Biltmore’s summertime gardens offer a feast of rich colors and scents
Asheville, NC (June 2014)
Something happens in the gardens at Biltmore during the summer. It’s as if every leaf, petal and blade of grass blends together into a living Monet painting. A summertime visit to Biltmore requires a relaxed pace for immersing in the gardens’ rich hues and intoxicating scents.
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.
Giant terra cotta urns – original to the estate – stationed in front of Biltmore House have become vessels for tall palms and tropical trees during summertime. Behind the Conservatory, another 1,200 terra cotta containers spill over with tropical plantings.
“For me, it’s fun to see old pictures of the front of Biltmore House during summer, with the big palms planted in pots out front, “says Parker Andes, director of horticulture. “We still do that, so we are keeping to the tradition as much as we can. And, we use the latest varieties of the plants they originally used.”
What to look for, garden by garden
Biltmore’s horticulture team selects and nurtures plantings that yield vivid, saturated hues, as intended by Olmsted and Biltmore founder, George Vanderbilt. Estate-wide, the gardens are bursting with bright summer annuals, such as marigolds, impatiens, salvia and coleus.
The Walled Garden: The Walled Garden is actually home to several “mini” gardens. Look for butterflies in the Butterfly Garden, located directly in front of the majestic Conservatory. Attracting them there is a selection of fennel, cone flowers, salvias, asters and sedums.
Woody plants in the Scented Border, such as the harlequin glorybower and Southern magnolia, offer sweet,
heady aromas. The Victorian Border features perennials and annuals common to the era when Biltmore was constructed, such as cannas, hollyhocks, bananas, elephant ears and tropical foliage plants.
The peach, purple and lime green palette in the Walled Garden’s pattern beds this year complement the border along the north drive. It’s been planted to reflect the color progression of a rainbow. Chosen plant varieties will grow and mature into a lush and exuberant setting.
At the western edge of the Walled Garden, the unmistakable scent of rose permeates the air near the Conservatory, where hundreds of heirloom varieties climb and wrap around trellises in the historic Rose Garden. The border along the drive features the 2014 Biltmore International Rose Trials entries.
What else can you expect?
The Conservatory: Garden designers have incorporated historic elements into the “hidden” passageways behind the Conservatory, using old iron gates that once stood near the Approach Road as structures for orange and purple climbing vines. Fountains and creative modern elements will figure into the same area, giving do-it-yourselfers ideas for home gardens of every kind.
Italian Gardens: The French chateaus that served as inspiration for Vanderbilt and his architect, Richard Morris Hunt, had formal gardens with pools and fountains, so Olmsted incorporated this concept into the Italian Gardens. Reflecting pools teem with exotic water lilies, elephant ears and papyrus, with koi and goldfish swimming just beneath. But the stars of the show are the Victorian lilies, which look like giant floating cake pans with spines and bear night-blooming, pineapple-scented flowers. They will grow to nearly 3 feet in diameter.
Path to the Bass Pond: Nearly hidden in the bog area of the Azalea Garden ravine, carnivorous pitcher plants await their unsuspecting prey. Watch carefully: insects fly into the plants’ long tubes, but they don’t come out! These interesting plants are not native to this area, but the plants growing here are hardy in the mountains: yellow pitcher plant, fluted red pitcher plant, and white-topped pitcher plant.
A mile-long sunflower patch along Winery Drive: In mid-to-late summer, tall sunflowers stretch nearly a mile amid a meadow of native grasses on the road leading from Biltmore House and gardens to the Winery and Antler Hill Village. Guests can’t resist this photo-opp just waiting to happen.
Summer 2014 specials
Access to Biltmore’s gardens is included in admission price. Summer 2014 vacation deals include:
• Kids 16 and younger receive FREE admission now through Labor Day, Sept. 1.
• Dads receive FREE admission on Father’s Day, June 15, with purchase of an adult or youth ticket.
• Seniors receive $15 off admission on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
• Save $15 off ticket price by purchasing tickets at least 7 days in advance of visit; save $10 by booking online 1 to 6 days in advance of visit.