Biltmore and Roses: a 120-year love affair

Written By Holly Clark

Posted 12/27/12

Updated 12/27/12

In Our Gardens

Roses and Biltmore share a 120-year history that began when Fredrick Olmsted first started planning the grounds. When guests visit the Rose Garden, they are walking into a very special part of the estate’s history. Both George and Edith Vanderbilt took an interest in the garden, and they worked closely with Chauncey Beadle, then head of estate landscaping, to make changes to it, and double it in size from its original layout, drafted by Olmsted.  

Historical records contain correspondence from a century ago with many rose nurseries, including Jackson & Perkins. The earliest roses were purchased from Ellwanger & Barry, Mount Hope Nurseries of Rochester, N.Y.; John N. May, Rose Grower of Summit, N.J. (Beadle’s former employer); Penrose Nurseries (Robert Scott & Son) of Philadelphia; Howard Rose Company in California, and numerous other suppliers.

The Biltmore Nursery

The estate’s commercial nursery business also grew and sold many varieties of roses as shown in the Biltmore Rose Catalog. Variety selection, wish lists, and a host of rose-related issues went back and forth between Biltmore and the horticultural companies with which they worked. The Biltmore Nursery was one of the largest plant nurseries in the United States until a 1916 flood destroyed the operation.

After the flood, the idea of a Biltmore nursery remained dormant for some time.  During the 1960s, however, the estate developed and operated a nursery for wholesale and retail sales of ornamental nursery stock and to supply a landscape contracting business, as well as a commercial greenhouse operation for the production of hanging baskets and potted flowers. In the 1990s, another estate nursery venture was developed with plants primarily sold to regional nurseries and garden centers until late 2007.

Biltmore International Rose Trials

A new part of roses at Biltmore are the Biltmore International Rose Trials. Patterned after similar trials all over Europe and under the umbrella of the World Federation of Rose Societies, the trials give breeders from all over the world a place to trial and display their roses. Awards are announced each spring with the judging and a festive awards luncheon. Learn more about this year’s event here.
Drawing from the inspiration started by Mr. Olmsted and brought fully into bloom by Mrs. Vanderbilt, Biltmore is again emerging as an innovator and leader in the world of roses.

Thanks to Paul Zimmerman, exclusive Biltmore Rose Consultant, for his contribution to this piece. He has specialized in roses for nearly 20 years and is the owner of Paul Zimmerman Roses.

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