Meet Our Farmers

From the beginning, George Vanderbilt envisioned Biltmore as a working estate and farm. He set aside the acres of rich, rolling land along the French Broad River for raising healthy livestock and growing food for Biltmore House, with surplus produce to be sold in the community. We continue to honor that legacy today through the efforts of a highly-specialized team of “farmers” who oversee our field-to-table program and other agricultural initiatives. Let us introduce you to our farming experts:

 

Dr. Ted Katsigianis
Vice President of Agriculture and Environmental Science

Before joining Biltmore, Dr. Ted Katsigianis earned Masters and Ph.D. degrees in animal science at Penn State and worked as a livestock extension specialist at the Universities of Kentucky and Maryland. In the past three decades, he has overseen the vineyards, the estate’s production gardens, and much more. Today, “Dr. Ted,” as he's affectionately known, serves as Vice President of Agriculture and Environmental Science and is in charge of raising antibiotic and hormone-free beef and lamb served in estate restaurants.

 

Eli Herman
Production Garden Manager

Eli Herman serves as Biltmore's Production Garden Manager, overseeing all aspects of the estate's field to table gardens, including frequent meetings with Biltmore chefs to discuss their menus and ongoing needs for the freshest seasonal vegetables. In his more than three decades with Biltmore, Eli has filled a variety of roles including Vineyard Supervisor and Kitchen Garden Manager, and has served as a Master Gardener Volunteer at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.

 

 

Philip Oglesby
Vineyard Supervisor

Philip Oglesby began picking grapes in Biltmore’s vineyard in 1997. Eighteen years later, Philip serves as Vineyard Supervisor and is responsible for managing the acres of grapes on the estate’s west side, the vineyard staff that care for the vines year-round, and the seasonal crews that harvest the fruit.

Unusual Biltmore Jobs: Rosarian

You could say that Emily Wilson’s interest in plants runs in her family: the Georgia native attended Auburn University, graduating from the College of Agriculture with a horticulture degree in Landscape Design, following in the footsteps of her mother who also graduated from Auburn with the same degree.

Whether gardening or rock climbing, Emily enjoys a wide range of outdoor adventures. Before moving to Asheville, she worked as a climbing and backpacking guide in Laramie, Wyoming.

“You can imagine how much fun that was,” Emily said, “but I missed my family and working with plants, so I came back home to the South.”

Biltmore's Rose Garden and ConservatoryEmily joined Biltmore’s horticulture team in 2012 and rose to the role of Lead Gardener at the Inn on Biltmore Estate. “It’s a wonderful place to work because of the wonderful people who work there,” she said, “so when the opportunity arose to become the estate’s rosarian, it was really difficult for me to leave those folks at the inn.”

According to Emily, taking care of Biltmore’s Historic Rose Garden is a dynamic job. “As highly scrutinized, ornamental plants that have a lot of pest and disease pressure, it takes a considerable amount of care to keep roses looking their best,” Emily explained. “Plus, there are over 2,000 roses in the garden…that’s a lot of roses!”

Some of Emily’s basic rosarian responsibilities include managing insect and disease problems, managing soil quality and the plants’ nutrition and irrigation needs, assessing rose quality, ordering new roses, rose installation, pruning, deadheading, mulching, weeding (yes, even Biltmore gets the occasional weed!), and so much more.

Red roses in Biltmore's garden“We also host International Rose Trials,” said Emily. “Rose breeders from all over the world send their roses to us to be trialed. We plant these ‘newfangled’ roses and grow them for a few years. During this time judges come to assess their quality, and at the end of three years the best roses are given awards for excellence. The purpose of these trials is to find the most beautiful, disease resistant, quality roses that just about anyone can grow, and we hope it will allow rose gardening to seem accessible to everyone.”

Surprisingly, Emily used to think she didn’t much care for roses. “I don’t know—maybe it was the thorns or the notoriety,” she said, “but look at me now—I’m starry-eyed and rose-obsessed!”

International Rose Trials: 2015 Winners Announced

Biltmore International Rose Trials judges make their way through the varieties on trial that were first planted in the Walled Garden in 2013.

