Biltmore Gardens Railway: A Structural Comparison

This summer, the Conservatory is transformed into a wonderland of creativity. Discover Biltmore Gardens Railway, featuring miniature estate landmark replicas made of all-natural materials gathered from Biltmore’s grounds. Let’s take an up-close look at the attention to detail paid to the recreations of these historic structures.

Image 1: Photograph of the Lodge Gate from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1900
Image 2: Applied Imagination’s recreation, on display in the Conservatory’s Exhibition Room

About the Lodge Gate Recreation

  • Materials collected from the estate: horse chestnut, magnolia leaves, pine bark, hickory nuts, lotus pods, contorted Filbert, bamboo, winged bean, pine cone scales, and acorn caps
  • Dimensions: 28”x22”x15”
  • Time to complete: 275+ hours
Image 1: Photograph of the Conservatory from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1910
Image 2: Applied Imagination’s recreation, on display in the Conservatory’s Orchid Room

About the Conservatory Recreation

  • Materials collected from the estate: horse chestnut, pine bark, anise, honeysuckle, ash, winged euonymus, contorted Filbert, and oak bark
  • Dimensions: 21”x52”x14”
  • Time to complete: 350+ hours
Image 1: Photograph of Biltmore House from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1910
Image 2: Applied Imagination’s recreation, on display in the Conservatory’s Palm House

About the Biltmore House Recreation

  • Materials collected from the estate: baby acorns, acorn caps, star anise, pine cone, contorted Filbert, grapevine, honeysuckle, eucalyptus leaves, bamboo, ash bark, oak bark, and elm bark
  • Dimensions: 66”x122”x55”
  • Time to complete: 1700+ hours

Experience the enchantment of Biltmore Gardens Railway now through September 29, 2019. Plan your visit today!

Not just houseplants—this is a house for plants

Imagine the luxury of having a house full of tropical plants to delight your senses—ranging from 40-foot palms to bromelaids just four inches tall. George and Edith Vanderbilt enjoyed that experience with Biltmore’s Conservatory, truly a house built for nurturing plants. 

Beneath its expansive glass roof are hundreds of varieties grown in several purposefully designed spaces, including the Orchid Room, Hot House, and Cool House. Now is a wonderful time to visit this horticultural marvel as it also hosts Biltmore Gardens Railway through September 29, 2019.

Palm House

As you enter into the central expanse, you’ll immediate see why it was designated as the Palm House on architect Richard Morris Hunt‘s original plans. The grand space rises 40 feet high and contains our tallest plants, including the Queen Palm and Golden Hawaiian Bamboo that reach to the ceiling. Other notable specimens are the Mast Tree, a tall and narrow tree species once used to build ship masts, and the broadest plants in the building: Silver Bismark Palms, spreading 15 to 20 feet wide.

Orchid Room

To the left of the Palm House is the Orchid Room, filled with exotic blooms boasting myriad colors and forms. There are more than 1,000 orchid plants in the Conservatory’s collection, ranging from the familiar corsage and lady slipper varieties to rare examples that perfume the air with tantalizing fragrance. Our year-round orchid display is made possible by Biltmore’s eclectic collection that has plants continually coming into flower during the year. 

Exhibit Room

From over-the-top spring floral designs to a holiday wonderland, the Exhibit Room to the right of the Palm House hosts seasonally changing displays. This is a favorite location for guests to capture photos, particularly duringBiltmore Gardens Railway with its featured replica of Biltmore’s Lodge Gate.

Hot House

You might recognize some of the residents of the Hot House, as the tropical environment promotes the lush growth of philodendrons, pothos, and other species sold as plants suitable for our own homes.

Cool House

This is a subtropical zone, featuring Australian tree ferns, banana trees, and the evocatively-named Lollipop plants and Shrimp plants. Note particularly the overachieving Thai Giant Elephant Ear; with leaves 4–5 feet long, this plant has the biggest leaves in the Conservatory.

Alleys

Each summer, the alleyways adjoining the Hot House and Cool House are filled with plants creating additional spaces for guests to enjoy. During Biltmore Gardens Railway, the Hot Alley features Bromeliads amid multi-level model train tracks and replicas of the Bass Pond Waterfall and Gardener’s Cottage, while the Cool Alley showcases plants from the ginger and Heliconia families alongside fanciful replicas of All Souls’ Church and the Biltmore Passenger Station.

