More on Greening the White House


Asked when Obama said he wanted to green the White House, I did one quick Googling to find this article about that interview – with Barbara Walters.  He kinda says yes, but then only talks about energy use. 

But this looks interesting – there’s a "Greening the White House Report" ordered by Clinton and done by the Rocky Mountain Institute, no less, and the link’s in that article.   Let’s see if they mention those 17 acres of land at all.  The article mentions just one – switching to "smart sprinklers." 

Greens of the plant world – gardeners of all types – it’s time for us to speak up about the improvements we know are possible – at the White House and in the backyards and frontyards of America.


  1. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for gardening leadership at the national level. The leadership will have to take place at the local level.

    We can surely speak up, and let them know what it is we want done at “our house”. Yet, without the passion of a “gardener in chief”,
    things likely won’t change.

  2. Interest in incorporating sustainable practices into our everyday lives has moved beyond the fringe – we are heading towards a time when ignorance of the impact of our choices will no longer be an excuse to continue to abuse the environment. Combine this with the fact that many see Obama as more than the President elect, but as a symbol for hope and change and he is in a unique position to accelerate this trend.

    For the White House grounds, I would focus on implementing one major, impactful (soundbyte friendly) change, rather than implementing a laundry list of sustainable practices. The office of the president is about grand and symbolic gestures that pave the way for change; the White House does not need to become a cooperative extension demonstration garden to do this. Sadly, if Obama’s platform appears to be putting too much emphasis on the environment, he risks diluting his impactfulness by inviting criticism that he cares more about America’s environment than America’s citizens (a common response to conservation attempts, particularly in hard economic times).

    I would choose an issue like stormwater run-off, and relandscape all or part of the White House grounds to both reduce fertilizers and pesticides and keep more water on-site. This is not a regional issue, but one that increasingly affects communities all over the country. Key to success is designing a landscape that not only addresses environmental issues, but is both beautiful and appropriate for such an important and historic building.

    People aren’t implementing sustainable practices in their landscape for one or all of the following reasons: 1. they don’t know it’s important. 2. they think it will be ugly 3. They think it is too expensive. 4. They don’t know how.

    With the right project and approach, the President could be instrumental in eliminating the first two roadblocks, leaving local communities to demonstrate the nuts and bolts of implementation.

  3. trey, who’s to say there WON’T be Gardener in Chief? I’d apply for the job myself if it were only part-time.
    And among his top green team, I do know that Carol Browner, the top climate and energy person in the WH, is an avid gardener. She lived in my neighborhood when she was Clinton’s EPA head.

  4. this kind of reminds me of a couple of posts over at 10,000 birds (this is one of them wherein Corey created a fictional future world in which a well organised group of fanatical birdwatchers got themselves elected into various local government positions of power which they then leveraged to create a bird-friendly US.

    Y’all should do that*

    *only with gardens and other green stuff as well as the birdwatching and wotnot.

  5. There’s another group with the same goal – i understand they were one but split – The White House Organic Farm Project. They’ve been going around the country in a converted school bus with a garden on the roof, collecting signatures for their petition. They’re now in DC and will remain until the Inauguration to present their petition. You can sign the petition online at and invite them to visit your school, club or group. They’re often parked at the farmers’ markets where you can tour the bus.

  6. Both Kitchen Gardeners Intl and the WHO Farm are trying to drive attention to the idea of an edible White House lawn conversion. Personally, I’d like to see the White House chefs get a good-sized kitchen garden back again, but really I’d like to see organic lawn and garden practices for all of the White House and surrounding National Park Service property.

  7. With 17 acres of very public, high use gardens at the White House, I think it is safe to say there is a head gardener already employed who oversees the grounds. It is also quite possible this person is horticulturally alert and has already implemented many sustainable practices despite the current occupant.

    Susan you need to interview the head gardener at the White House and find out what is really going on.

    With 17 acres to work with there should be plenty of room for a kitchen garden that works with the overall design, doesn’t worry the Secret Service about who might be lurking in the corn (a raccoon would never stand a chance) and that can be used by the White House chef.

    A Victory garden doesn’t have to replace the ornamentals, it can be its own stylish addition.

  8. Anything he can do do draw attention to greening the white house and landscape is a good thing. There is certainly plenty of media coverage at the top and what better place to lead by example. It does require the collective efforts of us all to change the tide and Obama gets that as evidenced in his quote from the link Craig provided above. But…Leadership comes from the top and what a great opportunity. The little things he can do there, we can do here, and when you add them all up across America and beyond, it’s not so little anymore.

  9. I met the head gardener for the WH when I interned at the National Arboretum. I believe he was picking up cuttings of a particular type of rose from our collection, or vice versa. At that time (Bush I) there was a lot of back-and-forth between USDA, the Arbo, and Botanic Garden. Don’t know if that’s the case now…

    Anyhow, he was a sharp guy, and I know he was environmentally aware, a were most of the folks we interacted with from other agencies—actively engaged in IPM, organic ferts, etc… Of course USDA engages in testing of all kinds of ferts and pesticides, but at least at the USBG and Arbo, there was a huge emphasis on sustainability, though we did not have that $50 word for it at the time.

    I will wager that there have been a bunch of sustainable practices going on right under Bush II’s nose. Not that he would notice. Though I imagine if Cheney got wind of it, he’d demand a Miracle-Gro regimine with a napalm chaser. Let’s hope they paid as little attention to the grounds as they did the SEC.

  10. I agree with the poster who suggested that Susan interview the Chief White House Gardener — that would be a fantastic interview!!

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