Wednesday, 14 Nov 2018
News

Irvin Williams, White House gardener who made Rose Garden bloom, dies at the age of 92


Irvin Williams, whose horticultural career ranging from Kennedy to George W. Bush's administrations, makes him the oldest gardener in the history of the White House and a key figure in the creation of the Rose Garden, dies on 7 November in a hospital in Reston. , Virginia. He was 92 years old. The cause was kidney failure, said a son, Bruce Williams. Mr. Williams, tall and dapper, with a silver mustache as neat as his South Lawn greensward, was opposed to advertising during his 46-year tenure, but had a central role in maintaining continuity and integrity from the historical landscape – and the turf was set after the annual Easter egg roll. He was appointed Chief Gardener of the White House in 1962 and retired in 2008, but as a government horticulturist, he had worked on White House gardens projects dating back to the Truman era. While he was responsible for adding additional landscaping elements such as President Gerald R. Ford's pool and his daughter Amy Carter's treehouse, he did so without compromising the master plan set by landscape architect Frederick Olmsted Jr in the 1930s, said historian Jonathan Pliska. Mr. Williams knew each of the 400 trees on the ground and was leading a team to preserve the specimens – or propagate their offspring – in the era of President John Quincy Adams. "No president, with the exception of Thomas Jefferson, has had as big an impact on the garden as Mr. Williams," said Pliska, author of "A Garden for the President." "He is on Mount Rushmore among those who have contributed the most to the creation, and he is unfortunately one of the least known. But that's what he wanted. Although he has little formal training, Mr. Williams' horticultural skills, professional ethics, and high standards have earned him a place as Superintendent of Kenilworth Park and District Water Gardens, where the White House worked. From the mid-1950s, he was regularly assigned to landscape projects at the White House where he held his position as a full-time supervisor in 1962. Mr. Williams is the last surviving member of the team behind the Rose Garden of today. At the beginning of his presidency, John F. Kennedy wanted a complete overhaul of the West Garden outside the Oval Office to create a space that could be used as an outdoor stage for ceremonies. The old garden was a sad confection of cut privet hedges, and the narrow steps linking it to the president's office were a delicate place to approach the events. Kennedy turned to Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, friend of the arts and her wife's gardener, to design the new garden. Mellon, in turn, sought the advice of landscape architect Perry Hunt Wheeler. She had only four months to create a project, build and plant the garden. [Rachel ‘Bunny’ Mellon, arts patron and confidante of Jackie Kennedy, dies at 103] "His approach was to find a person to communicate with, someone who knew horticulture and gardening, who could manage a work team with short deadlines, and who knew the particular and sometimes singular ways of the house. Blanche, "writes historian William Seale. the newspaper of the White House Historical Association. "It seemed at first sight a daunting task, but it did not happen. Irwin M. Williams was nearby. The new garden featured wide steps that could be used as a stage, a central lawn for assembled dignitaries, as well as an ornamental tree frame, box hedgerows and rose bushes for seasonal planting. which color April to November. (He planted at home the same varieties of roses that he had planted in the rose garden to control their cultivation.) Mr. Williams was an expert in digging and moving mature trees and he had brought four large magnolias from the Bassin tide to the rose garden that marks the corners of the garden. After Kennedy's assassination in November 1963, he worked with Mellon to renovate the East Garden across the southern portico, dedicated to Jacqueline Kennedy during the Johnson administration. "He was an accomplished servant at the palace," Seale said in an interview. "His only interest was to do his job properly and correctly, and he was very particular." Irvin Martin Williams was born in Engle, West Virginia, on March 18, 1926. He was the son of a family of farmers who settled in the north of the country. Virginia when he was little. Among the survivors are his wife, Dorothy Dailey Williams, of Herndon, Va., 67 years old. five children, Donald Williams of Lorton, Virginia, Gary Williams of Richmond, Richard Williams of Herndon, Bruce Williams of Arlington, Virginia and Patricia Williams of Paragon, Ind .; and eight grandchildren. In retirement, Mr. Williams spread boxwood and, over the years, he became a collector of antique clocks and lead crystal vases used to adorn luxury automobiles. Even to the family, Mr. Williams spoke little about his interactions with the presidents. He asked one of his grandchildren to gather acorns so that President Ronald Reagan could feed the Rose Garden squirrels. But Mr. Williams had a love-hate relationship with the squirrels, who each fall gazed at the thousands of newly planted tulip bulbs to invite them to a feast. Still pragmatic, Williams would place peanut containers at the base of the trees to appease the furry marauders. (Basically, he was a pet lover who adopted Pushinka, the puppy that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had offered to the Kennedys.) Mr. Williams helped the presidents install their personal landscape elements and, after witnessing George HW Bush building his horseshoe pitch, he sometimes joined the president in a match. Fortunately, Mr. Williams did not have to downplay. "Mr. Bush was really good, my dad tried to beat him but he never could," said Bruce Williams.

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