The design for the First Ladies Garden was influenced by several factors. First, and most prominent, was the English Tudor architecture of the house/museum building. Second, was the physical site itself, including its dimensions, physical characteristics and surrounding landscape. Next was the desire of the Clinton House Museum to have an attractive and intimate setting for visitors. Last, but not least, was the list of plants attributed to the various first ladies. These influencing factors resulted in the current design, which is described as an English cottage garden. Slightly formal, yet relaxed and approachable, the garden is a fitting match both to its setting and to the historical importance of its subject matter and of the Clinton House Museum.
More specifically, the framework of the garden 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. To accomplish this, a privacy fence and iron gate were installed along with boxwood hedges, which not only help to enclose the garden but also serve as an orderly and evergreen backdrop to the more relaxed and ephemeral First Ladies’ plantings within the garden. Subsequently, a proper entrance was designed to incorporate the garden’s original stone staircase and took the form of the current circular area with its formal garden urn, rose arbor and bench. Aside from being the primary focal point of the garden, this area was also designed to showcase many of the Clinton family’s favorite plant varieties.
Within this somewhat formal and regimented framework, the main planting areas were designed to be casual and relaxed, so as to accommodate the wide range of plants beloved by the First Ladies, as well as to achieve an abundance of color and interest throughout the year. Except for a few specimens (notably the Cherry and Dogwood trees and the "Knockout" Roses used to help anchor the other plantings), which were placed with careful deliberation, the inner garden is intended to be an ever-changing tableau of annuals, perennials and wildflowers. In an effort to optimize the visitor’s experience, pathways were designed to meander serenely throughout the garden and to accommodate benches where one can stop to rest and…smell the roses.