Inside the White House Grounds: The President's Backyard

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    The White House Grounds

    conga line white house
    Bettman Archive/Getty Images

    Much has been documented about the interior of the White House, but what about the exterior? The White House grounds, groves, outdoor living spaces, and extensive plantings encompass the oldest continually maintained landscape in the United States. With a residence that large, it must have an amazing yard, with lots of patios, terraces, porches, pools and private retreats the average person knows nothing about.

    Take a historical tour of the White House's outdoor living spaces—the places where the president and first lady might enjoy a quiet lunch outside, or where president's children can just be kids. 

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    The Carter Treehouse

    white house treehouse

    Amy Carter—the youngest child to live in the White House until the Obama sisters moved in— hoists her nephew, Jason, to her father's waiting arms in the treehouse that President Jimmy Carter helped design and build on the White House grounds. Amy was closer in age to nephew Jason than her three older brothers, who did not live in the White House with their sister and parents.

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    Bush, Barney and Miss Beazley

    bush at white house with dogs
    Courtesy of the White House

    President George W. Bush walks along the White House colonnade with his Scottish terriers, Barney, and Miss Beazley. Throughout history, many presidents have been photographed striding through the colonnades.

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    Sadat and Carter

    carter and sadat
    NARA: Jimmy Carter White House Office Collection

    President James Carter and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat discuss world relations in the peaceful environment of the White House grounds, where they enjoyed lunch at a patio table under a tree.

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    Spring Scene

    white house garden spring
    Courtesy of the White House

    That's the colonnade on the far left, bordered by a pristine collection of tulips, a formal rectangular lawn, and white wrought-iron patio furniture under the trees. Various outdoor seating areas offer White House occupants, employees, and visitors a chance for a change of scene and a modicum of privacy.

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    Small Pool with Statue

    pool at white house
    Library of Congress / HABS

    This small garden pool and statue is a charming, reflective spot in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden. Lady Bird Johnson renamed the East Garden in honor of Jacqueline Kennedy, the first lady before her whose residency at the White House came to a tragic end when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

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    Watching the World Walk By

    coolidge on white house porch
    Library of Congress

    In the 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Grace, would often retire to the White House porch after dinner, where they would wave at passers-by. The porch chairs they're sitting on are intricately woven wicker, which were considered to be among the finer pieces of outdoor furniture during that era.

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    Children's Handprints

    children's handprints white house
    Courtesy of the White House

    If the handprints of Jenna and Barbara Bush look a bit small and chubby, that's because they were cast in bronze when they were around 8 years old, during grandfather George H.W. Bush's presidency. Bronze handprints of Bush's other grandchildren can be found embedded in the flagstone pathways of the White House Children's Garden. Presumably, Malia and Sasha Obama's handprints will join the others, giving them a permanent connection to the special garden.

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    White House Children's Garden Tour

    white house garden tour
    Kathy Langley / the White House

    Visitors try to get a good look at the fish pond during their tour of the White House Children's Garden in June 2006. Lady Bird Johnson oversaw the design of the garden in 1969. The pathway is made of flagstone.

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    Garden Party

    cinco de mayo the white house
    Courtesy of the White House

    Texans George W. and Laura Bush love Mexican cuisine, and Cinco de Mayo was the perfect occasion to hold a festive springtime party outdoors in the Rose Garden. It was President John F. Kennedy who requested the space outside the Oval Office be redesigned to accommodate outdoor entertaining, ceremonies,​ and press conferences.

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    Patrick Nugent on the Patio

    patrick nugent white house
    LBJ Library

    Toddler Patrick Lyndon Nugent, son of Luci Johnson Nugent, enjoys playing with a toy while visiting his grandfather, President Lyndon B. Johnson, at the White House in the late 1960s. The patio is outside of the Oval Office.

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    Truman Balcony West Window

    patio set on white house balcony
    Library of Congress / HABS

    This view shows the lower portion of the west window to the Sitting Room, as seen from the Truman Balcony. The outdoor table and chairs are white-coated wrought iron with a glass tabletop, although the style does not appear to be as ornate as the Rococo patio furniture seen throughout the grounds.

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    Newel Post, South Porch

    staircase at the white house
    Library of Congress / HABS

    Many photos of presidential families and famous visitors have been taken on these steps, which are located on the White House's South Porch. This also shows a detailed look at the ground-floor stair railing and Newel Post.

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    East Elevation Terrace

    white house terrace
    Library of Congress / HABS

    Here's a view of the terrace. Note the columns on the right, and the balustrade on top of what appears to be a roof. Other views help put pieces of the "puzzle" together as to what the White House's various porches, terraces, and other outdoor areas look like and where they are oriented.

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    Freestanding Patio

    patio at the white house
    Courtesy of the White House

    This freestanding patio offers a quiet retreat under trees near the White House lawn. Besides privacy, freestanding patios are often positioned to offer a good view, usually of a garden. A freestanding patio is not attached to a house or building. The white wrought-iron bench is Rococo style.

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    Blessings from the Balcony

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    Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Pope Benedict XVI greets visitors from the tulip-festooned balcony as his hosts, President George W. and Laura Bush, look on. The balcony is often used as a place for visiting dignitaries to stand upon, greet crowds on the South Lawn and view the White House grounds and other Washington, D.C. landmarks.

    Pope Benedict visited the White House on April 16, 2008, which was also the Pope's 81st birthday. He was greeted by a 21-gun salute, singer Kathleen Battle performed an operatic setting of the Lord's Prayer, and the crowd of well-wishers sang "Happy Birthday" to the Pope.

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    Colonnade Chat

    obama and bush white house
    Mark Wilson/Getty Images

    Columns are reflected on the wall of the Colonnade as Barack Obama and George Bush have a private conversation on their way from the East Wing to the West Wing, or vice versa, during Obama's post-election visit to the White House on November 10, 2008. This colonnade is one of the most-photographed spaces—indoor or outdoor—at the White House.

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    East Garden Pergola

    pergola at the white house
    Courtesy of the White House

    Pergolas typically support vines, which provide a shady roof that's often sweet-scented and always beautiful to look at. In continuing the architectural style of the White House, the pergola in the East Garden has white columns. The white wrought-iron setees are designed in the Rococo style, like many of the other outdoor pieces throughout the White House grounds.

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    Porch Press Conference

    bush white house press conference
    Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images)

    President Bush opens a door onto one of many porches that can be found at the White House. This one is decorated with formal patio trees meticulously cut into formal hedge shapes. Bush was preparing to deliver a speech on Iraq from the porch of the Oval Office on July 31, 2008.

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    The Colonnade Connection

    bush white house collonade
    Getty Images

    Presidents have often been photographed using the east and west Colonnades to access the East and West Wings of the White House, perhaps taking in some fresh air and a solitary moment before going on to the next meeting. Two colonnades—one on the east and one on the west—designed by Thomas Jefferson, now serve to connect the East and West wings​ added later.

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    Fire on the Balcony

    white house fire 2007
    Mark Wilson/Getty Images

    Firefighters stand on a balcony near where a fire broke out in the Old Executive Office Building near the White House December 19, 2007​, in Washington, DC. The blaze was on the second floor of the building near the ceremonial office of Vice President Dick Cheney. There were no reported injuries.