Tens of thousands of people are expected to stream through the White House gates weekend for a rare opportunity to see the fragrant roses, blue salvias and towering, decades-old trees that beautify the president’s back yard.
Held twice a year, the fall White House Gardens and Grounds tours are set for Saturday and Sunday.
Some 25,000 visitors are expected to absorb history with every step along the South Lawn’s circular driveway.
The self-guided tours, about 30-45 minutes long, include the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden near the East Wing, also known as the first lady’s garden and the Rose Garden, on the opposite side and steps away from the Oval Office.
Also on the tour is the Children’s Garden, a popular spot because of the footprints and handprints of presidential grandchildren — from President Lyndon B. Johnson to George H.W. Bush — that line its walkway.
Guests can look up at the magnolia trees that towered over President Barack Obama’s recent “beer summit.” President Andrew Jackson had them planted in memory of his wife, Rachel, who died shortly before he took office in 1829.
At a patio table under a magnolia canopy is where Obama, Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. James Crowley shared a beer and small talk in July after the officer’s arrest of the professor sparked a national uproar over race relations in the U.S.
Visitors also can read about first lady Michelle Obama’s produce garden. It is too far away to be part of the tour.
“In the spaces between these colorful flower beds and in the shade of these majestic trees, world leaders have met, Easter eggs have been rolled and weddings celebrated,” Mrs. Obama says in the program. “All of these defining moments, and many more, will continue to unfold on the White House lawns in the years to come.”
Then-first lady Patricia Nixon started the tours in 1973. They are held twice a year, in spring (April) and fall (October).
The first few years saw between 10,000 and 12,000 guests. The White House expects double that number this weekend.
“They’ve been a success ever since,” Dale Haney, superintendent of the White House grounds, said of the tours. He has helped care for the grounds for more than 30 years and was present for the first garden and grounds tour.
Last year’s fall tour, the final one of the Bush administration, saw just 8,000 visitors.
This year’s spring tour was the Obamas’ first, and some 20,000 people came to look around.
The public tours are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and tickets are required. Tickets are to be distributed each morning at the visitor pavilion on the Ellipse, one per person, on a first-come, first-serve basis.