Chauncey Beadle: Biltmore’s Azalea Hunter

A favorite pastime of Biltmore Blooms is 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 bloomThis parade of color is a testament to the passions of Chauncey Beadle, an avid azalea collector and horticulturist hired at Biltmore in 1890 who later became the estate superintendent.

“Beadle loved all plants, but he had a special fondness for native deciduous azaleas,” says Bill Alexander, Landscape & Forest Historian.

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.

Azalea in BloomsBeadle 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.

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

A Tribute to Beadle

In honor of his then fifty years of service to Biltmore, the estate held a celebration for Chauncey 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 Vanderbilt Gerry and Chauncey Beadle 1940During 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.

Field to Fryer to Fuel: The Life Cycle of Biltmore Canola

Continuing the legacy of environmental stewardship founded by George Vanderbilt, Biltmore has embarked on a project to produce biodiesel fuel from canola grown on our 8,000 acres.

We first experimented with planting canola on the estate in Fall 2013. The following summer’s harvest was so bountiful, we decided to turn the experiment into a long-term initiative.

But before we get into that, let’s start with the basics.

Close-up of CanolaWHAT IS CANOLA?

Bred to be less acidic, canola is a cultivar of rapeseed and part of the same plant family as mustard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.

The Canadian scientists who created the plant also created the term canola, a combination of the words Canadian and ola (which translates to oil). Ola is also understood as an acronym for oil low acid.

At full bloom, a canola plant stands three to five feet tall with vivid yellow flowers and small seed pods. The blackish-brown seeds within are tiny—about the size of poppy seeds—but are made up of 45% oil.

The high oil content of canola seeds and the crop’s ability to thrive throughout southeast winters make it ideal for our purposes.

WHAT IS BIODIESEL?

Biodiesel is a form of fuel made from vegetable oil that can be used in diesel engines without modification. When used alone, biodiesel is entirely non-toxic and biodegradable.

The renewable fuel is often blended with diesel fuel to prevent it from solidifying in cold weather. However, biodiesel blends still emit fewer greenhouse gases than diesel alone, making them more environmentally-friendly alternatives.

Canola field in bloomPHASE 1: FIELD

Each September, we plant up to 50 acres of canola from non-genetically modified organism (GMO) seed. To discourage pests and disease, it is grown in a 4-year rotation with corn, soybeans, and small grains, which ultimately helps to increase the yield of each crop.

By May, the brightly colored blooms are seen in various locations around the estate. About a month later, the harvest yields around 50 bushels of canola seed per acre. The seeds are stored in a moisture-controlled silo near Long Valley Barn, an original farm structure on the west side of the estate, until they are ready for the next step.

Canola seedsPHASE 2: FRYER

The seeds are then transported to AgStrong, a family-owned company in northern Georgia, to be crushed and refined into food-grade cooking oil. The AgStrong refinery uses the Expeller Pressed method, which is a mechanical and chemical-free oil extraction technique.

The result is high-quality canola cooking oil—and by “high-quality,” we mean it is:

  • Non-GMO verified
  • High in monounsaturated fat
  • High in omega-3 fat
  • A good source of vitamins E and K
  • Low in saturated fat
  • Free of trans fat and cholesterol

Each harvest produces an average of 5,000 gallons of cooking oil. The oil is returned to the estate to be used in our restaurants.

Long Valley BarnPHASE 3: FUEL

After our restaurants use the oil for cooking and frying food, we collect it, along with other waste vegetable oil, and transfer it into the BioPro™, an automated biodiesel processor, housed in Long Valley Barn.

The BioPro works much like a dishwasher: simply load it, press the START button, and let the machine do its job. With the input of spent cooking oil, water, and a few chemicals, the BioPro essentially separates the glycerin from the oil, creating biodiesel.

