Bringing Spring Ahead Of Schedule

Sometimes in the midst of winter—with a little help from our Conservatory—spring arrives a bit ahead of schedule.

“Gardeners have been forcing blooms for centuries,” said Parker Andes, Director of Horticulture, “and the practice became especially popular in the 19th century. As many wealthy Victorians added conservatories to their homes, they could enjoy the look and the scent of delicate bulbs even in the coldest months of winter.”

According to our archives, in February 1908, Chauncey Beadle, Biltmore’s Garden Superintendent, wrote to Storrs & Harrison Nursery of Ohio ordering fruit stock of cherries and apricots “for placing in tubs in preparation for forcing later on in the greenhouse.” This effort would have enabled the Vanderbilts and house guests to enjoy a hint of spring before it actually came.

The Conservatory is Parker’s favorite garden in the winter, and she enjoys the beauty and the cozy warmth it provides to complement the year-round lush greenery and tropical foliage of palms, ferns, and other warm climate exotics.

“Along with the orchids and other beautiful plants in the Conservatory this time of year, we add containers of spring bulbs that have been forced to bloom. Look for containers of daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips during this period,” Parker said. “We’ll rotate them every couple of weeks until mid-April.”

Branching Out For Spring

For a more informal look, consider forcing flowering spring branches—here are some easy tips to help you “branch out” on your schedule rather than waiting for Mother Nature to do it for you!

For a springscape arrangement, choose early bloomers like crabapple, forsythia, and spiraea branches for forcing. Just remember that the forcing process can take anywhere from one to eight weeks, so the closer branches are cut to their natural blooming time, the quicker they will bloom. With a little extra effort and planning, you’ll have all the beautiful blooms you need to brighten any room or make any occasion more special.

Items Needed
Sharp cutting/pruning shears
Access to flowering shrubs
A warm, humid space (bathroom, kitchen, sunroom, etc.)
5-gallon bucket or other large container
Spray bottle
Decorative Biltmore tin planter or container

Gather branches on a day when temperatures are above freezing, or on a warm, rainy day.

Cut branches 1–3 feet long on a slant with sharp shears. Always keep the shape of the tree or shrub in mind as you are pruning.

Immediately place twigs in a bucket with tepid water (remove all buds from the part of the stem that will be under water) and keep in warm, humid room.

Re-cut the stems and change the water every few days. Spray stems with water if humidity in room is low.

The easiest branches to force are those that are early season bloomers: Almond, Apple, Cornelian Cherry Dogwood, Crabapple, Daphne, Forsythia, Pear, Plum Pussywillow, Quince, Spiraea, Winter Honeysuckle, Winter Jasmine, Wisteria, Witch Hazel

Branches bearing larger flowers like Deciduous Magnolias, Dogwood, Japanese Maple, and Mock Orange should be left on the shrub until their buds are large and well-developed. 

Organizing In Style

The old saying “a place for everything and everything in its place” is a good motto to keep in mind whether you’re organizing your entire home or specific rooms. Items like books and magazines need to be handy, but they can pile up over time. Keep them collected in one of our pretty tin containers and you’ll always know where to find that article you wanted to read.

Here are some other great ideas for organizing other items that need to stay contained in a specific space:

• Roll up hand towels and keep them in a small tin container in your powder room. They take up less space and yet remain easily accessible for guests. Also works well for towels and wash cloths in your guest bath.
• Place a tin container on the stairs (close to the rail) for each member of your family. Small, loose items can be dropped there to be put away later.
• Choose a taller, narrow container to keep utensils together by the kitchen sink

Our decorative tins are available in so many sizes and shapes that you can easily organize almost anything. The collection was inspired by the design elements and patterns found throughout Biltmore House and across the estate. The containers offer a vintage feel that pairs well with any décor.

Tip: Containers are suitable for indoor and outdoor use and are perfect for table-top arrangements and container plantings.

Shop our collection of tin container online here

Biltmore’s hidden garden

Nestled in the heart of Biltmore’s landscape is a secret garden. Well, maybe not “secret” since it’s contained in the Conservatory, which sparkles as the centerpiece of the Walled Garden.

But it can certainly be considered an “overlooked” garden, because so many guests walk or drive past it without ever opening its lovely arched doors.

When you do venture inside, you are transported to another world—a tropical jungle of ferns, palm trees, and exotic blooms that rivals any South Beach hotspot. No matter the weather, the climate indoors welcomes you with a heady perfume that combines fragrant flowers and damp earth to create a treat for your senses.

