7 Simple Ways To Prep Your Party!

From formal dances and masquerade balls to light-hearted garden parties on the lawn, celebrations at Biltmore House were always held in style.

Ready to host your own elegant soiree or homespun hoe-down? Here are our top picks to make your party preparations easier and your event memorable:

1. Choose a theme
The easiest way to kick-off your party prep is to choose a theme. Be inspired by the life and times of Cornelia Vanderbilt who grew up in the Jazz Age and consider a 1920s era Gatsby Party or a Downton Abbey-style garden party or festive tea.

2. Color palette
Just as brides select wedding colors to help keep things coordinated and under control, a pair of pretty colors will make some of your choices easier. For example, we love the fresh look of green and yellow together for a summer-themed party.

3. Party favors
Get creative! Add a meaningful quote to a print you love and roll it up gently, like a scroll, and tie with a pretty ribbon. Your guests can frame them for display in their home or office as a reminder of a wonderful gathering with friends and family.

4. Make it memorable
Offer one or two truly distinctive elements that get people excited and keep them talking about your party. Ideas include renting a Photo Booth to preserve all those fun faces or providing old-fashioned lawn games to fire up a competitive spirit.

5. Do it differently
Use your garden statuary as a stunning centerpiece or use your birdbath as a temporary wine chiller. Our Hospitality Pineapple is the age-old symbol of hospitality and our Ramp Douce Tortoise is inspired by the stone turtles at the terraced stairway at Biltmore. 

6. Take it outside
Make a statement by moving some of your favorite furniture pieces outside, like we've done with our Beverage Cart. It will really change the “landscape” of your yard or garden and surprise your guests. Also, don’t limit yourself to paper and plastic just because you’re in the yard—enjoy your pretty serveware outside, too. 

7. Simple & Personal
To keep the party prep simple while still adding your personal touch, consider easy additions to something you pick up ready-made—like fresh fruit for the sorbet or crushed candy bars as an ice cream topping.

Here’s a summer party idea we love: turn plain iced tea into a refreshing Southern Raspberry Iced Tea!

Get the recipe here

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Here's to a great party!

Summertime Strolling in the Gardens-Q & A with Parker Andes

We love the long days of summer at Biltmore, especially in the gardens. There’s just something special about an early morning or late afternoon stroll along the winding paths through the Shrub Garden and down into the Walled Garden. Summertime is when this garden is really full of itself! Tropical plantings mix with manicured patterns to create what we think is a Monet landscape come to life.

Tropical plants and palms figure heavily into the mix to create the effect, and relate closely to what Biltmore’s original landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, envisioned. His plan called for Biltmore’s summertime gardens to mix tropical elements into manicured areas, as was the style in the late 1890s. Biltmore's horticulture team works diligently to stay true to that vision. We asked Parker Andes, director of that team, to share some fun tidbits about the gardens this year, and what it takes to insure Olmsted's ideas are alive and well on the estate. 

Open House Blog:  How many types of plants are in the Walled Garden pattern beds this year?

Parker Andes:  There are 18 different types of plants in the Walled Garden pattern beds for summer 2014.

OHB:  How many specific plants are in the pattern beds?

PA:  Roughly 14,000.

OHB:  What is typical summertime bloom span?

PA:  From June through late September as the weather allows.

OHB:  What colors will we see in the Walled Garden this year?

PA:  Purple, peach and lime green. Chartreuse, blue and lavender will also make an appearance. 

OHB:  How many gardeners and how many hours does it take to care for the Walled Garden?

PA:  It takes six people roughly 40 hours a week, totaling up to 240 hours a week.

OHB:  What is the largest lily pad in the Italian Garden pools?

PA:  The Victorian lily pad. In the tropics of South America, they can grow to 10 feet or more in diameter and have been known to support the weight of a small child. For our plants at Biltmore, the leaves will get to 2.5 to 3 feet wide since the air is cooler.  Ours don’t support a small child but Green Herons can be seen standing on the leaves early in the mornings, hunting for tadpoles.

OHB:  What should guests look out for on their next visit?

PA:  One of my favorite perennials in the Walled Garden that is quite unique is the Pineapple Lily. The Sparkling burgundy variety has a dark foliage bulb with a bloom cluster that looks like a pineapple. 

