Discovering Biltmore’s Distinctive Shrub Garden

Summer at Biltmore is a glorious season when the estate's historic gardens and grounds reach their peak of intense color and beauty.

Biltmore Gardens Railway

This year, in addition to acres of blooms, you’ll also marvel at Biltmore Gardens Railway in the Conservatory and Antler Hill Village.

From May 24–September 29, 2019, enjoy beautifully executed botanical model train displays featuring a variety of Biltmore area structures, each handcrafted in meticulous detail from such all-natural elements as leaves, bark, and twigs. With 800 feet of rails and trains traversing six separate lines at different eye levels, this is a one-of-a-kind, fun-for-all-ages garden experience.

Preview of Biltmore Gardens Railway in Antler Hill Village

Discovering the Shrub Garden

Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed many of the areas closest to Biltmore House as a series of “outdoor rooms” that beckoned guests to step outside and enjoy their surroundings.

A family enjoys a shady area among the trees

The Shrub Garden, located between the Italian Garden and the Walled Garden, invites guests to lose themselves among the winding paths and lush plantings.

Stone steps beckon you to discover new delights in the Shrub Garden

Caring for this distinctive space

For Brooke Doty, a member of Biltmore’s landscaping team since 2017, the Shrub Garden offers a subtle beauty in striking contrast with other portions of Olmsted’s design.

“It’s not as obvious as the Walled Garden with all its bright, blooming flowers, but the Shrub Garden is a place of deep shade and clean structure. The shapes of the mature trees and the open, airy feel of the pathways make it the perfect place for wandering,” said Brooke.

Uncovering a native jack-in-the-pulpit plant

In caring for the Shrub Garden during the past 18 months, Brooke has come to appreciate more than just the overall plan of the area.

“I constantly see things I never saw before,” Brooke said. “Things that you don’t notice immediately. There are plantings that are tucked back away from the paths, and specimens that you won’t find in most gardens.”

Brooke examines the decorative fruits of the Japanese Snowbell 

Notable specimens

Styrax japonicus or Japanese Snowbell is one such horticultural gem; the tree is known for producing cascades of flowers in the spring, interesting fruits in summer, modest fall color, and shapely limbs for winter interest.

State champion river birch with cables to support its branches

The Shrub Garden is also the home of two state champion trees: the golden rain tree (Koelreutaria paniculata) with clusters of small yellow seed pods that hang from its nearly weeping branches in early summer and a massive river birch (Betula nigra) with distinctive, cinnamon-colored curling bark. In addition to its champion status, the river birch is one of the original plantings in the garden.

Colorful summer blooms against the brick tunnel bridge in the Shrub Garden

“From champion trees to the 'bones' of Olmsted's design, the Shrub Garden offers something interesting for every season,” said Brooke. “I’m always encouraging guests to spend more time here exploring the paths, enjoying the quiet beauty, and discovering the little surprises that await you around each turn.”

Plan your spring and summer visits now

In addition to exploring our glorious gardens during peak season, enjoy all that Biltmore offers this spring and summer such as outdoor activities, our annual Biltmore Blooms celebration, and Biltmore Gardens Railway!

Featured blog image: Brooke Doty at work in the Shrub Garden

Enjoying the Shady Pergola

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

The dramatic art installations of Chihuly at Biltmore have drawn even more attention to Biltmore’s historic gardens—creating the ideal opportunity to take a closer look at these fascinating places. 

Beneath the wisteria canopy of the Pergola—along the base of the South Terrace next to Biltmore House—is a shady retreat filled with history. 

Pergola bustThe Pergola once served as a resting place overlooking a lawn tennis court popular with Edith and Cornelia Vanderbilt and their friends. In 1919, Edith asked Chauncey Beadle, estate superintendent, to convert the original “lawn” court to a clay court; the court was later removed.

Now, this space offers a cool and quiet passageway to the Shrub and Walled Gardens and a location for four marble busts nestled along the stone wall. Look carefully to discover that the quartet represents the four seasons: Spring with flowers, Summer with wheat, Fall with fruit and grapes, and Winter with wind. 

