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Fact check: Melania Trump’s Rose Garden redesign did not remove rose bushes from all first ladies since 1913

Tens of thousands of social media users have published posts claiming that in her redesign of the White House’s Rose Garden, First Lady Melania Trump has removed roses from every First Lady since 1913, including Jaqueline Kennedy’s crab apple trees. This claim is false. According to a garden historian, the original roses were removed in 1962 and subsequent administrations have changed certain roses. The White House Landscape report shows that none of the original crab apple trees from the Kennedy administration remained when the renovation work began.

U.S. first lady Melania Trump walks up the White House West Wing colonnade as she arrives to deliver her live address to the largely virtual 2020 Republican National Convention from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 25, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The posts, shared over 93,000 times ( here , here , here ), either consist of text saying “Melania dug up the WH Rose Garden, removing roses from every First Lady since 1913” or they are a screenshot of a Tweet (here) which shows the new and old rose gardens and reads, “Those were Jackie Kennedy’s crabapple tree’s [sic]. Many of those rose bushes were from ALL the First Ladies of America, going all the way back to Ellen Louise Wilson in 1913…”

The newly designed Rose Garden was revealed on August 22 (here) ahead of Melania Trump’s Republican National Convention speech delivered from the Rose Garden on August 25 (here). Vox explained the changes in more detail here .

First Lady Ellen Wilson did redesign the garden in 1913. As explained in page 3 of the White House Landscape Report (here) “This design was also the first time the garden incorporated roses as the dominant flower in the planting scheme.”

There is no definitive list of all the roses that have been planted in the Rose Garden. The Landscape Report states on page 80 (here) that, “Records are scarce for plantings in the years after Bunny Mellon’s design [in 1962] (beyond commemorative tree planting), up until President Jimmy Carter’s time in residence.” However, on pages 81 to 85 there is a list of a selection of roses grown previously at the White House, showing that different roses were brought in during different administrations.

Reuters asked Marta McDowell, garden historian and author of “All the President’s Gardens” (here), if it was possible that the roses from all previous First Ladies since 1913 would still have been in place just before Melania’s redesign. She told Reuters via email that there is “Not a chance” this would be the case. McDowell added that, “In 1962, the construction of the Kennedy rose garden took the site down to the dirt.  Since then, most administrations have changed out some of the roses—hybrid tea and floribunda roses don’t always thrive, especially in D.C. humidity.  So that statement is not factually correct.”

In July, the Washington Post’s gardening columnist Adrian Higgins wrote that one of the problems Melania needed to address in the redesign was “the die-off of rose bushes to the point where only a dozen or so remained.” (here)

Melania Trump’s design does have roses, including the Hybrid Tea Rose and The White House Rose (here).

Regarding the crab apple trees, page 75 of the Landscape report (here) shows that the ten original Katherine crab apples (Malus ‘Katherine’), pictured lined up in rows in the viral social media posts, were planted in the 1962 Kennedy redesign of the Rose Garden. However, it states that all these trees had been replaced two or three times by the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations in 2003, 2010, 2016 and 2019. The document states, “This is all in keeping with the life of gardens, in which a design is retained while plant materials are renewed”.

CNN correspondent, Kate Bennet, said she was told that the ten crab apple trees “were removed to the off-campus White House gardening centre for care” and that “they will eventually be replanted on the [White House] grounds.” (here)

VERDICT

False. Melania Trump did not remove the roses from all past First Ladies since 1913. All roses from 1913 to 1962 were removed in the Kennedy redesign and subsequent administrations have had to replace roses that have died. The crab apple trees had been replaced since the Kennedy administration and will be replanted on the White House grounds.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .  

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