Every year (possibly since the 70s), in spring and fall the white house throws open its gates to the general public so they may have a glimpse of its garden. We were at the visitor ellipse at 8:00 am to find our place behind some 50 or so people in the line. The visitor center was to start giving out tickets at 9:00 am and we were hoping to get the first entry at 10:00 am and avoid the crowds and the sun. I quite liked the ticket with its doodle of flowers and leaves, green and white. For a brief second I thought the artists had for some reason goofed up on their representation of the white house - where was the lovely balcony? - only to realize that the balcony we saw from the street on our morning walks was in the backside of the white house.
And so we strolled in, admiring the lawns and huge trees, each of which had a signboard in front of it showing which president or first lady was the one who planted it.
Quite a few were by the Bushes - senior and junior, and some by the Clintons.
Here is some information from the booklet we were handed during the tour. (The publication was made possible through the generosity of the White House Historical Association, a private, non- profit educational organization):
"The White House grounds are the oldest continuously maintained landscape in the United States.
The White House's first resident, John Adams, requested that a garden be planted before his arrival in 1800. Unfortunately, he was defeated shortly thereafter by Thomas Jefferson and never enjoyed the produce from the White House Grounds. While in office, Jefferson made plans for planting trees and established winding pathways surrounded by rhododendron and other American shrubbery.
In the 1820s, John Quincy Adams formally established a White House gardening program. It is said that he liked to dig in the flower beds early in the morning and claimed to have planted over a thousand plants during his tenure. His successor, Andrew Jackson, continued to develop the gardening program, adding an orangery in which to grow fruit during the winter."
We were all so excited to be so up close; apparently in one of the past tours President Obama had come out and waved to the crowds. No such excitement this time!
This sight was familiar, thanks to the media coverage of the President's addresses.
It was nice to have the band playing while we waited in the lines
The most recent addition to the grounds was the kitchen garden, established in 2009 by First Lady Michelle Obama along with students from local schools. I read (again in the lovely booklet provided along with the ticket) that the food grown here is used to provide for the first family and State dinners. Further, a third of it is donated to a local charitable organization that provides services around homelessness.