We produce an average of 7,500 gallons of pure biodiesel on the estate annually. The biodiesel is then typically blended with diesel fuel to create B20 biodiesel, a mixture of 20% biofuel and 80% diesel, and used to power nearly 100 pieces of farming equipment.
Farm equipment

Inside Biltmore Blooms: Balancing Books and Blossoms

Each spring, our floral team is tasked with creating imaginative displays throughout America’s largest home in honor of Biltmore Blooms. This year’s theme is “Celebration of Flowers,” highlighting Vanderbilt family celebrations. However, as Biltmore Blooms is coinciding with Designed for Drama: Fashion from the Classics, our new exhibition inspired by George Vanderbilt’s love of literature, you may also notice another motif in the decorative arrangements: books.

Floral display in Entrance Hall for Biltmore BloomsThe floral design in the Entrance Hall often introduces the theme for each event and exhibition, and this spring is no exception. The most notable element is a massive swirl of natural dried honeysuckle vines, somewhat resembling a tornado, suspended over the table. Amid the faux and dried flowers are printed pages and books from local thrift stores that appear to be flying.

Floral display in Entrance Hall for Biltmore Blooms“We hope this feature might suggest to our guests that the books and the knowledge they represent can become creative inspiration—something much greater than ‘just a book,’” explains Cathy Barnhardt, Floral Displays manager.

Floral display in Entrance Hall for Biltmore BloomsBeneath the beautiful whirlwind, the Entrance Hall table is covered with an eclectic collection of ferns and orchids—the same flower that adorned Cornelia Vanderbilt’s 25th birthday celebration—as well as glass cloches and vases, magnifying glasses, and books, bringing together both themes of the season in a seamless fashion.

Floral display in Entrance Hall for Biltmore BloomsAnchoring the table display is a large Wardian case with even more orchids inside. The petite glass greenhouse gives the display a whimsical feel, but it also serves as a nod to the delicate flower’s unique history. In the early 1800s, orchids and other exotic plants were shipped from the tropics in protective Wardian cases to make their European debut.

Floral display in Entrance Hall for Biltmore Blooms“The table décor suggests that George Vanderbilt’s love of books and knowledge came together with his love of home and gardens to create Biltmore,” says Cathy.

Join us this spring as we celebrate Biltmore Blooms and Designed for Drama with this breathtaking display and more.

Desperately Seeking Springtime? Try Biltmore’s Conservatory!

Each spring, we welcome the return of the season with our annual Biltmore Blooms celebration. In the midst of winter, however, Biltmore's Conservatory offers an indoor tropical oasis that's as welcome as a breath of spring. The colorful blooms and sheer number of different plants are amazing inside this indoor garden that anchors the Walled Garden.

The Conservatory in the Walled Garden at BiltmoreA passion for horticulture

Completed in 1895, the Conservatory embodies the late 19th-century passion for horticulture. It was a collaboration between George Vanderbilt, Frederick Law Olmsted, the estate’s landscape architect, and Richard Morris Hunt, who designed Biltmore House. Hunt designed the structure while Olmsted weighed in on the location.

“Olmsted wrote to Hunt in March 1889, discussing several landscape considerations including positioning the Conservatory out of view from the house,” said Bill Alexander, Landscape and Forest Historian. “This was in keeping with Olmsted’s desire to create a natural landscape and uninterrupted view.”

Succulents growing in Biltmore's ConservatoryLike other conservatories in the early 1900s, Biltmore’s glass-enclosed building sheltered exotic and tropical plants from around the world. But this facility was much more than a pretty place to showcase rare plants; it also fulfilled Vanderbilt’s vision of Biltmore as a self sufficient, working estate. The structure nurtured tender young seedlings for transplanting outdoors and housed gardeners’ workspaces, tools and equipment.

It’s also unique from other circa 1900 conservatories. “Ours has a full basement underneath it; I don’t know of any other conservatory that has one,” Bill said. “Olmsted and Hunt used the lay of the land to create a functional work space.”

For a building made primarily of glass, it’s remarkable that the Conservatory’s design and construction stood the test of time for more than a century. In 1997, the structure received an extensive two-year renovation.