On Saturday morning, ladies and gents arrived at the historic Rose Garden in fashionable hats, some adorned with likenesses of the flower they were there to honor: roses. The sun hadn’t completely risen when the parade of rose devotees began, and its filtered light created the perfect atmospheric condition for the reviewing and photographing of the morning’s main attraction.

Cameras and clipboards in hand, members of an international jury started the morning by judging the annual Biltmore International Rose Trials. Growers, distributors and all-around rose appreciators joined them for the event, the culmination of two years’ growth of roses submitted by breeders in 2013 to be cared for and tested by Biltmore’s expert gardening team. Rose breeds from the U.S. and several other countries made it through preliminary judging rounds for Saturday’s final contest.

A dusky pink rose named “Savannah” emerged as the morning’s star. “Savannah” took the George & Edith Vanderbilt Award for Most Outstanding Rose of the Trials, in other words Best in Show. “Savannah” is bred by Kordes Rosen in Germany, and also captured the categories for Best Hybrid Tea and Most Fragrant. Interestingly enough, two roses bred by Bill Radler took three categories. Radler is creator of the family of roses known as Knock Out, familiar in both home gardening and professional landscaping circles.

Pat Shanley, international jury member and president-elect of the American Rose Society, spoke later at the awards luncheon. These trials, she said, provide an opportunity to not only admire the beauty of roses, but to eradicate the long-thought notion that roses are difficult to grow and need to be treated with pesticides. The roses trialed at Biltmore’s contest are bred especially for the casual gardener to grow and nurture. 

The trial roses are on display amid rose specimens that have been growing in Biltmore’s Rose Garden for more than 100 years. Guests at Biltmore are welcome to stroll through and judge for themselves.  
Congratulations to all of the winners of the 2015 Biltmore International Rose Trials!  Here is the complete winners’ list:

“Savannah,” bred by Kordes Rosen in Germany, winner of the George & Edith Vanderbilt Award for Most Outstanding Rose of the Trials (Best in Show); the Pauline Merrell Award for Best Hybrid Tea; and the Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil Award for Most Fragrant Rose.

“Savannah,” bred by Kordes Rosen in Germany, winner of the George & Edith Vanderbilt Award for Most Outstanding Rose of the Trials (Best in Show); the Pauline Merrell Award for Best Hybrid Tea; and the Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil Award for Most Fragrant Rose.

“Peachy Keen,” bred by Bill Radler, of Milwaukee, Wisc., winner of the Chauncey Beadle Award for Best Shrub Rose; and the Lord Burleigh Award for Most Disease Resistant.

“Peachy Keen,” bred by Bill Radler, of Milwaukee, Wisc., winner of the Chauncey Beadle Award for Best Shrub Rose; and the Lord Burleigh Award for Most Disease Resistant.

The Award of Excellence for Best Established Rose: “Queen Elizabeth,” a Grandiflora rose

The Award of Excellence for Best Established Rose: “Queen Elizabeth,” a Grandiflora rose.

The Edith Wharton Award for Best Floribunda: “Tequila Gold,” bred by Meilland in France

The Edith Wharton Award for Best Floribunda: “Tequila Gold,” bred by Meilland in France.

The Honorable John Cecil for Open Group: “Popcorn Drift,” bred by Nova Flora, a breeder in West Grove, Pa.

The Honorable John Cecil for Open Group: “Popcorn Drift,” bred by Nova Flora, a breeder in West Grove, Pa.

The Gilded Age Award for Best Climber: “FlyingKiss” bred by Ping Lim, based in Portland, Oregon

The Gilded Age Award for Best Climber: “FlyingKiss” bred by Ping Lim, based in Portland, Oregon

The William Cecil Award for Best Growth Habit: “Phloxy Baby,” bred by Bill Radler, of Milwaukee, Wisc.

The William Cecil Award for Best Growth Habit: “Phloxy Baby,” bred by Bill Radler, of Milwaukee, Wisc.

Historic Hand-Colored Postcards

Each September, we turn our gardening attention to a friendly competition taking place in a corner of Biltmore's Walled Garden. Here, a jury gathers in the historic Rose Garden to evaluate roses bred by professionals and beginners on fragrance, overall health and rigor, and ability to repeat bloom. It’s part of the Biltmore International Rose Trials, scheduled this year for September 28-29.