Potting Room

This workspace used by gardeners to repot plants as needed fulfills the same function today as it did more than a century ago when the Conservatory was completed.

Want a Conservatory of your own? 
In case you are inspired to build your own indoor garden, consider this: each of the 2,000+ plants in Biltmore’s Conservatory is watered by hand every day because of the unique needs of the varied species. Instead, we recommend purchasing a Biltmore Annual Pass so you can return season after season to enjoy our gardens—without the hard work!

Experience Biltmore Blooms in 2019

When winter finally loosens its grip to make way for spring, you know Biltmore Blooms can’t be far behind!

Bringing the outdoors in with Biltmore Blooms

From the earliest flowering shrubs and vivid tulips in our historic gardens to the glorious progression of color along the Approach Road, we’ve been delighting guests with our annual celebration of the season for more than three decades.

The splendid spring show isn’t limited to the outdoors, however; our floral displays team brings the outside inside with beautiful arrangements throughout Biltmore House and across the estate.

Breakfast Room floral arrangement

A lovely floral arrangement highlights the Breakfast Room table

Welcoming the return of spring

“For Biltmore Blooms we create florals that reflect not only the welcome return of spring, but they also showcase the scale and grandeur of America’s Largest Home®,” said Lizzie Borchers, floral displays manager. “This year, we’ve also designed arrangements that enhance our guests’ experience of A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age.” 

According to archival notes and records, the Vanderbilts frequently entertained family and friends at Biltmore House in the early 1900s. It is that love of gatherings and celebrations that inspired A Vanderbilt House Party—an exhibition that took more than two years to plan and carry out.

Opera singer mannequin and floral arrangement in Biltmore House Organ Loft

Overlooking the Banquet Hall, a mannequin of opera singer Elizabeth Mayo Dodge shares the Organ Loft with a stunning floral arrangment  

Gracious hospitality

“Because George and Edith Vanderbilt were such gracious hosts, we believe they would have wanted something amazing right at the Front Door to make their guests feel special,” said Lizzie, “so we started with a grand floral display for the Vestibule.”

For the Banquet Hall, which you’ll see at the end of your tour during A Vanderbilt House Party, Lizzie and her team designed an exceptional spring showpiece for the formal table that is set as it would have been for an evening dinner party.

Flower arrangement in the Library of Biltmore House

Flowering spring shrubs add movement to more traditional arrangements

Adding native plants

Throughout the house, there are plenty of beautiful and traditional cut flowers including roses and lilies, but many arrangements incorporate plants that are native to Western North Carolina such as rhododendron, viburnum, and japonica—all of which might have been used during the Vanderbilt era.

Orchids in the Salon

Orchids in pots and Wardian cases add layers of floral interest to the Salon

Bringing it all together

“Using botanical materials that flourish on the estate this time of year is a perfect way to highlight both Biltmore Blooms and A Vanderbilt House Party,” Lizzie said. “In addition, we’ve been able to open the Winter Garden this year, allowing our guests to walk through that amazing space, just as if they were guests of the Vanderbilts. Enjoy all the color we’ve added to this ‘indoor jungle’ for the season—it’s full of bright begonias, crotons, orchids, and anthuriums, which symbolize hospitality!”

Biltmore Blooms floral arrangement in Vestibule
Don’t miss a moment this spring!

Experience all the excitement of Biltmore Blooms now through May 24 and A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age, which continues through May 27. Both events are included with your daytime admission to Biltmore.

— Featured image: Vivid florals for Biltmore Blooms
— Left inset image: Grand arrangement in the Entry Hall of Biltmore House
 

Head Over Heels for Hats and Headpieces-NEW

For Edith Vanderbilt and her peers, the fashion demands of the Gilded Age included regular visits to their favorite milliners for stylish hats and headpieces to match every outfit and activity from strolling in the gardens to attending fancy dress balls.