Exhibition Room door displayThe transition is quite deliberate, and is based upon George Vanderbilt’s original vision for the Conservatory. In the late 1800s, vast glass structures like Biltmore’s Conservatory were the ultimate statement of luxurious living, exhibiting hundreds of blooming flowers, exotic plants, and delicate orchids in abundance.

At the turn of the 19th century, gardening was widely viewed as a healing pastime as well as an opportunity to showcase collections of rare and unique plants. A generation of wealthy collectors dotted the nation with lavish conservatories inspired by similar structures found on Europe estates, including Longwood Conservatory in Pennsylvania and Lyndhurst Conservatory in New York.

While serious gardeners were determined to provide optimal growing conditions for their plants, many owners chose to entertain friends and family amid giant palms and luscious orchids, A few commissioned plant hunters to travel the world’s most remote locations to seek out rare specimens.

Tree fernArchival records indicate George Vanderbilt furnished his Conservatory in a more typical manner—by ordering plants from nurseries around the country. A report in the 1894 issue of American Gardening titled “George W. Vanderbilt’s Palms” mentions he fitted out his new conservatory with some of the largest palms under cultivation in the country. The collection included 15 tree ferns imported from Australia years earlier and described the “long dark green leaves of the finest specimens reach twenty feet into the air.” Additional plants included sago palms and several “immense Palmetto palms from South Carolina.”

Today, the Conservatory continues to bring a taste of the tropics to western North Carolina despite winter’s chill. To help Mother Nature, our gardeners have coaxed spring bulbs into early bloom. Daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths brighten the central Palm House and the Cool House now, with Asiatic and oriental lilies adding their intoxicating scent in mid-April. The Cool House also hosts plants who call the subtropics home, including Australian tree ferns like the ones Vanderbilt obtained (although not the same plants), accompanied by banana trees and the evocatively-named Lollipop plants and Shrimp plants.

In the Hot House, you’ll find plants that originate in tropical climes and are familiar as houseplants, such as the philodendron and colocasia (or elephant ear)—but in larger sizes than you’d ever typically see. Among the canopy of foliage, be sure to look for the large Mexican breadfruit.

OrchidsThe orchids are mesmerizing this time of year, brightening even the dreariest of days with amazing colors and forms. The Orchid Room is filled with blooms both recognizable and unusual, from the corsage and lady slipper varieties to more rare examples.

“The lady slipper orchids have lips that look like shoes,” said Marc Burchette, who tends the collection. “We also have small yellow-flowered dancing lady orchids.”

Less common varieties include a large orchid species from Southeast Asia with clusters of red and yellow flowers on a long pendant, and a particularly fragrant orchid with crystalline green blooms from Papua New Guinea

Exotic blooms aside, you really can’t miss the most dramatic plants in the Conservatory, since they are right in front of you! As you enter the Palm House, where the glass roof rises 38 feet high, the towering specimens of Madagascar palm, Bottle palm, and Bismarck Fan palm create a tropical escape in the middle of winter.

Orchids Reign at Biltmore

Flower enthusiasts looking for hints of nature’s beauty can find the perfect escape in Biltmore’s Conservatory this winter. Now through March, Biltmore’s orchid collection is in its prime and on display for estate guests. 

Biltmore’s love affair with orchids goes back more than a century, when George Vanderbilt was planning his estate in Asheville, NC. At the end of the 19th century, conservatories and private plant collections were popular among wealthy estate owners in Europe and the U.S. George Vanderbilt followed this trend with the construction of Biltmore’s Conservatory. He then created a wish list of plants to fill the building in 1894. An assortment of 800 orchids were on the list! 

Today, Biltmore’s orchid collection contains approximately 600 plants. The staff has spent time carefully researching and procuring some of the same varieties contained on Vanderbilt’s original list. Marc Burchette, Biltmore’s Orchid Specialist, assisted his co-worker Jim Rogers with tracking down the heritage varieties and worked with a commercial grower to procure more than half of the plants contained on the archival list. 

Because Biltmore has such an expansive collection, guests always see plants in bloom during their visit to the Conservatory. “Biltmore has an eclectic collection, and we have plants coming into flower continually during the year. We put plants in the Conservatory’s display area as they come into flower, and move them out after they’ve passed their prime bloom,” says Marc.

A typical week among the orchids includes a routine of fertilizing and watering the collection and then tending to the display areas in the Conservatory. However, January’s polar vortex caused quite a stir among those managing the plant collection. Devoted staff members worked in shifts overnight to run auxiliary heaters in all of the greenhouses.  Saving the precious blooms was their top priority. Marc had to act quickly to save Biltmore’s priceless collection. “I made the decision to move the plants into an area that would best protect them from the extreme cold. It took several hours to carefully move the plants and then a few hours to put them back on display.”

