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Summertime Strolling in the Gardens-Q & A with Parker Andes

Posted on 06/03/2014 by Leeann Donnelly

We love the long days of summer at Biltmore, especially in the gardens. There’s just something special about an early morning or late afternoon stroll along the winding paths through the Shrub Garden and down into the Walled Garden. Summertime is when this garden is really full of itself! Tropical plantings mix with manicured patterns to create what we think is a Monet landscape come to life.

Tropical plants and palms figure heavily into the mix to create the effect, and relate closely to what Biltmore’s original landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, envisioned. His plan called for Biltmore’s summertime gardens to mix tropical elements into manicured areas, as was the style in the late 1890s. Biltmore's horticulture team works diligently to stay true to that vision. We asked Parker Andes, director of that team, to share some fun tidbits about the gardens this year, and what it takes to insure Olmsted's ideas are alive and well on the estate. 

Open House Blog:  How many types of plants are in the Walled Garden pattern beds this year?

Parker Andes:  There are 18 different types of plants in the Walled Garden pattern beds for summer 2014.

OHB:  How many specific plants are in the pattern beds?

PA:  Roughly 14,000.

OHB:  What is typical summertime bloom span?

PA:  From June through late September as the weather allows.

OHB:  What colors will we see in the Walled Garden this year?

PA:  Purple, peach and lime green. Chartreuse, blue and lavender will also make an appearance. 

OHB:  How many gardeners and how many hours does it take to care for the Walled Garden?

PA:  It takes six people roughly 40 hours a week, totaling up to 240 hours a week.

OHB:  What is the largest lily pad in the Italian Garden pools?

PA:  The Victorian lily pad. In the tropics of South America, they can grow to 10 feet or more in diameter and have been known to support the weight of a small child. For our plants at Biltmore, the leaves will get to 2.5 to 3 feet wide since the air is cooler.  Ours don’t support a small child but Green Herons can be seen standing on the leaves early in the mornings, hunting for tadpoles.

OHB:  What should guests look out for on their next visit?

PA:  One of my favorite perennials in the Walled Garden that is quite unique is the Pineapple Lily. The Sparkling burgundy variety has a dark foliage bulb with a bloom cluster that looks like a pineapple. 

OHB:  What are some other fun facts about Biltmore's summer gardens that come to mind?

PA:  Daylilies! We have lots of them. The American Daylily Society will hold its national meeting in Asheville this summer, so as a tribute and with their assistance, we’ve planted hundreds of them throughout the estate, from the Walled Garden to Antler Hill Village. Guests will see some of the latest hybrids of daylilies. 

OHB:  We recently heard that there are actual grapes growing in the Walled Garden, which we didn't realize. Is that true? 

PA:  It is. The Arbor that runs down the center of the garden has four different grape varieties growing on it. They're named after four rivers: Catawba, Concord, Niagara and Delaware.

OHB: What is one of your favorite aspects of the Walled Garden in summer?

PA:  There is a trellis along the wall that provides support for plants we prune and groom in the “espalier” style. The plants we maintain in this style are apples, pears, apriums, wisteria, Rose of Sharon and pyracantha. The word “espalier” is French, and it comes from the Italian “spalliera,” meaning “something to rest the shoulder against.” The purpose is to save space and control the plant growth for the production of fruit. We prune and tie the branches to a frame, and set the frame flat against the wall. We prune ours for the ornamental aspect of it rather than fruit production. However, ours do flower and produce some fruit.

Top photo: The Walled Garden, summer 2013.

Inset photo:  Parker Andes, Biltmore's director of horticulture.

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