Turning a home over to new owners is never easy. All the renovations and decor you fretted over—the new owners may hate it and tear it out. All that work, dumped in the trash. Michelle Obama did not want the vegetable garden she installed on the White House’s South Lawn to suffer that fate.
During Barack Obama’s last year in office, Michelle had the garden renovated and dotted with permanent structures like an arbor, benches, a table, and walkways. She also secured $2.5 million in funding from Burpee Seeds, ensuring that taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill for ongoing upkeep.
Originally intended as part of Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity, the garden has turned into a teaching tool for local schoolkids, a source of inspiration for White House chefs (the garden supplies 200 lbs. of veggies per year), and even a flashpoint for the organic vs. chemical-based gardening debate.
The garden has more than 55 types of vegetables, including spinach, cilantro, and hot peppers.
At an October 2016 ceremony to celebrate the renovations, Michelle Obama remembered the scary thoughts—shared by any first-time gardener—before building began:
What if we planted this garden and nothing grew? We talked about that. How did we? We didn’t know about the soil, or the sunlight. And it’s like, oh, my God, what if nothing grows? What if we got just a few sad little tomatoes and a bunch of weeds after a big press announcement? What if we poured all this time and hard work into trying to move the needle on our kids’ health, and in the end, we had nothing to show for it? We invested — we put all our chips on this bet.
For most of us, a failed gardening experiment is a private frustration. For the First Lady of the United States, it would have been a very public embarrassment.
The White House Vegetable Garden symbolizes a massive shift in American culture. Land isn’t for decoration, it’s a valuable resource to be used. In recent times Eleanor Roosevelt grew a “victory garden” on the White House grounds, but with a clear implication that gardening was a response to a national emergency—World War II. Once victory was achieved, the garden could be turned back into a lawn, and it was. Bill and Hillary Clinton wanted to build a vegetable garden on the White House grounds, but ended up doing a rooftop garden instead, supposedly because White House officials thought a vegetable garden wasn’t formal enough for a world leader’s residence.
Instead, the garden has become a geopolitical talking point. Says Mrs. Obama: “My husband will tell you that one of the most frequent questions he gets from world leaders is: “How’s your wife’s garden?”
Once Donald and Melania Trump move in, they’ll have to decide whether they want the garden to stay—but they won’t have final say. The White House grounds are technically a national park, and are maintained by the National Park Service.