hunts, and now, vegetable gardening.

The new vegetable garden is tucked into an alcove of sorts at  the southwest corner of the South Lawn. Mid-sized trees break the wind on three sides without blocking the sun. The garden isn’t visible from the White House, and it’s barely visible from the street. So the Obamas, the school children, and the staffers will be able to plant, water, weed, and harvest in relative seclusion if they choose.

So how do things look in late April? The raised-bed planting (it looks like rhubarb) are thriving, and in the garden proper seedlings seem to be getting a good start, despite the early-season blast of heat. The soil looks really, really dry. It was all I could do to resist the urge to scale the wrought-iron fence and rush in to mulch… 

This garden is not the first food-growing effort at the White House by any means. (See The Garden of Eatin’ for an amusing video presentation of that topic.) One wonders if the organic vegetable garden will lead to other “green” changes at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Perhaps. We probably won’t find sheep replacing lawnmowers (as they did during the administration of Woodrow Wilson).  

Take a photo of the White House vegetable garden, and post it on our site
As spring morphs into summer and summer into fall, it will be interesting to follow the progress of this garden. If you find yourself in DC with your camera, please take photos and post them in our gallery (you’ll need to register to do this). Tag your post with “White House garden” and share what you see with other vegetable gardeners.

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