The Pergola itself dates back to the construction of Biltmore House. Grading and construction began in 1891 under the direction of architect Richard Sharp Smith and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. This archival photo shows the walking paths from the Pergola through the Shrub Garden and Walled Garden completed, with the Pergola underway and, in the distance, the Conservatory under construction.

Limestone columns and massive wooden rafters form the structure that was originally crowned with ivy. According to Bill Alexander, Biltmore landscape and forest historian, Olmsted specified English ivy to be planted at the base of the columns in 1892. “This look of being ‘festooned’ with ivy was typical of Olmsted’s design intent,” Bill said. 

Pergola todayBy 1895, wisteria was planted on the South Terrace and trained to grow out over the Pergola through gaps in the limestone wall created for this purpose. Nearly a century later, Biltmore’s landscape team removed the vines from the top to protect the walls from damage caused by roots, resulting in the leafy and peaceful setting enjoyed today. 

Shedding New Light on Historic Plants: Biltmore’s Butterfly Garden

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

Just before the Conservatory in the historic Walled Garden is Biltmore’s Butterfly Garden. With the installation of Chihuly at Biltmore—featuring “Cattails and Copper Birch Reeds” in this space—let’s take a closer look at its history and the history of the plants within it. 

ButterflyAccording to Bill Alexander, our Landscape and Forest Historian, the area now known as the Butterfly Garden was actually left blank on landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s original plans for the Walled Garden (which was then referred to as the Vegetable and Flower Garden).

About 30 years ago, the Walled Garden supervisor and her crew leader at the time asked Bill about the possibility of creating a garden for butterflies in the space.

It was an ideal location for such a garden. The ample amount of sunlight would provide desired warmth for the cold-blooded creatures, while the surrounding walls and exterior of the Conservatory offered the fragile beings protection from wind.

Bill agreed to the request with one paramount requirement: The flowers and herbs in the Butterfly Garden must draw heavily from Olmsted’s original list of plants used in the surrounding area.

Chihuly sculptures in the Butterfly Garden

Luckily enough, many of those historic plants offer bright foliage and vibrant blooms that produce nectar throughout the season—which makes them perfect for attracting butterflies.

This summer, guests and butterflies alike can enjoy almost a dozen plants original to the space:

– Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis)
– Tickseed (Coreopsis)
– Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum)
– Willowleaf Sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius)
– Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
– Alpine Poppy (Papaver alpinum)
– Fountaingrass (Pennisetum)
– Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)
– Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
– Sage (Salvia)
– Goldenrod (Solidago)

Peak bloom for the Butterfly Garden is mid to late summer, when most butterflies are active.

Join us and discover these beautiful historic plants in our Butterfly Garden as well as Chihuly’s unique glass sculptures that so perfectly complement the special space.

From the Ground Up: Preparing for Chihuly at Biltmore

Chihuly at Biltmore was on display from May 17 to October 7, 2018.
Please enjoy this archived content.

While still in high school, Clare Cottrell discovered two important things that would help shape her future: 1) it was possible to have a career in Public Horticulture, and 2) the location of her dream job was Biltmore.

Clare joined Biltmore’s landscaping team in 2007 after earning her degree in Horticulture Management at Bob Jones University. She served in a number of garden-related roles before becoming Supervisor of Gardens and Conservatory in 2017.

Clare Cottrell at work in Biltmore's Conservatory

Clare at work in the Conservatory

Chihuly at Biltmore

In addition to her day-to-day responsibilities supervising these areas, Clare was also involved with the preparations to host Chihuly at Biltmore—the first art exhibition in our historic gardens and the first North Carolina garden exhibition by artist Dale Chihuly whose works are included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide.

“The preparation for this exhibition was intense,” Clare said, “but it is wonderful to have our gardens be a focal point for guests in 2018.”

Base for Chihuly sculpture in Walled Garden at Biltmore

Base for one of the Chihuly sculptures in the Walled Garden

Planning and preparation

Planning for Chihuly at Biltmore—and its special evening component Chihuly Nights at Biltmore—began nearly two years ago and includes the addition of major infrastructure in our gardens. Power and data lines had to be in place before last year’s spring tulip bulbs were planted, and in a carefully timed three-month period during fall 2016, two crews spent three months installing underground utilities.

