Monday, April 15, 2013

At 2013 White House Spring Garden Tour, Visitors Make Way For Ducklings...And For First Dog Bo

A Mama Mallard and her fifteen babies take a tour of the South Lawn and a dip in the fountain...
The People descended on The People's House this weekend for the annual White House Spring Garden Tours, with thousands of guests taking self-guided strolls across the South Lawn under gloriously sunny skies on Saturday and Sunday.  President Obama made himself scarce both days, playing golf for more than 4 1/2 hours on Saturday at Andrews Air Force Base, and hitting the basketball court at the FBI on Sunday morning.  There was no sign of the rest of the First Family, either.

It didn't put a damper on the fun in the President's backyard.  And Saturday's guests witnessed a special visit from a Mama Mallard duck and her flock of fifteen ducklings, and they also got treated to a sighting of First Dog Bo.  Thousands of visitors--many in town for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival--walked around the South Lawn and viewed the flowers and greenery, guided by a booklet produced by the White House Historical Association.  Due to sequester budget cuts, the weekend was the only time the White House has been open to the public for tours since it closed down on March 8, but guests were not allowed inside the residence.

First Lady Michelle Obama's Kitchen Garden, newly planted for Spring with more than thirty crops, was included on the tour.  On both days, there were very long lines of guests snaking along the driveway at the bottom of the South Lawn, waiting to walk along a metal "bridge" that leads to a viewing station placed by the garden.  (Above, guests view the Kitchen Garden)

The beehive was also on view, and the subject of much interest from guests, according to overheard conversations.  Grounds staff and volunteers were posted all around the South Lawn to answer questions from visitors, and military bands, from the Navy and Marine Corps, were on hand to play live music on both days.

But a really special moment was the duck party on Saturday.  The White House is home to many kinds of birds as well as a big population of squirrels, and even some foxes have managed to get on the grounds, according to one groundskeeper.  At around 10:00 AM on the still-chilly Saturday morning, a mother Mallard duck walked her fifteen newly hatched ducklings right through the Secret Service screening station for guests at the entry point located on the Treasury Department/E Street side (above).

Guests whipped out smart phones to capture the moment.  No one tried to stop the duck parade--Mama seemed to know exactly where she was going--and she led her babies through the crowd and across the South Lawn to the fountain, which is surrounded by grape hyacinth and tulips.  All the ducks got in, and the party splashed around for close to an hour before departing--like the guests--out the official exit gate on the other side of the White House grounds. 

Mama and her brood were last seen waddling toward the National Mall, though one duckling unfortunately got separated from Mama.    White House grounds staff brought the duckling to a rescue facility later in the day after trying to chase down the Mama and her flock on the Mall after they exited the Presidential residence, according to a White House groundskeeper.  (Above, Mama and babies in the fountain)

Ducks are frequent guests at the White House, but none of the staff queried could remember a Mama and her flock actuallty strolling on grounds during a tour event.  By 10:00 AM when the feathery family arrived, there were hundreds of visitors on the South Lawn.

Guests on Saturday also got to see First Dog Bo as he was walked on the South Lawn by two White House staffers, including Dale Haney, the 40+ year White House vet who has been Dog Walker in Chief for multiple Administrations.  Bo was on a leash, and caused thrilled exclamations from guests.

The White House has hosted Twitter 'socials' during previous garden tours, inviting specially selected guests to visit and Tweet about the experience.  There was no arranged social media component this weekend, though the White House encouraged guests to use the hashtag #WHGarden when Tweeting and Facebooking.  There were also no arrangements for reporters to cover the event, as has been standard procedure in years past.  Guests picked up free, timed tickets at the Ellipse Visitors' Pavilion before entering the White House grounds, and also viewed the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden and the Rose Garden during the tours.

Tweets from both days of the tour, from ObamaFoodorama and guests:

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama; duck photo at gate by @RockerBabie182; ducks in fountain by @NASASocialCindy