Wow, you guys!
During my visit to Washington DC several years back, I got up early one morning, intending to walk down to the White House to snap a couple of photos from each side of the building from behind the fences.
You can’t get super-close to the residence unless you book an official White House tour, and that has to be scheduled weeks or months in advance through your Congressperson.
So I was prepared to be content with getting a couple of distant touristy shots.
As I was snapping away, I noticed some volunteers walking around handing out free passes for something called a White House Garden Tour later that afternoon.
It turns out that twice a year, the South Lawn is open for tours of the Rose Garden and the vegetable garden that was started by First Lady Michelle Obama.
I was fortunate to be in the right place on the right day and secured a ticket. Score!
These tours take place under every president, Republican and Democrat, and they are a way for folks of all political persuasions to get an up-close look at the most famous house in the country.
Here’s the scoop on how you can attend a White House Garden Tour, and what I saw when I visited.
About the White House Garden Tour
The Garden Tour takes place twice a year – once in spring, and once in fall (usually April and October.) Here’s the official White House page on these tours.
Interestingly, these tours were started in 1973 by Pat Nixon. The Nixon administration can’t claim a lot of accomplishments for its legacy, but the garden tour is one.
Every president or first lady has added at least one tree to the White House Garden since then. Michelle Obama added the vegetable garden in 2009.
If you’re interested in attending one of these tours, just come to the White House on the day of the tour. Tickets are free, but not reservable. You just have to show up and get a ticket.
The tickets are timed, so you have to come back when your tour is scheduled. The tours take place throughout the day, from morning through afternoon.
Tours include access to the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, Rose Garden, Children’s Garden and South Lawn of the White House.
No large backpacks are permitted. Obviously, everyone attending will have to go through a metal detector.
My Experience on the Garden Tour
After passing through a heavy security checkpoint on the South Lawn side of the building, we were guided up the sidewalk right to the front door (or back door, officially) of the White House.
We were so close!
Up-close pics of the White House like this are rare, because on the official tours that take place daily, visitors must relinquish all personal items, including cameras.
That made the opportunity to photograph the building from just a few feet away a very special experience.
How close were we? Close enough to see one of the workers bring out Bo, the First Dog, for an afternoon walk along the Rose Garden.
Close enough to reach out and touch the actual roses in the Rose Garden.
Close enough to have a hard time fitting the entire house into the frame.
Close enough to zoom in on for an extreme close-up of the architecture accents.
Close enough to see the West Wing, where the president spends his days working.
The walking path was surrounded by various types of trees, most of which had been planted by previous presidents.
Many of them had photos showing who planted them and when. It was cool to see how they had grown. Hillary’s tree has grown up.
We had a clear view of what the president sees everyday when he looks out the window or steps out the back door: The Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial.
A look at the presidential putting green on the South Lawn.
And the Obama kids’ playground equipment.
The line was endless. Thousands of people must have visited that day.
After the initial stroll right past the back door of the White House, we were herded further south, past the beautiful fountain, where it was possible to get photos of the building from a bit further away.
Here’s that fountain surrounded by flowers with the Washington Monument in the background.
This poor guy on the grass got stuck with the task of trying to move everyone along in a timely fashion.
Which meant that every 30 seconds he would firmly but politely yell, “Folks, please move that way! Walk towards the band!” What a tedious day he must have had, doing this for something like six hours.
A closer look at that band, which played patriotic and celebratory tunes.
I think this dude was going for some sort of forced perspective shot.
I went with the victory formation, which has officially become my signature pose.
Park rangers and police patrolled the grounds. Imagine being a park ranger and working not in a wilderness park like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but instead being stationed on the White House lawn.
Next, it was on to the vegetable garden itself. Not far from the veggies sits a beehive. These are the official honeybees of the White House. These mindless insects have no idea they are living on special ground.
The garden was beautifully landscaped, with more than a dozen vegetables growing in their own separate boxes.
The presidential buttercrunch lettuce.
And peppers of various colors up close.
Remember when George H. W. Bush refused to eat broccoli? The current first family has no such reservations. But I have to brag – the broccoli in my garden was bigger than this!
Mustard and artichoke? I’ve never known anyone who grew these. Way to get creative, Michelle.
On the way out, we were reminded that we were being watched constantly. Wave to the Secret Service!
Seeing the White House this close, with a glimpse of the First Dog and the veggies that were planted by the First Lady, was an incredible experience.
You can take part in the next Garden Tour by applying online. Keep an eye on the official White House site for details. The next one takes place in Spring.