Heiress Designer of White House Gardens Dies at 103

Rachel 'Bunny' Mellon was art patron, friend of Kennedys
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 18, 2014 9:27 AM CDT
Heiress Designer of White House Gardens Dies at 103
In this Dec. 11, 1964, file photo, Bunny Mellon, left, husband Paul Mellon, and daughter Eliza Lloyd appear at the Royal Academy in London.   (AP Photo/File)

Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, the "fresh-faced, slender, ebullient ... dazzling" heiress who redesigned the White House Rose Garden, has died at age 103 at her Virginia home, the New York Times reports. A friend to presidents and monarchs, Mellon was heir to the Listerine fortune; she was also known for her support for John Edwards' scandal-plagued presidential campaign. As a childhood fascination with horticulture gave rise to a real, if untrained, talent, Mellon—born Rachel Lowe Lambert in Princeton—was asked to redesign the White House Rose Garden by friend Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961.

Dwight Eisenhower had turned the garden into a putting green; in addition to the eponymous roses, Mellon opted to surround a central lawn with American species including crab apple and thyme, as well as seasonal splashes of color. She also designed the East Garden, receiving the Conservation Service Award from the White House in 1966. In France, she designed Hubert de Givenchy’s manor; in Boston, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Mellon was also an art patron; with husband Paul Mellon, son of former Treasury secretary Andrew Mellon, she donated more than 1,000 items—among them works by Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Degas—to the National Gallery, the Washington Post reports. But it was her gardens that defined her: "Mrs. Mellon has the combination of sensitivity and imagery with technical knowledge that you only find among the best professionals," said collaborator and architect IM Pei. (More heiress stories.)

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