“We focused on much-needed repairs while restoring much of the floor plan to the original 1893 design,” said Bill. “I believe George Vanderbilt, who was fascinated with technology and innovations, would have been excited by everything we did to preserve this historic building.”

The Orchid Room in the Conservatory at BiltmoreOrchids on display

One of the highlights of the Conservatory is the Orchid Room, where Marc Burchette, orchid specialist, cares for more than 500 plants in the collection. Jordana Chalnik, Conservatory Horticulturist, and Kathryn Marsh, Conservatory Gardener, assist Marc as needed with care and displaying of plants.

“Our collection highlights five major groups of orchids,” said Marc, who also serves as vice president of the WNC Orchid Society. “A large portion is orchids people generally know, like corsage orchids which come in every color imaginable. We also have lady slipper orchids and small, yellow-flowered dancing lady orchids.”

Yellow orchids in Biltmore's ConservatoryMarc most admires the diversity of orchids, explaining that there are 25,000 to 30,000 species growing in every ecosystem except Antarctica.

“They are diverse in every respect, from the shape of their flowers to the way they trick pollinators like bees or humming birds, because there is rarely any nectar or pollen in the blooms,” said Marc. “They are fascinating.”

If you enjoyed reading this post, you might also like to explore Winter Warmer-Upper and Biltmore's Hidden Garden.

Featured image: Peaceful seating area inside the Conservatory
First image: Conservatory in the Walled Garden
Second image: Succulents in a decorative urn
Third image: The Orchid Room in the Conservatory
Fourth image: Yellow orchids in the Orchid Room

Explore Our 22 Miles of Trails

Whether you’re at Biltmore for a short stay or are an Annual Passholder, exploring Biltmore’s 22 miles of trails is an excellent way to get some outdoor exercise. From leisurely strolls to intense workouts, our trails offer a variety of routes that can be tailored to your skill level, and of course, spectacular views throughout each season.

We’ve listed some of our recommended routes below, and please refer to our Garden Map or Trail Map before you embark. All of the trails listed below are pet-friendly, well-maintained, and offer guests the peace-of-mind that comes with being located on private property. For more infomation, please contact the Outdoor Adventure Center at 828-225-1331.

Relaxed

Walk in our manicured gardens on paved paths in Biltmore's Italian and Shrub Gardens
Walk in our manicured gardens on paved paths in our historic gardens

Historic Gardens (walking) – This popular leisurely walking path incorporates the Italian Garden (gravel), Shrub Garden (paved), Walled Garden (paved) and Spring Garden (mulch), stretching about 1-2 miles depending on the particular paths you choose. Enjoy the seasonal blooms with the benefit of several benches along the way to stop, catch your breath, and admire Biltmore’s beauty. Please note, some access points to the Shrub Garden and Walled Garden require going up or down railed stairways. 

Azalea Garden (walking) – This mostly-paved walking path can be accessed from either the Spring Garden or Walled Garden. This lovely path allows guests to go even deeper into Biltmore’s historic gardens, offering benches along the way, and leads to Bass Pond Waterfall, Boat House, and spectacular views across the Bass Pond at approximately 1 mile.

Moderate

View from the Lagoon of the West Side of Biltmore House
View from the Lagoon of the West Side of Biltmore House

Lagoon Trail (walking, running, biking) – This mostly flat, paved trail leads to the Lagoon, which offers a striking view of the west side of Biltmore House (a popular picnic spot). Start and end at Antler Hill Village for a pleasant 3-mile trip while the French Broad River and estate farmland provide pleasant scenery. 

Farm Trail (walking, running, biking) – This this flat gravel and dirt road runs along the permieter of Biltmore’s grounds and the French Broad River. Totaling 6 miles, this trail also leads into the Arbor Trace Trail at one end, and the Lagoon Trail at the other.

