An unforgettable afternoon at the White House with the First Dog and Michelle Obama’s veggies

white house south lawn

Holy crap, you guys!

During my visit to Washington DC last week, 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!


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!

me south lawn

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. 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 2013.


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About the Author

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based journalist and blogger who seeks out offbeat attractions and awesome destinations around the world. He has been featured in Travel + Leisure, Connect Magazine, Matador Travel, and the Washington Post.

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  1. That’s awesome!! Very cool that you were lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I’ve never done a tour of the white house, but a tour of the garden and lawn seems infinitely more interesting than antique objects in rooms I’ve never heard of.

  2. How cool! We managed to go to the Easter Egg Roll at the White House one year after my husband spent all night waiting in line in the snow and sleet. Even he’ll admit that it was worth it. There’s nothing like being on the White House lawn, is there? (Unless it’s going inside. Which I also got to do. :))

  3. You were super lucky to be there at just the right time! During the Clinton Administration, I took an inside tour of the White House, but had to wait a few hours in line. It was well worth it, however. I also got to see Buddy the dog from a window inside. You got some terrific shots!

  4. How lucky to have stumbled upon this! I love reading about the White House garden and the work the First Lady is doing to promote healthy eating and outdoor activity. (Also, Bo is adorable!) Did you know they use the honey from that beehive in the home-brew beer that the White House kitchen crew has been making?

    Awesome pics, thanks for sharing!

    1. Oh that’s great info, thanks! I was wondering exactly what the beehive was for, but that makes perfect sense. I wonder how I can get some of this White House beer. That could be my next challenge.

  5. Wow! This is why I travel – you never know when adventure will strike!

    I have been to DC many times (even was an intern at the capitol) but never made it to the White House tour. Your photos look amazing…I need to get on the list for this tour.

  6. Although this is an older post I sure loved it. Timing really is everything. What an intimate view of the White House – in pictures you never see.Loved it – and as a gardener I would thoroughly enjoy checking out their garden.

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