White House gardener turns 50 tending to 500 trees on 18 famous acres

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correction

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the “White House History Quarterly” as the Historical Quarterly. The article has been corrected.

Amid Washington’s constant turnover — the West Wing’s endless drama of staff in and out, new lawmakers in Congress every two years, and potential turnover in administrations every four — the pristine grounds contained in the White House fences are a mainstay.

Eighteen and a half acres. Five hundred trees. Five thousand shrubs. All impeccably maintained to serve as the backdrop for historic events, nightly cable news hits and visitor selfies. And the green thumbs that run this horticulture The business is owned by Dale Haney, the White House grounds superintendent, who recently celebrated his 50th year working on the property.

“If you’ve ever met him, he’s a wonderful human being,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. journalists Thursday. “We would like to thank him for his continued service and 50 years of contributing to the beauty and abundance of the White House gardens and grounds.”

Haney has since served 10 presidents and been close to pivotal moments in American history.

“You can’t work in the White House garden as long as I have without acquiring some favorite special places and seasons, a repertoire of stories to tell, and some insider secrets,” Haney wrote – who declined to be interviewed for this article – wrote in front of book 2016 “A garden for the president.”

Even among the long careers of many White House staffers, Haney’s tenure stands out, according to Marcia Anderson, publishing director at the White House Historical Association and editor of the White House History Quarterly.

“A lot of staff make the White House their life’s work,” Anderson said. “It’s not uncommon for staff to turn 20 or 30 in the White House. I would say 40 is a little rarer. But 50 like Dale Haney is very unique.

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Haney’s tenure in the White House began in 1972, when Richard M. Nixon held the presidency. He had recently graduated in horticulture from Sandhills College in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and worked at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown.

“People I was working with got a call from the White House to let them know they needed help in the garden and they asked if I would be interested,” Haney told Anderson in an interview. in a recent issue of White House History. Quarterly. After an interview, Haney accepted a position as a gardener with the National Park Service.

“When I took the job, I agreed to stay for two years,” Haney told the History Quarterly. “I expected to go back to school to continue studying horticulture. But time has passed so quickly that it really doesn’t feel like 50 years.

Since 1972, he has gone from gardener to foreman to head horticulturist. In 2008, Haney was appointed Superintendent of White House Grounds. Any day in his current position could find Haney, for example, overseeing the 8,000 tulips planted each spring around the White House fountains or helping select and install the White House Christmas tree.

“It’s really amazing when you really walk there, it’s hard to believe every president has walked these grounds,” Haney said. C-SPAN in 2008. “George Washington never lived here, but every president has walked and left a mark on the field, so I really get that feeling when I walk around.”

Haney set the stage for hundreds of state visits by foreign leaders and dignitaries. These visits included three visits from the pope – in 1979, 2008, 2015 – and three visits from Queen Elizabeth II in 1976, 1991 and 2007.

“By Monday morning, we will have mowed the south lawn and edged it, mowed the north lawn and edged it, and we have plenty of plant material to bring into the house for dinner to decorate the residence” , Haney explained when C-LIFE caught up with him about the Queen’s visit in 2007. “It’s a shame because our dogwood trees have just finished flowering and our apple trees have just finished. It’s a pity the queen couldn’t come a week earlier; there would have been so much more beauty to see here.

Haney begins personally watering the plants in the Oval Office each day before moving on to manage the rest of the grounds, he told the History Quarterly. “I want to be sure the plants are watered and healthy before the president gets to his office,” he told the magazine.

As Park Service chief of staff of more than a dozen in the White House, Haney leads a team of gardeners, maintenance workers and others in a year-round effort. In spring, summer and fall, the lawns are mowed twice a week. It takes eight hours to mow the lawns each time, according to a 2003 Q&A with Haney. The flowerbeds are also changed every season.

One job Haney has also taken on is walking the first family dogs, starting with Nixon’s Irish setter, King Timahoe. Since then, Haney has spent time with all of the presidential puppies, from Spot, George HW Bush’s Springer Spaniel, to the Obamas’ Portuguese Water Dogs, Bo and Sunny.

“Now I’m starting to walk Commander, the Bidens’ German Shepherd,” Haney told the History Quarterly.

When requested in 2003 on what he loved most about his job in the White House, Haney opened up about the variety involved.

“Every day you never know what you’re going to tackle or what you’re being asked to do,” he said. “That’s what makes it so interesting.”

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