top of page
Pergola Banner_edited.jpg

Remembering Bunny Mellon: A Horticultural Icon and Garden Design Visionary

January 9, 2024

Bunny Mellon Garden_gettyimages-1152907400-612x612UPSCALE.jpg

In the enchanted forests of garden design and the whimsical world of horticulture, one can hardly swing a trowel without hitting upon the legacy of Rachel Lambert "Bunny" Mellon. Now, she wasn't just any garden-variety green thumb; Bunny was a horticultural sorceress, weaving elegance and sophistication into every leaf and petal, making her an eternal icon in the verdant realm of landscape architecture. So, let's tiptoe through the tulips of Bunny Mellon's life, shall we?

A Life Rooted in Nature: The Beginnings of a Garden Legend

Once upon a time, in 1910, Bunny was born into a world of affluence, but it wasn't the glitter of high society that caught her eye. No, it was the allure of the great outdoors. She didn't just grow a green thumb; she cultivated a whole green persona, blooming into a legend in the gardens of horticulture.

Bunny Mellon Book-Amazon.jpg

The Mellon Estates: Masterclasses in Landscape Architecture

Her personal gardens? They were more than just patches of greenery and bursts of blooms. They were like living tapestries, woven with the threads of nature's most vibrant colors and textures. Picture this: Oak Spring Farm in Virginia, a horticultural wonderland that Bunny transformed into a veritable Eden. It was as if she'd taken a slice of the Garden of Versailles, added a pinch of English countryside charm, and stirred in a dollop of American can-do spirit.

Each corner of Oak Spring Farm was a study in botanical brilliance. There, Bunny played maestro to an orchestra of rare plant species, each one handpicked for its unique melody in the symphony of her garden. Imagine strolling through rows of flowers that aren't just growing; they're practically pirouetting in place, showing off their vibrant petals and lush leaves.

And let's not forget her secret gardens in Antigua and Nantucket. These weren't your run-of-the-mill hideaways. They were horticultural havens, each with its own personality. In Antigua, the garden was a tropical paradise, where the air hummed with the buzz of bees and the whisper of sea breezes. It was like stepping into a Hemingway novel – if Hemingway had swapped his typewriter for a trowel.

Nantucket's garden was a different story. It was a coastal retreat, where the salty sea air mingled with the sweet scents of roses and hydrangeas. Walking through it was like meandering through a living postcard, where every turn offered a new, breathtaking vista.

In these gardens, Bunny didn't just plant flowers; she painted landscapes with living brushes and palettes of petals. Each garden was a testament to her vision – a place where nature didn't just exist; it performed, danced, and sang. It was as if Bunny had whispered secrets to the soil and, in return, it gifted her with the most extraordinary blooms.

The White House Rose Garden: A National Treasure


Bunny Mellon's journey to horticultural stardom reached its zenith, its absolute pinnacle, when none other than President John F. Kennedy called upon her for a task of national importance – the revamp of the White House Rose Garden. This wasn't just any old garden spruce-up; this was a mission to infuse one of the most iconic spaces in America with a touch of Bunny's green-fingered genius.

Her work in 1962 wasn't just a redesign; it was a reinvention, a horticultural revolution on Pennsylvania Avenue. Bunny took a space that was, let's be honest, a tad on the tired side, and breathed into it a life so vibrant, it could've made the Founding Fathers do a double take. She didn't just plant flowers; she planted ideas, ideals of American elegance and simplicity. Each rose, each blade of grass, was a testament to the understated grace that Bunny held so dear.

And Bunny? She emerged not just as a gardener extraordinaire but as an icon of landscape architecture. This was the moment her name became etched in the annals of horticultural history. Blending political prestige with her unparalleled knack for garden design, Bunny Mellon didn't just redesign a garden; she reshaped the very way we think about green spaces in the context of national identity.

The Rose Garden project solidified her status not just as a gardener, but as a visionary, a pioneer who could turn a patch of earth into a narrative of growth, beauty, and simplicity. It was here, among the roses and the lawns of the White House, that Bunny Mellon's legacy was forever intertwined with the story of America itself, her name blooming in history alongside the very roses she planted.

Bunny transformed the garden into a stage where roses were the stars, and the grass, the unsung hero, providing a lush, green carpet that whispered underfoot. She created a space where diplomacy and petals could dance together, where a rose's fragrance could soften the hardest political discourse, and where the simplicity of a flower could remind world leaders of the beauty in humility.

A Philosophy Grounded in Simplicity and Harmony

Bunny Mellon's approach to gardening was like a delicate waltz with nature, guided by the 'genius loci' – the spirit of the place. It wasn't about imposing grand designs upon an unsuspecting patch of earth. Oh no, it was about listening, truly listening, to the whispers of the land and letting its natural beauty take the lead.

Her gardens were like quiet poems, written in the language of leaves and petals. Each design was a masterclass in subtlety, a lesson in the art of restraint. Bunny understood that sometimes, the most profound statements are whispered, not shouted. In her world, a single daisy could speak louder than a whole bed of ostentatious orchids.

She approached each garden not as a conqueror, but as a collaborator, working with the land, not against it. Her designs didn't scream for attention; they gently beckoned you to look closer, to appreciate the nuanced beauty of a shadow on a pathway, the playful dance of light through leaves, or the serene symmetry of a well-placed row of hedges.

The Evergreen Influence of Bunny Mellon

Bunny Mellon's influence in the world of garden design and landscape architecture is like a perennial bloom, ever fresh, ever inspiring. Her approach, a mesmerizing cocktail of minimalist elegance mixed with a profound reverence for nature, remains a blueprint for those who tread the leafy paths of garden design.

Her legacy isn't just rooted in the soil of her breathtaking gardens. It's woven into the very principles of landscape design, echoing in the quiet corners of city parks, the rolling expanses of country estates, and the cozy backyards of suburban homes. Bunny championed a philosophy where every plant mattered, every design choice was a nod to the genius of nature, and every garden was a sanctuary for both the soul and the soil.

In a world often overwhelmed by the brash and the overbuilt, Bunny's gardens stand as bastions of tranquility and beauty. They remind us that true elegance lies in simplicity, that there's profound wisdom in following nature's lead, and that the most striking landscapes are those where human hands have worked in harmony with nature's palette.

~Michele Jaillet

bottom of page