While much of the work surrounding the orchids happens behind the scenes, the effort is always evident when guests enter the Conservatory. “Guests usually say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know there were so many different varieties,'” said Marc. There is a wide selection of orchids continually on display.  “Guests are very drawn to Phaleonopsis, and I think the main reason is because they are very familiar with it,” says Marc. “Those are the orchids people are used to seeing in a retail shop.”

Guests wanting to know more about the orchid collection can sign up for a 45-minute orchid talk offered in the Conservatory Monday-Friday, now through March 19. Talks are held at 11 a.m. and are complimentary with estate admission. Space is limited and guests can make reservations at any Guest Services location on the morning of their visit.

Finding Summer Beauty in the Italian Garden

If you’re visiting Biltmore soon, make a beeline for the Italian Garden. Located adjacent to Biltmore House, this formal garden is in its prime late summer.

Biltmore gardeners Chuck Cissell and Steven Ayers have been hard at work all year ensuring all the elements are in place for spectacular summer blooms. The Italian Garden gets better every year. This year, it is over the top again and this is probably the best year yet for seeing our water lilies.

All three pools feature different water lilies including hardy and tropical varieties. We’re especially fond of our tropical water lilies that open up in the evening and bloom until mid-morning. If you’re an early morning guest or at Biltmore House for our concert series, sneak down to the Italian Garden to enjoy this unique display.

The blooms from the tropical lilies sit above the water and feature bright white, pink, red and even blue blossoms. It’s a marvelous sight to see and just another amazing example of nature’s beauty.

If you miss the tropical night blooms, don’t worry. We have planted different varieties, so guests visiting during the day can still enjoy flowers from day blooming tropical and hardy lilies as well. Look for the blooms through the first cold snap, which can be as early as September or as late as October.

While the lilies are the one the highlights of the Italian Garden, the pools include an array of other plants. Lotus, Victoria water platters, canna lilies, papyrus, water snowflakes, and purple leaf rice are all in bloom right now.

Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of visiting the Italian Garden is the fact that the design intent has remained unchanged since Vanderbilt’s time. Two of the pools have been refurbished, and the plants used pay homage to gardening notes and plant orders found in estate archives. We don’t do anything different in the Italian Garden than what they did back in George Vanderbilt’s day.

Bring Home the Beauty of the Italian Garden

Water Gardening is easier than you think. Below are some quick tips for creating a backyard water garden:

  • Select a sturdy, large ceramic container that can hold water.
  • Find a location that receives at least eight hours of sunlight, and use pavers or bricks to form a level base for the container.
  • Start with a fool-proof water plant such as tropical water lilies.
  • Plant the water lily in a small plastic container filled with topsoil and plunge the pot into the larger container filled with water. Cover the soil with pebbles or sand to prevent muddy water.
  • The top of the lily’s pot should be eight inches below the surface of the water. If necessary, add bricks or blocks to form a base within the water container.Finish off the water garden by adding water lettuce or other floating plants.
  • Maintain your water garden by cutting spent blooms on the lily and pushing a fertilizer tablet into the lily’s soil every few weeks.

Learn more about our gardens and grounds.

Hope’s Favorite Place

If you attended a seminar hosted by A Gardener’s Place, you may have met Hope Wright. In addition to her responsibilities as a sales associate in our garden shop, she conducts the free daily seminars on gardening and flower arranging offered throughout the year. Which means Hope is one of the lucky few who can gather materials from Biltmore’s gardens to create beautiful arrangements seen in displays.

Since she’s spent 14 years at A Gardener’s Place, it’s only natural that several of our gardens hold her most preferred locations on the estate.

One of her favorite walks begins at Biltmore House and continues down into the Shrub Garden, bypassing the steps that lead to the Walled Garden. She recommends stopping there to admire the glory of a Weeping Blue Atlas cedar.

As you continue toward the Shrub Garden, take a trail that cuts up to the right. Then turn around to view the many dogwood varieties that thrive here.

“This area is unofficially known as the ‘dogetum’, a take on the word arboretum,” Hope says. “I continue to be amazed at the variety of interesting dogwoods—my favorite is the variegated Weeping Kousa Dogwood.”

The view from this location on the trail is amazing. “You can see a tiny section of the Conservatory through the evergreens, and a fabulous view of the entire Walled Garden,” she says. “I like to sit on the cast iron Victorian bench and take a few moments just to appreciate the scenery.”

In springtime, you can see the tulips in full bloom, but summer also serves up beauty with the Walled Garden bursting with bright annuals. “Take a few minutes to go off the beaten path—there’s always a new sight to behold in every season,” Hope says.

