Rose Garden Designer Bunny Mellon Would've Been 'Greatly Disappointed' With Melania Trump's Changes

First Lady Melania Trump unveiled new renovations to the White House Rose Garden on Saturday, drawing swift backlash from many people, who weren't happy with the changes. Gone are the flowers of varying colors and the iconic crab apple trees, which are being moved to a different undisclosed location. Despite a press release from the White House saying that the changes "returned the garden to its original 1962 blueprint" as designed by horticulturalist Bunny Mellon, the new layout has been criticized for an absence of color and character.

Meryl Gordon, author of a 2017 biography of Mellon titled Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend, told Newsweek recently that while Mellon would've likely been open to changes being made at the Rose Garden, it's hard to imagine that she would've approved of Trump's vision.

Before and after photographs of newly renovated White House Rose Garden:
courtesy #Getty and @marycjordan

— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) August 22, 2020

"She's someone who liked to experiment. She liked to try different things," Gordon said. "I don't have any question that she wouldn't have been upset by the idea of a renovation. I think the reality of what was done to the place would've been a great disappointment to her."

Gordon continued, explaining that the changes have drained the Rose Garden of a certain quality. "The garden has been considered a magical place for many years by many presidents. As I've looked at these photos, Bunny always liked to improve things and change things," she said. "[Mellon] was not locked into time, but what the new renovations have done is really kind of heartbreaking, really stripping the place of its personality, the color, it's graciousness. It's boring. It's not exciting. It's not romantic. I don't know why they felt they needed to do this, particularly at the very last moment."

The author made sure to note that Mellon—who was born Rachel Lambert Mellon—was honored to be tasked with designing the space.

White House Rose Garden
A view of the recently renovated Rose Garden at the White House on August 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. The Rose Garden has been under renovation since last month and updates to the historic garden include a redesign of the plantings, new limestone walkways and technological updates to the space. Drew Angerer/Getty

"She was incredibly flattered and excited when Jackie Kennedy, who was her closest friend, told her that the president wanted her to design the Rose Garden. The president and Jackie had just come back from a trip to Europe, and he had loved all the famous gardens he had seen in Paris and in England. He wanted the garden to kind of be a stage set for events for ceremonies," Gordon said. "She was so honored by the president's faith in her that she went ahead."

Kennedy was happy with Mellon's work, which of course was welcome news. "She was so happy that the president was happy. He wrote her this wonderful note after the Cuban Missile Crisis, saying how much the garden meant to him that it was a place of peace and happiness," Gordon said. "I think the fact that it became such a showplace, and the president loved it—that was what was important to her."

Rose Garden
Flowers are in full bloom in the White House Rose Garden, Washington, DC, on April 27, 1963. Bettmann/Getty

The Rose Garden was Mellon's "living legacy," according to Gordon, and her best-known work, something that the public could recognize. In her remarks about the renovations, the First Lady spoke briefly about Mellon designing the original layout and how the Rose Garden has been the setting for so many important historical events. She explained that her changes were "the result of a thoughtful and collaborative process carefully crafted with the help of scholars and experts in architecture, horticulture, design, and historic preservation." Trump also noted that the renovations make the space more accessible for people with disabilities.

Gordon, though, said that the changes seem calculated by the White House as a last-minute attempt to leave a mark on the historic property, just in case the current administration is voted out come November.

"Funny that it's election time," Gordon mentioned. "This could've been done at any particular moment, but it seems to be a destructive act on the way out the door, according to the polls."

Setting aside any suspicions as to the motivations behind or timing of the renovations, the fact remains that Mellon's work has now been altered. Photos of the Rose Garden, though, will preserve Mellon's vision for future generation. Even still, the changes seem to irk those who prefer Mellon's design. "When you look at those colors, doesn't it get to you?" Gordon asked. "The beautiful flowering colors that she used, and the sort of dull palette now of what they've put in instead."