Glamorous gowns and headpieces grace the covers of the June 1911 and February 1913 issues of Les Modes magazines in Biltmore’s collection

Ladies also kept up with trends by reviewing elegant magazines like Les Modes for the latest looks from couture design houses in cities such as Paris and London.

In Style

Now through May 27, experience a fabulous array of hats and headpieces ranging from beautifully beaded butterflies and dove gray velvet to iridescent peacock feathers during our new exhibition: A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age. 

“We spent two years planning this exhibition,” said Leslie Klingner, curator of interpretation, “and we re-created many pieces of clothing from the original wardrobes of the Vanderbilts and their guests. We also looked at sources such as newspaper clippings and Edith Vanderbilt’s collection of Les Modes magazine in our archives for inspiration. The beautiful attire you’ll see in this exhibition would not have been complete without matching accessories.” 

An Engaging Headpiece

One of Leslie’s favorites is a velvet gown that Edith Dresser wore for her photographic portraits commemorating her engagement to George Vanderbilt. “The color is so deep that it looks black,” said Leslie, “but we know from newspaper articles and archival sources that it was actually midnight blue.” 

The matching headpiece features a diamonte ornament and a feathery black plume that adds additional height and elegance to the ensemble.

Edith Dresser’s re-created engagement headpiece on display in the Tapestry Gallery.

Feeding the swans

A vignette in the Second Floor Living Hall features Edith’s sister Pauline Merrill with the Vanderbilt’s only child Cornelia, dressed for walking out to feed the swans. While Pauline’s blue-gray tweed jacket and skirt seem sturdy enough for the outdoors, her hat is a delightful confection of soft gray velvet trimmed in matching ostrich plumes.

Lady of the house

As the lady of the house, Edith Vanderbilt would always have been dressed appropriately for conducting her household responsibilities and attending to her family and guests. The elegant dress and hat featured in the Oak Sitting Room vignette were reproduced from an archival photograph.

Edith Vanderbilt attends to the business of Biltmore House while daughter Cornelia and her cousin play with a toy.

Headpieces Worthy of a Grand Gala in the Banquet Hall

Pauline Merrill’s stylish velvet hat draped in matching feathery plumes.
Edith Vanderbilt attends to the business of Biltmore House while daughter Cornelia and her cousin play with a toy.
Catharine Hunt, wife of Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt, is shown with a comb in faceted jet to accent her curls.
George Vanderbilt’s mannequin sports a jaunty hat perfect for enjoying a stroll around the estate.
Edith Vanderbilt with an elegant spray of peacock feathers tucked into her chignon hairstyle

Plan Your Visit Now

Experience A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age February 8–May 27, 2019, and discover how the Vanderbilt family planned and prepared turn-of-the-century house party celebrations for their special guests. Receive our new Exhibition Audio Guided Tour featuring custom content created exclusively to enhance your visit—FREE when you purchase your estate admission online!

Top 10 Reasons to Visit Biltmore’s Conservatory Now

Chihuly At Biltmore Was On Display From May 17 To October 7, 2018.
Please Enjoy This Archived Content.
 

When Kathryn Marsh and Todd Roy say there are plenty of reasons to visit Biltmore’s Conservatory in late summer, they’re not exaggerating.

Once you enter the historic structure located at the end of the Walled Garden, it’s like stepping into another world—one filled with lush tropical treasures and venerable vines plus dazzling array of colors, scents, and textures to delight your senses!

Kathryn and Todd are the members of Biltmore’s horticulture team who care for the thousands of exotic and interesting plants that fill the Conservatory. While that much responsibility might seem daunting, the two enjoy meeting the needs of their botanical “co-workers,” from hand-watering them every morning to knowing their preferences for light and shade.

George Vanderbilt chose plants with the same attention and interest as the art he collected,” said Kathryn. “Some of the specimens he selected are beautiful, some are rare, and some are just odd and interesting.” 

It was hard to narrow down the list, but here are 10 of Kathryn and Todd’s top picks to see during your next Conservatory visit:

10. Longest Lives

The Conservatory has an impressive collection of Cycads with a few dating back more than a century to the time of the Vanderbilts. Cycads only grow about one inch per year, so the size some of these have achieved is especially impressive. 