In November 2017, the foundations for Chihuly’s sculptures were installed, and some of the complimentary garden plantings were completed.

Chihuly sculpture mounted on its base (shown above) in the Walled Garden

“Specific types and colors of plants were planned around the sculptures and will change with the seasons,” said Clare. “Many of the botanical elements help provide a protective buffer for the artworks, such as low-growing juniper and sedges planted around the foundation of one of the large pieces in the Walled Garden.”

Towering palm in the Conservatory at Biltmore

Towering palm in the Conservatory

Palm project

According to Clare, some long-term garden maintenance projects had to be completed ahead of schedule to prepare for the exhibition.

“Because of the sculptures that are displayed in the Conservatory, we went ahead with a major overhaul of the Palm Room,” Clare said. “There are more than 200 palms in the Conservatory, and some of them are very old. We re-potted and repositioned them to focus the view on the ends where Chihuly’s Chandeliers are installed.”

Walled Garden and Conservatory at Biltmore

Walled Garden and Conservatory at Biltmore

The future looks bright

Even with the demands of the extra planning and preparation, Clare is excited that the estate is hosting Chihuly at Biltmore now through October 17, and she looks forward to the future.

“This exhibition has given us the opportunity to upgrade the infrastructure of the gardens, and that means we can try new ideas and events,” said Clare.

Featured blog image: Clare Cottrell, Supervisor of Gardens and Conservatory 

Garden Parties Are a Spring Tradition at Biltmore

Whether you’ve been to Biltmore many times or are just planning your first visit, Biltmore Blooms is a celebration of spring you won’t want to miss! 

Spring blooms in Biltmore's Shrub GardenA tradition of outdoor festivities

Spring was always a special time for the Vanderbilts as they enjoyed the beauty of Biltmore's grounds awakening from winter. The return of warmer weather also brought the opportunity to spend more time outdoors and to host garden parties and festivities for family and guests.

For several years during Cornelia Vanderbilt’s childhood, her family, along with estate residents and members of the local community, celebrated the season with a parade of flower-decked carriages in Biltmore Village.

On April 29, 1924, as Cornelia Vanderbilt prepared to marry the Honorable John F.A. Cecil, the gardens of Biltmore were called upon to play an important role in her wedding. Luckily, the acres of beautifully-landscaped shrubs and blooms were up to the task!

Cornelia and John Cecil's wedding party in the Tapestry Gallery at Biltmore“The flowers for Cornelia’s bridesmaids were ordered from New York, but they did not arrive on the train in time,” said Lizzie Borchers, Biltmore Floral Displays Manager. “So Biltmore’s gardeners came to the rescue, clipping forsythia, tulips, dogwood, quince, and other flowers and wiring them together. They were quite large compositions, twiggy, open, and very beautiful.”

Cornelia's garden party

Of course, summer was also a wonderful season for garden parties. In August 1925, Cornelia Cecil celebrated her 25th birthday with an open air ball at 9:30 p.m. in the Italian Garden. At least 300 guests were invited, and party-goers danced to the Charles Freicher Orchestra amidst the splendor of twinkling lights from Japanese lanterns placed in trees and shrubbery and torches flaring in potted plants. 

The Asheville Gazette described this garden party as “among the most elaborate and largest celebrations held at Biltmore House” since the estate was established. The write-up included details such as “the beautiful array of summer gowns of the many dancers made a scene as beautiful as that of gay moths and fireflies in a fairy garden,” and noted that a buffet supper was served at midnight. 

Celebrating Biltmore Blooms

Today, we continue to honor the Vanderbilt traditions of celebrating spring by bringing the outdoors into Biltmore House. Look for special floral arrangements throughout America’s Largest Home® during Biltmore Blooms.

A family picnic in Biltmore's gardensPlan your spring getaway today

Our restaurants and shops across the estate celebrate spring, too, with delicious seasonal menus and artful arrangements in each venue, plus special packages at The Inn on Biltmore Estate and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate. Make plans for your special spring getaway today!

