Melania Trump unveils newly renovated White House Rose Garden, where she'll make RNC speech

Staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON – The White House Rose Garden has received a facelift ahead of its starring role at this week's Republican National Convention, complete with a subdued sea of pale roses and new walkways.

First lady Melania Trump will deliver her convention speech Tuesday night from the garden, famous for its proximity to the Oval Office. The three-week overhaul of the garden, done in the spirit of its original 1962 design, was unveiled to reporters on Saturday.

White House officials said the renovations were paid for by private donations. They declined to reveal the cost of the work.

"Excited to honor history & celebrate the future in our beautiful @WhiteHouse Rose Garden this evening," the first lady tweeted Saturday. "Thank you to all who helped renew this iconic & truly gorgeous space."

The location of the first lady’s speech will be just one of the ways that the Republican National Convention will break with political norms. Federal rules prohibit the White House from being the setting for expressly political events, a regulation that many presidents have flirted with violating.

But the Trump family will be the first to use the executive mansion for a political convention. Beyond the first lady’s address, President Donald Trump will deliver his speech Thursday night from the White House’s South Lawn, where a stage was being constructed over the weekend.

A view of the restored Rose Garden is seen at the White House in Washington on Saturday.

The flowers in the garden are largely pastels, which are favored by the first lady, including taller white roses, which were in honor of the first papal visit to the White House by Pope John Paul II in 1979. A diamond-like shape of boxwoods was also added,  and about a dozen crabapple trees were removed and will be replanted elsewhere on the grounds.

A seating area on the east side of the garden – used at times by presidents for lunch and other meetings – has been removed and will be replaced by a yet-to-be-announced art installation.

The most visually striking change to the garden was the addition of a 3-foot-wide limestone walking path bordering the central lawn. Less noticeable changes include improved drainage and infrastructure and making the garden more accessible for people with disabilities. Audiovisual, broadcasting and other technical fixes are part of the plan, too.

“Protecting the historic integrity of the White House landscape is a considerable responsibility, and we will fulfill our duty as custodians of the public trust,” Melania Trump wrote in a report released when the renovations were announced.

Three weeks of work on the garden, which was done in the spirit of its original 1962 design, were showcased to reporters on Saturday.

Presidents have long used the Rose Garden as a backdrop for major events, and Trump has been increasingly using it for outdoor events, which are considered safer for gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic. The president and first lady attended a reception in the garden Saturday evening.

The newly renovated Rose Garden received mixed reactions after the first images surfaced Saturday.

"If this isn’t a Marie Antionette moment I don’t know what is," tweeted New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow. "Who cares about a redesigned rose garden when we’re in the middle of a pandemic, 175k+ people are dead and millions are out of work?"

"What happened to the trees?" wondered Andrea Mitchell, NBC News' chief foreign affairs correspondent. Others questioned the lack of roses visible in the Rose Garden. 

Former Fox News anchor and NBC News host Megyn Kelly tweeted that "people need to calm down."

"I think the new Rose Garden is beautiful," she wrote. "Understated elegance and a classy look. It will be amazing once it grows in a bit too."

Contributing: The Associated Press and Hannah Yasharoff, USA TODAY