Biltmore’s Azalea Garden: A Tribute to Chauncey Beadle

In Our Gardens 03/20/20

Written By Amy Dangelico

A favorite pastime of Biltmore Blooms is visiting the Azalea Garden—one of the largest selections of native azaleas in the country. The 15-acre garden is home to more than 20,000 plants, offering thousands upon thousands of vivid blooms of white, yellow, orange, and every shade of pink imaginable.

Azalea Garden in bloom
Biltmore’s Azalea Garden in peak bloom

But did you know the Azalea Garden was not actually part of the original plan for the estate?

This parade of color is a culmination of the passion of Chauncey Beadle, an avid azalea collector and horticulturist hired at Biltmore in 1890 who later became the estate superintendent.

Chauncey Beadle, ca. 1906
Chauncey Beadle, ca. 1906

Beadle and “The Azalea Hunters”

Beginning in 1930, Beadle, along with fellow botanists and friends Frank Crayton and William Knight—aptly called “The Azalea Hunters”—spent countless hours over long weekends and holidays driving through each southeastern state searching for every species, natural hybrid, form, and color of azalea.

Chauncey Beadle in the Azalea Garden, 1948
Chauncey Beadle in the Azalea Garden, ca. 1948

Beadle maintained his massive personal collection at his farm on the east side of Asheville until 1940, but he knew that he needed to find a home for his azaleas, fondly referred to as his “children,” before he became too old to care for them.

He could think of no better home than the Glen in the valley below Biltmore’s Conservatory and gardens. Edith Vanderbilt Gerry and Judge Junius G. Adams, Biltmore Company president at the time, agreed.

Azalea Garden Ceremony, 1940
Azalea Garden ceremony, ca. 1940

Establishing the Azalea Garden

In honor of his then fifty years of service to Biltmore, the estate held a celebration for Beadle* on April 1, 1940, in the Glen, which from that day forward would be named the Azalea Garden. All estate employees and their spouses were invited to the event.

Edith Gerry and Chauncey Beadle, 1940
Edith Vanderbilt Gerry and Chauncey Beadle, ca. 1940

During the ceremony, Edith unveiled a marker that memorializes Beadle’s lifetime of faithful service and gift of his azaleas to Biltmore.

Join us in celebrating the generosity and genius of Chauncey Beadle with a springtime stroll through the Azalea Garden. Plan your visit today!

*Thanks to new research from our Museum Services team, we now know that nine other employees were also honored for their many years of service in the 1940 Azalea Garden ceremony, including four Black men affiliated with the Landscape Department.

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Bobbette Kilgore Mays
3 years ago

My Uncle Sylvester Owens was driver and friend of Mr.Beadle. He became one of the Gardner’s. Please read his history.

Diane Zimmerman
3 years ago

This is Diane Zimmerman here from Biltmore Forest. I gave a talk last fall at the B F Town hall and included Sylvester Owens in my talk as definitely one of the Azalea Hunters. Edith Vanderbilt and Junius Adams felt so strongly that Mr. Owens was the best person to take over the Azalea Gardens after Chauncey Beadle retired. ( This is in the Asheville Citizen Times)Mr Owens took care of the gardens for 15 years until his retirement. His care of the gardens won a national Award which I understand he kept on his mantle in his home.

3 years ago

Just what I needed – to see such beauty in the midst of this messy season we’re in. I can just picture myself walking down the trails and seeing all that color, smelling the flowers and pretending I’m back in another era. Thank you so much for this “getaway”!!!!

Mary Morrison
3 years ago

I love the azaleas and always thought Mr Bradley introduced them throughout his tenure. I’m surprised to find out that he didn’t start the azalea garden till he’d been there FIFTY years! Were the azaleas on the approach road also from this time? It would be amazing if he didn’t plant at least some of the azaleas he loved so much on the estate. Also, I was told he got some from China but you say they’re from the Southeastern US. Is this true?

White V

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