Westover Trails (hiking, biking, trail running) – Access this set of Biltmore trails from the Bike Barn or The Inn on Biltmore Estate to see some of Biltmore’s beautiful woodland. Loop these The green (1.7 miles) and blue routes (2.8 miles) allow guests to be immersed in nature while offering wide enough trails for a comfortable experience and just a few rolling hills to get your heart pumping.

Challenging

On Biltmore's Westover trails, a bridge in the woods
Biltmore Westover trails

Westover Trails (hiking, trail-running, biking) – The black route totals 3.5 miles round-trip inside Biltmore’s beautiful woodland. The narrow trail offers steep hills and is great for a technical single-track bike ride, or authentic hiking experience.

Arbor Trace Trail (hiking, trail-running, biking) – This Biltmore trail can only be accessed by first following the Farm Trail. The 3.5 mile roundtrip route travels in and out of the woods providing scenic views of the estate’s agriculture and the historic Cottage on Biltmore Estate. The last stretch of the trail (black) is quite narrow and an optional loop.

Deerpark Trail (walking, running, biking) – This challenging uphill treck is quite popular due to the stunning view of Biltmore’s backside it offers. For an even longer challenge, start at Antler Hill Village and take the Farm Trail, to the Lagoon Trail which will meet Deerpark Trail. 

Gingerbread Architecture: Incredible AND Edible!

Ever since The Inn on Biltmore Estate opened in 2001, its Christmas at Biltmore decorations have included a miniature version of the hotel made from gingerbread. This year, however, Pastry Chef Cheryl Brookhouzen changed things up with her Walled Garden-inspired gingerbread Conservatory!

Gingerbread fox builds a snowmanAccording to her co-workers, Chef Brookhouzen’s vision and attention to detail make this gingerbread display truly over-the-top spectacular. Special features include rotating Christmas trees in the front and back, a lighted roof and windows, charming animals, and a host of other miniature touches.

Gingerbread Conservatory at The Inn on Biltmore Estate“We’ve been doing a gingerbread model of The Inn for nearly 15 years, so I thought it was time to try something new,” said Chef Brookhouzen of her design. “I hope that having something so different will delight our guests and make them interested in seeing what we create next year.”

Details of the gingerbread roof at The Inn on Biltmore EstateGingerbread Conservatory Fun Facts

1. The Conservatory was constructed with the help of 11 members of The Inn’s team, from pastry professionals to engineering, banquet, and purchasing services
2. Chef Brookhouzen baked the gingerbread in large slabs before cutting it into the right shapes
3. The display required 175 pounds of gingerbread dough, 160 pounds of powdered sugar, and more than 15 kinds of candy and snacks such as Kit-Kats, M&Ms, Sixlets, Sour Tape, Hershey's chocolate bars, pretzels, old-fashioned candy sticks, mint candies, chocolate bears, chocolate caramel balls, chocolate leaves, lollipop trees, and more*
4. The windows and roof are made of poured isomalt sugar
5. The Conservatory shines with 800 white lights

*An additional 4 pounds of candy was consumed by the builders of the Conservatory!

Bringing the outdoors in at Christmas

From dozens of decorated trees to miles of garland (yes, miles!), Christmas at Biltmore is a season characterized by twinkling lights, beautiful ornaments, and breathtaking floral arrangements throughout America’s largest home.

Although the general impression of the decked halls in Biltmore House is one of glittering splendor, some of the decorative elements are stunningly simple, owing their beauty to Mother Nature’s handiwork rather than any man-made creation.

Gathering hydrangeas in Biltmore's gardens“I’m all about less is more,” said Betsey Baker, a member of the Biltmore Floral team. Betsey came to Biltmore in 1999 as a plant expert at A Gardener’s Place, the charming garden and gift shop located beneath the Conservatory in the Walled Garden. In 2001, she joined Floral, which included cutting privileges for the gardens and grounds, and Betsey embraced the concept of “bringing the outdoors in” that meshed with her own natural style. Though officially retired for several years, Betsey continues to work with Floral on a reserve basis.