Blog images
Featured image: Edith and Cornelia Vanderbilt in a flower-covered carriage for a spring parade in Biltmore Village, May 25, 1905
— First image: Spring color in the Shrub Garden
— Second image: Cornelia and John Cecil's wedding party—with bouquets from the gardens—in the Tapestry Gallery at Biltmore, April 29, 1924
— Third image: A family enjoys a spring getaway at Biltmore

Spring is a Special Time to Honor Olmsted

When Frederick Law Olmsted designed Biltmore’s historic gardens, he knew that spring would set the stage for all the glorious seasons to come. Today, our annual Biltmore Blooms celebration offers a timely tribute to Olmsted's springtime birthday.

Born April 26, 1822, Olmsted is known as “the father of American landscape architecture,” with premiere projects including Central Park in New York City and the grounds of California's Stanford University.

Olmsted's masterpiece

“There are many beautiful American parks and landscapes that reflect Olmsted's genius,” said Bill Alexander, Landscape & Forest Historian for Biltmore, “but it's the design for Biltmore that is considered Olmsted's masterpiece.”

According to Bill, Olmsted had already worked on several Vanderbilt family projects when George Vanderbilt approached him in 1888 for advice on the North Carolina property he’d already purchased.

“Now I have brought you here to examine it and tell me if I have been doing anything very foolish,” Vanderbilt reportedly told Olmsted.

A frank assessment

“Olmsted was frank in his assessment, advising Vanderbilt that the soil seemed to be generally poor, with most of the good trees having been culled already,” Bill said. “He noted that the topography was unsuitable for creating the type of park scenery that characterized the English country estates that Vanderbilt admired.”

Plans for both the house and landscape changed in 1889 when Vanderbilt and architect Richard Morris Hunt toured France together and the scale of Biltmore House and its surrounding gardens expanded.

Approach Road to Biltmore House in springSomething completely new

Olmsted wrote that he was nervous, not sure how to “merge stately architectural work with natural or naturalistic landscape work,” but Olmsted biographer Witold Rybczynki says that the landscape architect achieved something completely original at Biltmore: the first combination of French and English landscape designs.

“You can see Olmsted's creativity and skill in the transitions between Biltmore's formal and natural gardens, and his use of native plants, small trees and large shrubs, and color and texture year-round,” said Bill. 

Now that Biltmore welcomes 1.4 million guests each year, the historic gardens and grounds must be protected and preserved as carefully as Biltmore House and all other original parts of the estate.

White wisteria near the Gardener's Cottage in Biltmore's Walled GardenPreserving Olmsted's intent

“In addition to the impact of so many visitors, the landscape has changed and matured over the past century,” said Bill. “The challenge for today’s landscaping team lies in determining what Olmsted intended. The team uses archival resources such as early plans, original plant lists, letters of correspondence, weekly reports written during the construction of the estate, and information about Olmsted’s design philosophies to help them preserve the landscape style while remaining true to Olmsted's vision.”

Featured blog image: A couple enjoys Biltmore Blooms in the estate's historic gardens
First image: Lagoon view of Biltmore House
Second image: Spring view of the Approach Road to Biltmore House
Third image: White wisteria near the Gardener's Cottage in the Walled Garden

Around the Globe with Artist Dale Chihuly

Chihuly at Biltmore was on display from May 17 to October 7, 2018.
Please enjoy this archived content.

“Glass is the most magical of all materials. It transmits light in a special way.” – Dale Chihuly

Richard Royal, Charles Parriott, David Levy, Chihuly, and Brian Brenno, The Boathouse Hotshop, Seattle, © Chihuly Studio

In preparing to host Chihuly at Biltmore—the first art exhibition in Biltmore’s historic gardens and the first North Carolina garden exhibition by American artist Dale Chihuly—it is important to understand the impact of Chihuly’s work in the United States and around the globe. 

Early international exhibitions

Dale Chihuly is one of the most recognized artists in the world, and his work has been shown in public and private settings for more than four decades. Some of his earliest international exhibitions included São Paulo, Brazil, in 1979 and Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1980. By the late 1980s, Chihuly’s work had been displayed in Montreal, Paris, and Lisbon, setting the stage for an ever-increasing presence around the globe.