Rooted in our past

Roses are rooted in Biltmore’s past. The Rose Garden is original to the Walled Garden, and is thought to have been used to promote the estate when John and Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil first opened the doors of Biltmore House for public tours in 1930.

From black-and-white to color

At that time Chauncey Beadle, a horticulturalist and the estate’s superintendent, worked with a postcard company to produce a set of 26 hand-colored postcards based on a series of black-and-white photographs taken by George Masa, known for his documentation of and preservation efforts for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Because color photographic film was rare at the time, it was a popular practice to hand-color photographs and postcards.

Original photo of Biltmore's Rose Garden by George Masa, c. 1930

Original photo of Biltmore's Rose Garden and Conservatory; George Masa, c. 1930

Photo of Biltmore's Rose Garden by Christopher Shane, 2011

Timeless images

During the first year of our International Rose Trials in 2011, local photographer Christopher Shane was on assignment for WNC Magazine and captured nearly the same angle of the Rose Garden at peak bloom that George Masa had shot 70 years earlier. Except for the English Ivy above and around the windows of the Conservatory, it could almost be a mirror image of Masa's black-and-white photos.

Featured blog photo: One of 26 hand-colored postcards that Chauncey Beadle worked to have produced around 1930 

Early Spring Rose Care Tips

Whether you believe it or not, growing and maintaining roses is not that difficult. Roses will keep growing and blooming even if we neglect them entirely. However, like with most things, roses benefit from a little TLC. At Biltmore, we take a proactive approach to gardening – with roses in particular. Most of the efforts you make in caring for your roses in early spring will mean fewer problems during the growing season. Here are a few tips from Biltmore's rose garden experts!

1. Prune starting in late March, or when Forsythia starts to bloom. Any earlier before the leaf buds swell and you’re chancing it should a late freeze come along.

2. Start with simple clean-up: Remove deadwood, diseased or damaged canes. Then, thin out the branches as needed to promote air flow and new growth. Remove crossing canes.

3. When temperatures are right, remove any excess soil, mulch, leaves and debris you used to protect bushes in winter. This allows for much needed sunlight on the plant to force new canes from the base.

4. Once buds start to open, apply fertilizer to bushes. Try a mix of one half-cup of cottonseed meal, a half-cup of bone meal and blood meal, and ¼ cup of Epsom salts for each plant. That gives your roses a little kick-start for the season.

With roses being a part of Biltmore's culture since Olmsted's original design and hosting the International Rose Trials since 2011, our garden crew knows a thing or two about proper rose care. Comment with your questions below, or share photos of your roses on Biltmore's social media pages!  

Photo: 2014 winner George & Edith Vanderbilt Award for Most Outstanding Rose Of The Trials (Best in Show) “Miracle On The Hudson,” bred by Robert Neil Rippetoe of California

Happy Birthday, Frederick Law Olmsted

In April, we remember Biltmore’s landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, born April 26, 1822. Often referred to as the “Father of Landscape Architecture in America,” he’s best known today as the designer of Central Park in New York City.

Prior to becoming a landscape architect, Olmsted was first a seaman, farmer, then a journalist and founder of The Nation magazine, which still exists today. Portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted by John Singer Sargent

During the Civil War, he served as Executive Secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission (a precursor to the Red Cross). Central Park, which he co-designed with Calvert Vaux, was his first landscape design although ultimately his firm completed more than 500 projects.

Olmsted knew William Henry Vanderbilt, George Vanderbilt’s father, when they both lived on Staten Island, and the designer had already worked on several Vanderbilt family projects when George Vanderbilt approached him in 1888 to advise on 2,000 acres of 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,” he reportedly told Olmsted.

Olmsted gave a frank assessment. He advised Vanderbilt: “The soil seems to be generally poor. The woods are miserable, all the good trees having again and again been culled out and only the runts left. The topography is most unsuitable for anything that can properly be called park scenery. My advice would be to make a small park in which you look from your house, make a small pleasure ground and gardens; farm your river bottoms chiefly and . . .keep and fatten livestock with a view to manure and . . .make the rest a forest.”

