Clinton House Museum throws party to plant seed with public
Horticulture and Clinton enthusiasts, take note: The Clinton House Museum in Fayetteville is hosting a garden party, called Bloom, to raise funds for its First Ladies Garden from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on June 29. Tickets are $25 and include dinner and live music. All proceeds will go toward the upkeep and expansion of the garden.
“Our garden needs work,” notes Clinton House Museum Director Angie Albright. “Mother Nature is pretty hard on gardens. We always want our gardens to feel like an extension on the exhibits that we have inside.”
Created in 2010, the First Ladies Garden, says original designer DK Design, was designed “to establish the feeling of an ‘outdoor room’ with a sense of intimacy and privacy that would link the garden to the rest of the museum and allow visitors to enjoy the garden with minimal distractions.’” Visitors can exit the back door of the small house President Bill and Hillary Clinton lived in when they were first married and walk up three stone steps to enter the cozy space, which was influenced by the English Tudor architecture of the house itself. Though established in honor of Hillary Clinton, Albright says the inclusion of favorite flowers of all of the first ladies was an effort to expand the museum’s offerings to the public.
“One of the things we do is come up with events and exhibits that are appropriate to the mission of this place,” says Albright. “But we also want to make sure that the local community can come and enjoy what we have here. Hopefully, they will begin to see the museum as a community space. That’s really common for small museums across the country. They’re learning how to make their space integral to the community landscape.”
Research was paramount in launching the project. Joyce Mendenhall, a member of the Board of the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, worked with Gail Pianalto to track down a favorite flower for each First Lady. It wasn’t always easy, Mendenhall says.
“This research did take an awful lot of time. We would read full biographies of the women and only find one line or one paragraph that mentioned something about that First Lady and her interest in flowers or gardening. We were also looking for stories we could use in writing a book on the subject. We had so much reading to do to find this information that we asked members of the Maple Hills Garden Club and friends of ours to read some of the material and report back to us anything they might find.” Mendenhall says the First Ladies Museum in Canton, Ohio, was particularly useful.
The challenges didn’t end there. Lead Gardner and owner of Biodiverse Gardens Lisa Netherland says that, sometimes, a First Lady’s first choice of flower has to be amended somewhat due to incompatibility with the Arkansas climate or lack of space.
“Fortunately, most of the Ladies’ favorites actually do work in this climate,” she says. “The only one that doesn’t is an orchid, favored by both Caroline Harrison and Julia Grant. [One] option is to use the hardy native woodland orchid, [but] in this case, we are limited by lack of site conditions in which this orchid would thrive. Another limitation is site size — for example, the weeping willow, favored by President Jackson as a symbol of mourning for his wife, Rachel, is too large for the limited size of the garden and grounds. Another limitation worth mentioning is Sara Polk’s love for wisteria. This is one where we would use the Arkansas native species Wisteria Frutescens, which is much better behaved than the Asian counterpart.”
Netherland says that she was surprised to find out that the First Ladies Garden is particularly tasty to some nocturnal visitors.
“Deer are a bigger issue here than I thought they would be,” she says. “Many of the First Ladies’ favorites are like candy to deer, creating an interesting challenge that we are currently discussing options to overcome.”
Albright is hopeful that the upcoming fundraiser will fund problem-solvers for issues like that one, as well as a new brick walkway to make the garden more walkable. Participants are encouraged to wear their “garden finery and garden hat” while enjoying garden-themed food and drink.
“If somebody doesn’t have a hat, we’re going to have a table where they can make one,” says Albright. “And Jana Mayfield [of Mayfield Flowers and Designs] will be doing a flower arranging demonstration.
“We want our guests to be able to wander around and enjoy the garden, and we’ll have gardeners here who can talk about what’s blooming.”
— Lara Jo Hightower