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Preserving Biltmore’s Pools of Delight

Posted on 06/12/2017 by Jean Sexton Comments(2)

The Italian Garden next to Biltmore House was created to offer a tranquil spot for enjoying magnificent reflections of America’s largest home. The design, which includes three large pools filled with aquatic plants, remains remarkably true to the intention of Frederick Law Olmsted, Biltmore’s landscape architect.

For the past several years, Chuck Cissell’s primary responsibility as a member of Biltmore’s landscaping team has been the Italian Garden with a focus on the aquatic plants. It’s a job he enjoys year-round, especially he can be in the pools caring for the breathtaking blooms that reach their peak in the summer months.

Water lily in Italian Garden at BiltmoreBeginning in the fall, Chuck creates a plan for the Italian Garden pools. He places plant orders in April and May, and completes plant installations in June. Most of the aquatic plants come from Tricker’s Water Gardens—a company that was one of the first commercial water lily growers in the United States. Amazingly, it’s the same supplier that Olmsted used.

“I order many of the same plants that Olmsted used from Tricker’s, but today there are new colors and hardier blooms because they’ve experimented with growing and hybridizing water lilies to improve the shape, colors, and hardiness,” said Chuck.

“We always order new tropical water lilies and Victoria water platters with their huge lily pads. In one pool we have about 50 different lilies, including night-blooming varieties.”

Italian Garden near Biltmore HouseIn June, you’ll see 130 hardy and tropical water lilies begin blooming. The lotus bed display starts in early July, and the gigantic platter-shaped Victorian lilies are largest in late August.  For the center pool display, Chuck features a more contemporary garden design with ‘Thai Black’ banana trees, palm trees, hibiscus, and elephant ears. The display also includes variegated giant reed grass— the same type of reed that was once used to make bagpipes.

“I feed and fertilize the water lilies once a week; they are heavy feeders. And we groom three times a week from June to October. Grooming—that means removing the pollinated blooms— helps increase the number of blooms a lily produces,” said Chuck.

Colorful koi in the Italian Garden pools at BiltmoreThe filtration system in the pools is original 1895 technology, using constant water flowing into and out of the pools. The gravity-fed reservoir, which also used to provide water to Biltmore House, provides water for the pools. Natural filtration is beneficial to the colorful koi that populate the Italian Garden pools. We know from archival records that Olmsted wanted to have fish in the pools, and while we don’t know exactly when the koi were introduced, at least one is about 50 years old.

Italian Garden pools with statuary at BiltmoreBecause of the sheer volume of receipts, plans, and letters in Biltmore’s garden archives, Biltmore’s gardeners have only gone through a fraction of all the information available. For Chuck, that’s one of the most important elements of his job. “I really like the historic aspect of gardening here,” he said. “I have the joy of knowing I’m recreating the same thing that the Vanderbilts saw in 1895, and continuing that tradition.”

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, children 16 and under are admitted free to Biltmore when accompanied by a ticketed adult. Plan your summer visit to Biltmore today!

Featured image: A reflection of Biltmore House in the Italian Garden pools
-- First image: Blooming water lily
-- Second image: Summer beauty in the Italian Garden
-- Third image: Colorful koi in the pools
-- Fourth image: Statuary around the Italian Garden pools

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Posted on 09/04/2017 By Kimberlie S

Can you tell me the variety of the lily in the 4th photo that has purple foliage and those bright blooms? That would look beautiful in my new water garden. I ordered my lilies from Trickers based on a phot you posted on instagram earlier last year. I can tell by the comments in the article here that I need to fee more often though.

Hi, Kimberlie! The lily in the final photo is a variety called Red Flare. It’s a night-blooming lily, meaning the flower opens in the evening and closes around noon. This variety is sold by Tricker as well! – Biltmore Blog Editor

Posted on 07/10/2017 By Hannah M

I've often wondered where the Koi winter. Could you elaborate?

Hi, Hannah! Our Koi actually stay in the Italian Garden pools throughout winter. When the weather cools, they go into what is known as torpor, which is similar to hibernation, but for a shorter period of time. The Koi will sink down to the bottom of the pools to find that warmest pockets of water. Sometimes you can see them lined up, side by side in rows, in order to maximize the warm space. During this time, their metabolisms slow down so much that they don’t need to be fed until May when they become active again. – Biltmore Blog Editor

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