Workers construct approach roadPlans 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 expanded.

Olmsted wrote that he was nervous, not sure how to “merge stately architectural work with natural or naturalistic landscape work.” But the architect and landscape designer worked together “without a note of discord,” and Olmsted biographer Witold Rybczynki says that the landscape architect achieved something completely original at Biltmore: the first combination of French and English landscape designs.

Transitions between formal and natural gardens were important, as was the use of native plants, small trees and large shrubs, and color and texture year-round.

Biltmore would prove to be Olmsted’s last design. As he approached the end of his work on the estate, he said “It is a great work of peace we are engaged in and one of these days we will all be proud of our parts in it.” He said Biltmore was “the most permanently important public work” of his career. More than 120 years after his work, we continue to benefit from his vision.

Photos

Top: The Approach Road, which Olmsted designed to achieve a “sensation passing through the remote depths of a deep forest,” only to have “the view of the Residence, with its orderly dependencies, to break suddenly, fully upon one.”

Right: Portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted by John Singer Sargent; which hangs in the Second Floor Living Hall of Biltmore House.

Bottom: Workers constructing the Approach Road.

7 Tips for Making Fresh Cut Flowers Last

Cathy Barnhardt, Floral Displays Manager, has spent 35 years at Biltmore and is nationally known for her work. She began her career in the estate’s greenhouse, but now handles everything “Christmas at Biltmore.” With Valentine's Day just around the corner, Cathy shared some tips and tricks she has used over the years to make floral arrangements last as long as possible.

1. Be sure that there is no foliage below the water level of the vase or pushed into a block of floral foam. Soft tissues will decompose quickly and foul the water. Some flowers such as gypsophilia (baby’s breath), or snapdragons decompose very rapidly and require fresh water daily. The water in a vase should be clear, never cloudy, which indicates bacterial growth.

2. Change the water daily if possible for the greatest vase life of your materials. If it is not feasible to change the water daily, then it is important that you check the arrangement frequently and “top off” the water. The woodier stemmed and hollow stemmed materials are generally the heaviest drinkers, and should be checked daily.

3. Direct sunlight and heat or drafts will shorten the life of your arrangement. Place arrangements with this in mind. 

4. Don’t put your arrangement in a heavily air conditioned room to “keep it fresh.” The air conditioning can dehydrate the materials.

5. Do not mist arrangements in place. Misting can cause some flowers to wilt as it draws the moisture from within the petals to the surface where it evaporates. Misting may cause spots on some blossoms and will certainly damage furniture finishes, paint, or woodworking.

6. Pinch off faded or wilted blooms to encourage newer ones to open.

7. If a flower wilts, you may try filling the sink with warm (not hot) water, submerge the entire flower briefly and then re-cut the stems under water.  Leave the flowers standing in the warm water for half an hour, and then rearrange in cool water.

Behind Biltmore Poinsettias

The Winter Garden is known as one of Biltmore’s premier displays of holiday greenery during Christmas at Biltmore. Throughout the years, this room has hosted countless musicians, carolers, and even ballerinas during the holidays, all surrounded by the beauty of red, pink, and white poinsettias. In fact, nearly 100 poinsettias adorn this room alone, with grand total of 1,200 poinsettias decorating the estate through the season.

Poinsettias grown on Biltmore Estate

From November 7 through January 11, the poinsettias are strategically placed, rotated, and replaced to provide the best color. However, many guests are surprised to find out just how complex these hearty plants are–and that for about half of these plants, their journey on the estate begins much earlier.

“Each February, my crew and I decide what poinsettias we would like to have for the next year's displays,” says Conservatory Gardener Jordana Chalnick. “Last year we had a red poinsettia with white splotches for the front display; this year we will use a pink variegated poinsettia.” Once the varietals are determined, the poinsettias are grown from rooted cuttings inside Biltmore production greenhouses starting in July.

What makes these plants unique is that they are a short-day photoperiod crop, meaning they naturally flower when the nights become longer than the days. Some varieties need to be covered with a black cloth, sheltering them from all light, to force them to bloom at the desired time. 