“For me, the beauty of arranging plants and flowers is that they tell me where they want to go,” Betsey said of her personal design aesthetic.

Christmas hydrangeas in the Music RoomThat was never more apparent than in 2009 when the estate’s theme was “Flowers, Fields, and Forests.” Betsey, who has cutting privileges in Biltmore’s gardens, created a particularly lush display featuring mounds of dried Hydrangea macrophylla that she harvested from the estate, spread out to dry, and then incorporated into her plan for the Music Room.

Dried hydrangeas in the Music Room“This type of hydrangea produces a large “head” of pale green blooms that is very full and tightly packed,” Betsey said. “After I clipped the heads, I hung them upside down to dry. As they dried, some of the flowers took on a warm cream and bronze hue, with beautiful pink tips. It gave the Music Room a natural blush of color that softened the massive mantel and drew out subtle tones in the woodwork and the furnishings.”

For Christmas at Biltmore this year, Betsey worked almost entirely with live plants in areas including the Halloween Room, Stone Hallway, and the Loggia.

“I used a lot of nursery plants and mixed in some tropical specimens that you’d expect to find in the house or in the Conservatory this time of year,” said Betsey. “I kept it simple, but it definitely brings a living, breathing energy to those areas of Biltmore House that aren’t traditionally decorated with Christmas trees and floral arrangements.”

Fall Garden Maintenance at Biltmore

As fall beauty begins to blanket the estate, our dedicated garden crew is busy preparing the grounds for cooler temperatures. Of course, the blowing and raking of leaves is a seemingly never-ending task among the crew this time of year, but here's a peek into a few of their other duties.  

Gardener cleaning out Italian Garden pools

After their summertime glory, Marc Montrell (pictured) is working to gather fading lilies from the Italian Garden ponds over the next few weeks. Along with all of our raked leaves across the estate, they will be composted. Many of our guests ask what happens to the koi during this time, but they actually remain in the ponds and hibernate over winter!

Gardener John Smith pruning roses

There are still many gorgeous blooms in the Rose Garden, but there is a lot of pruning and “deadheading” to be done over the next couple of weeks. A preliminary trim to mid-height is done in late November, with the final cutting in late winter when the roses are dormant. Gardener John Smith (pictured) notes that this method may not apply in other gardens, at Biltmore's Rose Garden acts as it’s own ecosystem, protected by the stone walls which retain heat and offer protection from the wind.

Clare Whittington watering evergreen trees in front of Biltmore House

The Garden crew recently planted winter evergreens such as Blue Spruce, Hemlock and Magnolia trees in the large pots along Biltmore's front door. Gardner Clare Whittington (pictured) notes that watering these potted trees must be done frequently, and are constantly monitored during freezing temperatures in the winter.

No matter what time of year guests visit, this wonderful team works hard to ensure the gardens and grounds are beautiful. Visit the Gardens & Grounds section of our website for more information about what's featured throughout the year.

“Polar Express Sunbelt” sweeps the 2016 Biltmore International Rose Trials

A jury of rose experts from around the world has selected the winning roses in the 2016 Biltmore International Rose Trials, held recently in Biltmore’s historic Rose Garden.

Polar Express Sunbelt (photo above), bred by Kordes (KORblixmu), took the top award: the George and Edith Vanderbilt Award for Most Outstanding Rose of the Trials.

Since 2011, Biltmore’s historic Rose Garden has been home to the trials in which more than 150 varieties from growers and breeders worldwide have been planted and cared for by Biltmore’s expert horticulturalists.

In addition to winning Best in Show, Polar Express Sunbelt won the Edith Wharton Award for Best Floribunda, and the William Cecil Award for Best Growth Habit.

Additional winners this year were:

Honeymoon Arborose, bred by Kordes (KORhemtra), winner of the Gilded Age Award for Best Climber and the Lord Burleigh Award for Most Disease Resistant

 

Double 10, bred by Ping Lim (LIM10), winner of the Pauline Merrell Award for Best Hybrid Tea

The Lark Ascending, bred by David Austin Roses (Ausursula), winner of the Chauncey Beadle Award for Best Shrub

Each trial lasts two years and a permanent jury judges the roses four times per year. This year’s final round of competition started with 31 entries planted in 2014 from Canada, the U.S., France, Ireland, 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!