Learn more about our gardens and grounds.

International Rose Trial Winners Announced

Our first International Rose Trials came to a close on Saturday and our jury selected winning roses in 12 categories.  Since 2011, Biltmore’s historic Rose Garden has been home to the Biltmore International Rose Trials. During this time, more than 75 varieties from growers and breeders worldwide have been planted and cared for by Biltmore’s horticulture team. Each trial lasts two years and a permanent jury judges the roses four times per year. During Saturday’s judging, the jury conducted the final round of judging for the first trial group of 25 roses.

This is the first international trials on the East Coast, and only one of two held in the U.S. Rose trials in Europe are a more common occurrence, with trials held in 20 different locations in 15 countries. ”The trials are a valuable way for the home gardener to learn what roses do well and what may be potential candidates for their own gardens,” said Paul Zimmerman, coordinator of the trials. “Trials of this type are usually open to all rose breeders around the world – from professional to beginner.”

Our own rosarian, Lucas Jack, had an integral part on the rose trials.  “Biltmore’s historic Rose Garden is the perfect setting for trials,” said Jack. “We’ve enjoyed introducing these new varieties to our guests as they stroll through the gardens. It has been an educational experience, and it complements the work we do to care for Biltmore’s collection of heirloom roses.”

New rose varieties will be planted for trials each May. They are evaluated for garden performance, fragrance, disease resistance and ability to be used in varying landscape situations. The next awards will be in 2014 for the trials planted in 2012 and will continue annually.  

The First Biltmore International Rose Trials Winners


George & Edith Vanderbilt Award for Most Outstanding Rose Of The Trials (Best in Show)
‘ATHYfalaa’ bred by Mike Athy of Mike Athy Roses, New Zealand

Award of Excellence For Best Established Rose
‘Belinda’s Dream’ bred by Dr. Robert E. Basye, United States (Wisconsin)

Award of excellence for International Jury Favorite
‘ATHYfalaa’ bred by Mike Athy of Mike Athy Roses, New Zealand

Frederick Law Olmsted Award for Best Groundcover
‘Roxy’ bred by Kordes Rosen, Germany

Edith Wharton Award for Best Floribunda
‘Milwaukee Calatrava’ bred by William Radler of Conard-Pyle/Star Roses, United States

The Honorable John Cecil Award for Open Group
‘Sunshine Daydream’ Grandiflora rose bred by Michèle Meilland Richardier, France

Gilded Age Award for Best Climber
‘ATHYfalaa’ bred by Mike Athy of Mike Athy Roses, New Zealand

Pauline Merrell Award for Best Hybrid Tea
‘Beverly’ bred by Kordes Rosen, Germany

Chauncey Beadle Award for Best Shrub
‘Darcey Bussell’ bred by David Austin of David Austin Roses, United Kingdom

Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil Award for Most Fragrant Rose
‘Beverly’ bred by Kordes Rosen, Germany

William Cecil Award for Best Growth Habit
‘ATHYfalaa’ bred by Mike Athy of Mike Athy Roses, New Zealand

Lord Burleigh Award for Most Disease Resistant
‘ATHYfalaa’ bred by Mike Athy of Mike Athy Roses, New Zealand

The Lovely Azaleas

Strolling through our 15-acre Azalea Garden in May is a rite of spring, with thousands of bright blossoms lining the stone stairs and masses of vivid flowers cascading throughout the area. In fact, we expect peak azalea color this week.

We have Chauncey Beadle to thank for all of that gorgeous color. Chauncey, a Canadian horticulturalist hired in 1890 by Frederick Law Olmsted for his encyclopedic knowledge of plants, served as estate superintendent from 1909 until his death in 1950.

“Beadle loved all plants, but he had a special fondness for native deciduous azaleas,” said Bill Alexander, Landscape & Forest Historian. “He and two close friends became known as ‘the azalea hunters’ collecting virtually every form and color variation.”

Beadle and his colleagues kept detailed notes about their forays, writing down when and where they collected plants on travels throughout the Southeast. Native azaleas were Beadle’s passion, and he called them the finest American shrubs.

In 1940, he gave his entire collection of azaleas (which he fondly referred to as “his children”) to Biltmore, planting them in the valley below the Conservatory known as the Glen. Edith Vanderbilt changed the garden’s name to the Azalea Garden to honor Beadle and his lifelong work on his 50th anniversary with Biltmore.

Today, gardeners Bob Smart and Charles Harris, members of the estate’s Historic Gardens landscaping crew, are responsible for maintaining Beadle’s legacy and the never-ending upkeep of the Azalea Garden.