Creating icons

The 1990s featured the creation of many works of art that have become icons. For the development of the extraordinary Chihuly Over Venice exhibition, Chihuly traveled with his team of glassblowers to glass factories in Finland, Ireland, Mexico and Italy. Working with local glass masters, Chihuly took the opportunity to experiment and innovate, creating a new vocabulary of forms. In September 1996, Chandeliers from the international project were installed over the canals and piazzas of Venice. 

In 2000, more than one million visitors marveled at a dramatic range of sculptural installations during Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem at the Tower of David Museum. The project included installations of vibrant Red and Yellow Reeds, Green Grass, and Towers in hues of blue and white, and featured the monumental Crystal Mountain, a forty-seven foot high, thirty-three foot wide sculpture adorned by 2,000 rose colored Polyvitro crystals, among others.

​Glass and Gardens

Dale Chihuly with Float Boat, Denver Botanic Gardens, 2014, © Chihuly Studio

Chihuly’s lifelong fascination for glasshouses developed into a series of exhibitions within botanical settings. His Garden Cycle began in 2001 at Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. Chihuly exhibited at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, near London, in 2005, and at more than a dozen beautiful sites in the United States, including the New York and Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

Chihuly’s artwork is featured in more than 200 museum collections worldwide. In addition, there are permanent exhibitions in the U.S. and one in Japan, with others in development for 2018 and beyond.

Experiencing Chihuly at Biltmore

Dale Chihuly, Laguna Torcello (detail), 2012,© Chihuly Studio

We hope you will join us for Chihuly at Biltmore May 17–October 7, 2018. Enjoy the breathtaking installations by day, then discover an entirely new experience during Chihuly Nights at Biltmore with the effects of dramatic lighting upon the luminous colors and graceful forms of these awe-inspiring glass sculptures.

While Chihuly at Biltmore is included in estate admission, Chihuly Nights at Biltmore requires a separate ticket purchase. These special nighttime events are held on select evenings during the exhibition and feature a self-guided visit of the sculptures. 

The Top 5 Most Naturally Romantic Spots on the Estate

Biltmore’s stunning natural beauty and long tradition of hospitality have earned it recognition as a romantic destination for more than a century. But with 8,000 acres to explore, it can be hard to pick the perfect must-see spot to share with your loved one. Take a look at our list of the top five most naturally romantic locations on the estate.

Tea House

Strategically set on the far west corner of the South Terrace, this secluded spot offers sweeping views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountain vistas.Tea House

Tennis Lawn

Tucked away between the Pergola and the Shrub Garden is the Tennis Lawn, an often overlooked “outdoor room” with a fairy-tale view of America’s Largest Home.Tennis Lawn


Indoor enchantment awaits in Biltmore’s Conservatory, a private tropical oasis that houses a wide variety of exotic plants beneath its grand glass roof.Conservatory

Bass Pond Waterfall

An easy stroll down our Azalea Garden path leads to this rewarding view of the Bass Pond Waterfall—a picturesque backdrop for many Biltmore proposals.Bass Pond Waterfall

Shores of the Lagoon

Perfect for a picnic or a pleasant stroll, the shores of the Lagoon offer a number of quiet, cozy spots that have a marvelous view of Biltmore House in the distance.Lagoon

Biltmore is an ideal place to spend special time with your sweetheart. Plan your visit today.

Image credits
Feature image: Stephanie Wilson
Tea House image: Yu Lin Hsu
Tennis Lawn image: Jason Rosa
Conservatory image: The Biltmore Company
Bass Pond image: Breanoh Lafayette-Brooks
Lagoon image: Gary Horne

Groundbreaking Work in Gardens and Glass

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

Long known as the father of American landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted reached the pinnacle of his professional career with his landscape design for Biltmore–George Vanderbilt's magnificent private estate.

Portrait of Olmsted by John Singer SargentA vision for the future

In addition to developing the extensive plans for Biltmore, Olmsted was a true visionary–looking ahead more than a century to understand how his designs would mature to create a stunning setting for America’s Largest Home® that future generations would continue to preserve.