Biltmore employees in poinsettia greenhouse

Jordana explains that timing is key. “We grow two crops of poinsettias for two target dates: November 2 and December 1. A shorter finish week means the plant will color earlier. This would be a variety we select for early November. A longer finish week means it will color later, and these are the varieties we select for December 1.  Development is monitored to determine if we will need to cover them and if so, the plants are covered in the evening with a black cloth beginning in September for five to six weeks,” she says.

Although Biltmore does not have the space or staff to grow all of the poinsettias used during the holidays, the remaining plants come from two growers in North Carolina. From propagating the poinsettia cuttings, to monitoring their light exposure, to placing and replacing each plant around the estate, our horticulture team does an excellent job year after year–just one of their many jobs during Christmas at Biltmore!

 

 

Preserving History in Biltmore’s Italian Garden

Filled with numerous varieties of exotic water lilies, tropical bananas, papyrus, and koi fish, the Italian Garden pays tribute to George Vanderbilt and Fredrick Law Olmsted’s vision each year. Although it’s is one of the most visited areas on the estate, many guests do not realize this special garden is astoundingly accurate to Fredrick Law Olmsted’s original design in 1895.

Century-Old Traditions

In early spring, Biltmore Gardeners Charles Cissell and Steven Ayres strategically choose which lilies they will order from Tricker’s Water Gardens – the very same supplier that Olmsted used in 1895. The William Tricker Company was one of the first commercial water lily growers in the United States, experimenting with growing and hybridizing water lilies to improve the shape, colors and hardiness. Olmsted’s keen eye took note of these unique beauties and deemed them a perfect fit for Biltmore, an idea that still rings true today.

From planting, to grooming, to cleaning, the Italian Gardens require extensive maintenance. “We plant each lily in a 45-gallon nursery pot with a mixture of clay and manure. Then we use a Bobcat to lift each plant into the pool,” recalls Cissell, a process that is no doubt far easier than in 1895. Although “plant metabolism” is a foreign term to most aquatic plant novices, Cissell notes that, “Lilies are heavy feeders. We fertilize once a week and groom three times a week throughout the season, usually June to October. Grooming is especially important because the more pollinated blooms you remove, the more new blooms it will produce,” says Cissell, who has spent the last four of his seven years with Biltmore dedicated to the Italian Garden.

In addition to the lilies themselves being originally-sourced from Tricker’s, the pool filtration features the original 1895 technology as well. “It’s a natural system with constant water flowing into and out of the pools. The original gravity-fed reservoir provides the water for the pools, which also used to provide water to the house,” says Cissell. This natural filtration is especially beneficial to the dozens of koi swimming about – one of which Cissell says is close to 50 years old!

Magical Lilies

Each year, Cissell gets excited to see the new hybrids and cross-varieties that Tricker’s Water Gardens offers. He orders many of the exact plants featured in 1895, but now with new colors and hardier blooms that Tricker’s has cultivated over the years. Each pool is strategically planned and includes several varieties of night-blooming lilies, the distinct Victoria Water Platters, hardy lilies, and various banana trees and shrubs to add texture and depth.

Each lily variety works together to provide an unforgettable experience, no matter what day or time a guest visits. Night-blooming lilies reach their peak bloom in the early morning and will be completely closed by noon, while day-bloomers will open in the morning and carry into the early evening. Though each plant is expected to show between three to nine blooms at a time, Cissell notes that many guests don’t realize that lily blooms only last for three days, and he describes the bloom process as being “sort of magical.”

Hardy lilies typically have standard colors like red, white, yellow, and pink while tropical lilies produce vibrant blues, purples and even combinations of color. “One of my favorites is Nymphaea  ‘Green Smoke’ which transitions from green outer petals to blue, then yellow inner petals to finally having light purple in its center,” says Cissell. And in the case of the large Victoria Water Platters, he notes that these lily blooms can even change colors. “The Victoria is hermaphroditic – when it blooms, it changes from female to male overnight. Beetles are attracted to this flower’s warmth, and as the bloom closes, it traps the beetles inside and forces them to pollinate the flower. The new bloom will change from white to a pink or maroon the next night.”