Biltmore's Rose Garden receives Award of Garden Excellence

During the trials event, Biltmore’s rosarian Emily Wilson and past American Rose Society president Jolene Adams unveiled an award in honor of Biltmore’s historic Rose Garden: the World Federation of Rose Societies Award of Garden Excellence. Biltmore’s rose garden is one of only 10 gardens in the United States and 62 worldwide to receive it. Susan Fox, one of the Rose Trials jurors, tells us that gardeners and garden lovers travel just to see the gardens that receive this award. We are honored to have received it! 

Preserving the Legacy of Cornelia’s “Baby Tree”

George and Edith Vanderbilt welcomed the arrival their first and only child—a daughter named Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt—in the late summer of 1900. George Vanderbilt and baby Cornelia, 1900In October of that year, a cucumbertree magnolia, known to botanists as Magnolia acuminata, was planted in Cornelia’s honor, just after her christening.

The cucumbertree is a deciduous magnolia with large oblong leaves. Unlike most other magnolias, its flowers are yellowish green and not very showy, causing them to often go unnoticed when they bloom in late May or early June. In its early stages, the green, fleshy fruit roughly resembles a small cucumber, hence the tree’s name.

Biltmore’s botanist, Chauncey Beadle, had collected the scarlet seeds of this indigenous tree found growing along the banks of the French Broad River near the estate. Beadle, who would later develop a close bond with Cornelia, propagated the seeds in the Biltmore Nursery

Beadle wrote:

“The seedlings resulting from this sowing were planted out in nursery rows, cultivated and pruned and eventually, placed along the roads and paths of the Estate with the exception of one tree, a particularly beautiful and thrifty individual, which remained on [sic] the nursery until chosen for the noteworthy occasion of which this writing bears record.”

Second Generation Cucumbertree MagnoliaThe Planting Ceremony

The planting of the cucumbertree magnolia, known fondly as the “baby tree” or “Cornelia’s tree,” was a small and intimate event. The Vanderbilt family, Beadle, Dr. Samuel Westray Battle, and a few estate workers were the only attendants.

A 1900 Asheville Daily Citizen article states:

“The spot selected is in a beautiful grassy dell near Biltmore House. The tree itself, now but a sapling of twelve feet in height, is expected to be 60 feet above the ground when little Cornelia reaches the age of 20 years. A few years after that event, it is expected that it will reach a height of 100 feet. It lives centuries, and is one of the prides of our beautiful southern forests.”

The baby tree grew to be massive, standing proudly in the Azalea Garden, just below the junction of the two main paths leading into the garden below the Conservatory and greenhouses.

A Legacy’s Second Generation

After surviving more than a century, the baby tree succumbed to decay. Though a difficult decision, it was removed in September 2008. By that time, the cucumbertree magnolia—once a precious symbol of new life—had lost most of its bark and had just a few remaining branches.

Plaque of Second Generation Cucumbertree Magnolia

Fortunately, the historical significance of the tree along with the gorgeous color and diversity of its wood grain made its timber ideal for repurposing. The usable wood was custom sawn into thick slabs and dried to create “high boy” cocktail tables at Cedric’s Tavern in Antler Hill Village as well as a 15-foot table located in the Stable Conference Room at Biltmore House.
 
Today, the second generation cucumbertree magnolia, which seeded naturally when the original baby tree was still living, can be found thriving in the same exact location in the Azalea Garden, preserving the legacy of this historic tree.
 
Images
Featured: The Planting of Cornelia’s Tree, 1900
Top Right: George Vanderbilt and baby Cornelia, 1900
Left: Cucumbertree Magnolia, second generation
Right: Second generation Cucumbertree Magnolia plaque