“Chauncey Beadle planted several thousand azaleas originally,” said Bob. “We try to keep as many old plants as possible, replacing them when needed with old types and species, but we also bring in new ones to keep the garden thriving.”

Last year, they replanted several hundred azaleas—mostly evergreens—lining the stone stairs at the Azalea Garden’s entrance and added nearly 400 more in the rest of the garden. Charles explains that the eye-catching evergreen varieties have heavier, more prolific blooms and some even re-bloom. They also planted many native deciduous azaleas that display delicate orange, yellow and pink flowers in late spring.

Not all their time is spent planting; they devote hours researching and collecting additional azaleas to keep the garden beautiful. They find plants at trade shows, through the North Carolina Nursery Notes bi-monthly magazine, nurseries, and growers who visit here.

“Sometimes growers we know will visit the garden and suggest a particular addition,” said Charles. “They recognize that it’s an honor to have plants here.”


Learn more about our gardens and grounds.

A Unique Pair of Hounds

Dogs are often called “man’s best friend,” and with good reason. Dogs are always happy to see you, glad to spend time with you, and eager to be by your side.

Our partner Unique Stone has captured the faithful spirit of the dog with a lifelike interpretation of canine devotion in their Biltmore Stoneybrook Hounds Collection. Each realistic hound statue features the soulful expressions and stance of man’s best friend at his finest. 

  • Stoneybrook Hound with Bird waits attentively for the praise that accompanies his fine birding and retrieval skills (above, left) 
  • Stoneybrook Hound with Collar is relaxed, caught in a playful moment with his collar between his front paws (above, right)

Each Stoneybrook Hound statue is approximately 35 inches in height and weighs around 300 pounds. Place this sturdy pair of sentinels at the entrance to your home or property, or use them to highlight your lawn, patio, or garden. (Each hound sold separately.) Unique Stone creates all their statuary with a subtle finish that gives an aged and weathered appearance.

Find the Stoneybrook Hounds here.

Biltmore’s Canine History

The Vanderbilts had many pets including a Borzoi and Cedric, a smooth-coated Saint Bernard whose likeness graces Cedric’s Tavern today. George Vanderbilt also maintained a kennel of Collies before his death in 1914, and Cornelia Vanderbilt developed a kennel of Llewellin Setters in 1921.

After Cornelia married the Honorable John Amherst Francis Cecil in 1925, the Biltmore Kennels invested in the Saluki Gazelle Hound—a sight hound known for its beauty, speed, and endurance. After the Biltmore Kennels closed, John and Cornelia kept one Saluki named Haffief as a pet.

The Stoneybrook Hounds resemble the grace and style of this handsome hound who made America’s largest home his home, as well.

A Perfect Arrangement

For Your Home, From Our Gardens

The Biltmore Floral Team created a pair of stunning floral arrangements to brighten up our For Your Home  booth at a recent wedding show. The talented team members crafted the arrangements to feature greenery from Biltmore’s historic gardens as well as gorgeous flowers.

The results were so beautiful that we asked Biltmore Floral Design Manager Cathy Barnhardt to share her expert “how-to” tips and suggestions for bringing the outdoors indoors with a similar arrangement for your own home.

Bring the outdoors in

“First of all,” Cathy said, “these arrangements showcase a great mix of ‘florist flowers’ as well as greens cut straight from our gardens.”

To highlight the feeling and the fragrance of spring, Cathy and her team chose blue delphinium, deliciously-scented white stock, some lovely cream ‘Virginia’ roses, and a handful of tulips. The greenery was all gathered from the gardens at Biltmore.

“If you have access to a garden or wooded area, this is a great way to bring the outdoors into your arrangements and your home, and it makes it even more personal that you provided the greenery yourself rather than choosing it from a flower shop.”

“To really highlight the outdoor feeling,” said Cathy, “we used long tendrils of ivy, snips of rosemary from the herb garden, a few fern fronds, and even some pieces of red twig dogwood. This mix of textures helps us create an arrangement that is both elegant and richly textured, much like the feel of a cottage garden.”

Ready to try it at home?

“The most helpful trick in this kind of arrangement is to remember how things grow naturally in the garden,” Cathy explained. “Place your flowers in groups or clusters rather than scattering them throughout the arrangement. That will give it style, but it will still feel organic and natural.”

Behind the scenes

“One of the most fun ‘perks’ my team enjoys,” Cathy told us, “is having cutting privileges in the historic gardens and natural areas around Biltmore. Any time of year, we can find something interesting to include in our arrangements that comes directly from the estate and reflects both the current season and elements of the original landscape design.”