Between the bench and the palm towering overhead, a lush Cycad makes a photo-worthy backdrop 

9. Largest Leaves

Just inside the Cool House, look for a grouping of Thai Giant Elephant Ears (Colocasia gigantea) featuring some of the largest leaves in the Conservatory.

Thai Giant Elephant Ears sport umbrella-sized leaves in the Cool House

8. Intriguing Alleys (Edible)

Each year, Kathryn and Todd create special themes for the two alleys located between the main wings of the Conservatory. This year, they’re showcasing useful/edible plants in one alley and water features in the other.

Have you ever wondered how coffee, cotton, or allspice (Pimenta dioicaa) grows? You’ll find examples of each along with black pepper vine, Miracle Fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum) that makes sour foods taste sweet, Barbados cherry (Malpighia emarginata), an important source of Vitamin C, and many more.

Close-up view of the aptly-named Miracle Fruit

7. Intriguing Alleys (Water Features)

Once you’ve admired all the edible plants, take a stroll down the opposite alley to experience the soothing sounds of water trickling and splashing over pebbles into small pools surrounded by lush container plantings. Linger here to watch the play of light on water and absorb the peaceful atmosphere of this relaxing space tucked away and just waiting to be discovered! 

Look for a series of relaxing water features in one of the Conservatory’s two alleys this summer

6. Hummingbird Haven

According to Kathryn, the Red Button Ginger (Costus woodsonii) growing near the end of the Cool House is a hummingbird magnet. “When it flowers in late summer, each ginger cone produces a single red bloom,” said Kathryn, “and the hummingbirds know it’s there, almost as if they’ve mapped out the Conservatory. I see them early in the morning, visiting each flower, then flying away before it gets too warm inside.” 

Red Button Ginger displays a single “button” or bloom

5. Tropical Travel

Want to visit the tropics without leaving Biltmore? Don’t miss the fragrant display of Plumeria in containers along the back wall behind the Conservatory. Also commonly known as Frangipani, Plumeria is native to many of the world’s tropical regions and the beautiful blooms are often used in Hawaiian leis.

Pretty pink Plumeria flowers smell as lovely as they look

4. Signature Scent

If you’re a fan of Coco Chanel’s iconic Chanel No. 5 perfume, your nose may lead you to a very special specimen growing in Biltmore’s Conservatory. The Ylang Ylang Tree (Cananga odorata) produces creamy yellow flowers with long petals, and their heady floral scent is the signature note associated with the world-famous fragrance.

A fragrant yellow bloom of the Ylang Ylang Tree

3. Cereus Secrets 

The area of the Conservatory dedicated to members of the cactus clan definitely keeps some secrets from our day guests!

“It’s actually very hard to catch a night-blooming cactus at its peak,” Todd tells us. “You have to be here late at night or very early in the morning to see the full potential of the flowers.” Lucky for us, Todd has captured some elusive blooms from the Cereus family like this stunning Queen of the Night (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) example.

‘Queen of the Night’ cactus in bloom

2. Pitcher Perfect

While the idea of carniverous plants may seem like an oxymoron, Slender Pitcher Plants (Nepenthes gracilis) and other varieties offer a fascinating glimpse into a highly-specialized world in which plants attract and trap insects as their main source of food. The year-round warmth of the Conservatory provides a perfect environment for both the pitchers and the insects on which they feed.

Kathryn Marsh shows off the pitcher portion of the Slender Pitcher Plant

1. Glorious Glass

No visit to the Conservatory is complete without marveling at the glorious glass sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly during Chihuly at Biltmore and Chihuly Nights at Biltmore. As you approach the Conservatory, note the Cattails and Copper Birch Reeds installed in the Butterfly Garden. 
Cattails and Copper Birch Reeds aglow in front of the Conservatory during Chihuly Nights at Biltmore

Inside the structure, look up to the ceiling to spot three intricate Burnished Amber, Citron, and Teal Chandeliers; you’ll find them at the far left, far right, and in the center of the main room. Their time is limited, however, as these breathtaking “blooms” are only here until October 7.