Uniquely Biltmore

In 2014, the Italian Garden closely resembles original outline by Olmsted, with Cissell saying the only main difference being the center bed display. “I use a more contemporary garden design with banana trees and elephant ears. Also, due to the sheer amount of lily varieties available now, we’re able to create a mosaic effect out of the different colors they would not have had back then,” says Cissell.

The Italian Garden serves as an introduction to aquatic gardening for many Biltmore guests, as water gardens are not something often seen. It draws thousands of admirers each spring and summer, and Cissell says the garden has even inspired a few to create their own water garden at home. Parker Andes, Director of Horticulture at Biltmore says, “This is world-class. This water garden is as good as you’re going to see pretty much anywhere in the United States, but it’s a bit different. It’s uniquely Biltmore.”

Lucas Jack and Biltmore’s Rose Garden

If you are the resident expert for a historic garden like Biltmore’s Rose Garden, people might assume that’s your favorite spot in the estate’s 8,000 acres. But the location Lucas Jack prefers may surprise you.

Lucas JackBiltmore’s Rosarian didn’t grow up dreaming of a career cultivating roses. The only exposure to the flower he can remember was an old garden rose his mother received from a neighbor. His rose career was more of a happy accident, fueled by a love of the outdoors, plants, and history.

Since 2011, Lucas has overseen the care of 1,800 roses in the estate’s Rose Garden and maintained the space as a show garden for guests within the Walled Garden.

In college he worked landscaping jobs to make money that would fund weekend trips to visit his girlfriend Brooke (who became his wife in 2007). He earned a degree in forestry from Haywood Community College and interned at Biltmore in the arboriculture department. After graduation, he started a landscape company, but soon found that tending to the details of running a business didn’t leave him much time to focus on his love of gardening or his desire to become a more proficient gardener.

He applied for a full-time position at Biltmore working the perennial borders inside the Walled Garden, but didn’t land it. Instead, he was offered a temporary job in the Rose Garden. The prospect of working with Biltmore’s professional crew of horticulturists appealed to him and it wasn’t long before a sense of direction began to take root.English roses

“I felt there was something there for me,” he said. “What I knew of roses was very limited, but I love history and plants so I found that in dealing with roses, you deal with history in some way.

“Phillipe Noisette hybridized historic roses in 1811 and 1812 outside Charleston, S.C. in the middle of the War of 1812, and now I'm working with that same species of rose. That strikes me as being a very interesting pursuit considering that historical social climate, yet that's what he did. As gardeners, that's what we are doing now during yet another tumultuous period in history; we are providing a place of beauty and calm here in Biltmore's Gardens.”

The role of Biltmore Rosarian is steeped in its own history, as the Rose Garden has been in continuous cultivation since 1895 when Frederick Law Olmsted walked the grounds as George Vanderbilt’s chief horticultural adviser. Lucas relies on Olmsted’s design intent and combines that with contemporary horticulture practices to ensure that Biltmore’s Rose Garden is world-class. Lucas and his team of rosarians maintain more than 200 different cultivars laid out in both French formal and English border designs. The garden is home to nearly every class of roses, and one may find roses of antiquity and new cutting-edge varieties.

Conservatory rosesIn addition to taking care of the descendants of those roses planted in the 1890s, Lucas also oversees the planting and cultivation of the Biltmore International Rose Trials, which recently completed its third year of trialing and competition.

While he obviously loves the Rose Garden, he has a few other favorite spots around the property, including the hill overlooking the Bass Pond. It’s an easy spot to reach; cross the bridge over the Bass Pond spillway, and then follow the trail to the top of the grassy knoll.

“The hill overlooking the Bass Pond and French Broad River is a very pleasant place to catch a breeze and look at hundreds of acres of farmland. This area is simple and natural, showing that there is no need for everything to be planned and structured,” Lucas said.Bass Pond bridge

He recommends looking back towards the Bass Pond from your vantage point on the hill to get a great view of the bridge with the forest in the background, especially in the morning. From this point, you can easily see how Biltmore House, gardens, and the grounds beyond are perfectly blended into the natural setting. 

“It’s a testament to Olmsted’s design and vision for what could be accomplished here at Biltmore,” Lucas said.