From gardens filled with glorious blooms to carefully managed forest lands, Olmsted's genius is recognized around the world and his contributions to the art and science of landscaping continue to be celebrated.

First in Forestry plaque with Gifford PinchotThe success of Olmsted's protégées is also directly attributable to his mentorship, from Biltmore's first forest manager Gifford Pinchot's who went on to serve as the first chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to Chauncey Beadle, Biltmore's estate supervisor who managed and nurtured Olmsted's designs for more than 50 years.

Masterpieces in gardens and glass
From May 17–October 7, 2018, Biltmore will host Chihuly at Biltmore, the first-ever art exhibition in our historic gardens. This exhibition features the works of globally-renowned artist Dale Chihuly set in the living backdrop of gardens that remain true to Frederick Law Olmsted's design intent.

Just as Olmsted is known as a leader in the development of landscape architecture, Chihuly is leader in the development of glass as a fine art and he is celebrated for amazing architectural installations combining brilliant colors and striking forms that have entranced viewers worldwide. Chihuly at Biltmore features awe-inspiring artworks in both Biltmore House & Gardens and Antler Hill Village.

Dazzling by daytime, the exhibition sparkles during Chihuly Nights at Biltmore, when the sculptures are illuminated to showcase their spectacular colors and shapes.

The Conservatory at BiltmorePlan your visit now

Chihuly at Biltmore is included in your estate admission. The dramatic experience of Chihuly Nights at Biltmore requires a separate ticket purchase and is offered on select evenings by reservation only.

Featured blog image: Biltmore's Walled Garden
— First image: Frederick Law Olmsted portrait by John Singer Sargent, located in Second Floor Living Hall of Biltmore House
— Second image: First in Forestry plaque at Biltmore, featuring Gifford Pinchot
— Third image: The Conservatory at Biltmore, which will feature several of Chihuly's
Chandeliers during the exhibition

Screaming Neon Red Takes Top Prize at the Biltmore International Rose Trials

An attention-getting fiery red rose named Screaming Neon Red (BAIneon) swept four out of seven categories at the recent finals of the 2017 Biltmore International Rose Trials. 

Bred by Ping Lim in Oregon for Bailey Nurseries, Inc., in Saint Paul, Minn., Screaming Neon Red took the top award, the George and Edith Vanderbilt Award for Most Outstanding Rose of the trials. Lim’s roses have taken categories in previous competitions, including the 2016 Pauline Merrell Award for Best Hybrid Tea, and 2015’s Gilded Age Award for Best Climber. 

In addition to winning the Best in Show Award, Screaming Neon Red took home the Lord Burleigh Award for Most Disease Resistant, the Chauncey Beadle Award for Best Shrub, and the William Cecil Award for Best Growth Habit.

Screaming Neon Red is part of Bailey Nurseries’ Easy Elegance Rose brand. It was among a collection of 30 roses planted for trials in 2015 in the western border of Biltmore’s historic Rose Garden. A permanent jury of rose experts judged the plantings four times a year during the trial’s two years.

Since 2011, Biltmore’s Rose Garden has been home to the trials in which nearly 200 varieties from growers and breeders worldwide have been planted and cared for by Biltmore’s expert horticulturalists.

Additional winners this year were:

Dee-Lish, bred by Meilland (MEIclusif), winner of the Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil Award for Most Fragrant Rose

Dee-Lish, winner of the Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil Award for Most Fragrant Rose

Lion King (LIMking), bred by Ping Lim, winner of the Edith Wharton Award for Best Floribunda

Lion King, winner of the Edith Wharton Award for Best Floribunda

Anastasia (ADAMariat), bred by Michel Adam, winner of the Pauline Merrell Award for Best Hybrid Tea

Anastasia, winner of the Pauline Merrell Award for Best Hybrid Tea

Roses competing for this year’s titles came from the U.S., France, Great Britain and Germany.

Trials of this type are open to rose breeders around the world – from professional to beginner. Competing roses are evaluated for overall health and rigor; fragrance; disease resistance; and ability to repeat bloom.

Congratulations to all of the winners!