One of Chihuly’s three Burnished Amber, Citron, and Teal Chandeliers inside the Conservatory at Biltmore

Featured blog photo: Biltmore horticulturalists Kathryn Marsh and Todd Roy at the Conservatory
 

An Inn with Quite a View

GWV, S. Westray Battle, ESV, Marion Olmsted on Looking Glass Rock_401193r

The Inn’s Rocking Chair Porch is one of the most popular spots for our guests offering a place to sit back and take in the views of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, the same range of mountains that captured the imagination of George Vanderbilt when he first visited Asheville in 1888.  

Vanderbilt’s curiosity and interest in the Pisgah Forest region began soon after he started making his first purchases of land along the French Broad River to create Biltmore Estate. One of the primary reasons Vanderbilt selected this site for Biltmore House was that same panoramic view, dominated by Pisgah’s prominent, cone-shaped peak at 5,721 feet in elevation, situated some 14 miles to the west. The mountain, believed to have been named in 1776 after the Biblical Mount Pisgah, was well-known long before Vanderbilt created Biltmore Estate. Margaret W. Morley summed up the mountain’s popularity in her 1913 romanticized account, “The Carolina Mountains”: “Pisgah … is the most noticeable and the favorite mountain seen from Asheville. Everybody knows it. Rising, as it does, above the other heights, its beautiful form outlined against the sky, it inspires a feeling of affection in those who see it day after day.”

While Biltmore House and the main estate were under construction, Vanderbilt was exploring and purchasing several large tracts of land stretching from Mount Pisgah, on the Buncombe and Haywood County lines through the headwaters of the French Broad in Henderson and Transylvania Counties to Devil’s Courthouse and beyond. At the peak of his land purchases, Vanderbilt owned 125,000 acres or about 195 square miles! His holdings included the famous monolith, Looking Glass Rock, surrounded by the Pink Beds, a large mountain basin believed to be named for the thickets of Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron with white and rosy pink blossoms. Primeval forests covering the mountain slopes and several hundred miles of pristine trout streams with numerous waterfalls added to the wild and alluring charm of Pisgah Forest, as named by Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt planned to use the Pisgah tract for a variety of purposes – recreation, as a game preserve and forestry – first under forester Gifford Pinchot’s direction and then German forester Dr. Carl A. Schenck, who established the Biltmore Forest School, the nation’s first school to train professional foresters. Some of the earliest recreational activities on the estate included camping, riding and fishing expeditions into the mountains.

Ulysses Grant Williams Reeves was hired in 1891 to build estate trails and roads. In an article published in 1958 in the Asheville Times, “From His Country Boys, Vanderbilt Got a Lot of Conservation Ideas,” writer J. Hart Snyder said Reeves often accompanied Vanderbilt on expeditions into the woods and remarked that Vanderbilt “loved his woods and was a happy, carefree camper, a good sport, always willing to do his share around camp. Although he was a rich man and later built a series of lodges, he was completely at ease in a primitive camp.”

George Vanderbilt soon decided he wanted several, more permanent camps or lodges throughout Pisgah Forest with names such as Three-Day Camp, Looking Glass Lodge, and the grandest retreat of all, Buckspring Lodge near Mt. Pisgah. The Vanderbilts and their descendants spent many summers at Buckspring relaxing and entertaining friends.

After Vanderbilt’s untimely death in 1914, his widow Edith Vanderbilt sold around 87,000 acres of Pisgah Forest to the federal government to establish Pisgah National Forest, the first national forest east of the Mississippi. She retained Buckspring Lodge and 471 acres surrounding it until her death in 1958. Her heirs sold the property, and the National Park Service razed the buildings in 1961 to make way for routing the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Today, guests at the Inn can choose to extend their stay to enjoy excursions to Mt. Pisgah and Looking Glass Rock, visit the former Biltmore Forest School campus at the Cradle of Forestry National Historic Site in the Pink Beds, or simply relax in one of those inviting rocking chairs on the porch while sipping a glass of Biltmore wine and soaking up the view.

About the Photos

Top photo: Inn guests who snag a seat on the Rocking Chair Porch gaze upon these same Blue Ridge Mountains that inspired George Vanderbilt to create Biltmore. 

Inset photo: George Vanderbilt (top of steps) leads Dr. S. Westray Battle, wife Edith Vanderbilt and Marion Olmsted on an outing at Looking Glass Rock.