OHB:  What are some other fun facts about Biltmore's summer gardens that come to mind?

PA:  Daylilies! We have lots of them. The American Daylily Society will hold its national meeting in Asheville this summer, so as a tribute and with their assistance, we’ve planted hundreds of them throughout the estate, from the Walled Garden to Antler Hill Village. Guests will see some of the latest hybrids of daylilies. 

OHB:  We recently heard that there are actual grapes growing in the Walled Garden, which we didn't realize. Is that true? 

PA:  It is. The Arbor that runs down the center of the garden has four different grape varieties growing on it. They're named after four rivers: Catawba, Concord, Niagara and Delaware.

OHB: What is one of your favorite aspects of the Walled Garden in summer?

PA:  There is a trellis along the wall that provides support for plants we prune and groom in the “espalier” style. The plants we maintain in this style are apples, pears, apriums, wisteria, Rose of Sharon and pyracantha. The word “espalier” is French, and it comes from the Italian “spalliera,” meaning “something to rest the shoulder against.” The purpose is to save space and control the plant growth for the production of fruit. We prune and tie the branches to a frame, and set the frame flat against the wall. We prune ours for the ornamental aspect of it rather than fruit production. However, ours do flower and produce some fruit.

Top photo: The Walled Garden, summer 2013.

Inset photo:  Parker Andes, Biltmore's director of horticulture.

“Miracle On The Hudson” Wins the 2014 Biltmore International Rose Trials Competition

The second trial in the Biltmore International Rose Trials competition came to a close this past Saturday when an international jury selected the winning roses in 11 categories.

“Miracle On The Hudson,” bred by Robert Neal Rippetoe in California, took the George & Edith Vanderbilt Award for Most Outstanding Rose. “Miracle” also took the top spot in three additional categories: the Chauncey Beadle Award for Best Shrub Rose; the William Cecil Award for Best Growth Habit; and the Lord Burleigh Award for Most Disease Resistant.

Since 2011, Biltmore’s Rose Garden has been home to the trials in which more than 90 varieties from growers and breeders worldwide have been planted and cared for by Biltmore’s expert horticulturalists. Each trial lasts two years and a permanent jury judges the roses four times per year. During this year’s competition, the international and permanent juries conducted the final round of judging for the trial group of 29 roses planted in 2012.

Before entering their roses into trials and competition, breeders work on their creations for four or five years prior. The roses judged this year were from Canada, France, Ireland, Germany, the UK and the U.S. Rose trials are a more common occurrence in Europe, with trials held in 20 different locations in 15 countries. 

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 2015 for the trials planted in 2013 and will continue annually.

Congratulations to all of the winners of the second annual Biltmore International Rose Trials!

“Miracle On The Hudson,” bred by Neal Rippetoe of California, winner George & Edith Vanderbilt Award for Most Outstanding Rose Of The Trials (Best in Show); Chauncey Beadle Award for Best Shrub Rose; William Cecil Award for Best Growth Habit; and Lord Burleigh Award for Most Disease Resistant. Available through Roses Unlimited. 

Award of Excellence For Best Established Rose
“Honorine de Brabant”

Frederick Law Olmsted Award for Best Groundcover
“Sweet Drift” bred by Meilland in France, distributed by Star Roses and Plants available at garden centers nationwide.

Edith Wharton Award for Best Floribunda
“Tequila Supreme” bred by Meilland in France, distributed by Star Roses and Plants available at garden centers nationwide.

The Honorable John Cecil Award for Open Group
“Pookah” – polyantha bred in California by James Delahanty and available through Burlington Rose Nursery in California.

Gilded Age Award for Best Climber
“Bajazzo” bred in Germany by Kordes, available through Roses Unlimited.

Pauline Merrell Award for Best Hybrid Tea
“Francis Meilland” bred by Meilland in France, distributed by Star Roses and Plants available in garden centers nationwide.

Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil Award for Most Fragrant Rose

“Munstead Wood” bred in the UK by David Austin Roses and available in the U.S. through David Austin Roses in Tyler, TX.

Top photo: International Rose Trials jury member Susan V. Fox gets in close to enjoy the scent of “Bajazzo,” winner of Best Climber category. 

Fresh For Spring

According to George Vanderbilt’s great-grandson Bill Cecil, spring is always a favorite season at his family’s estate.

“I like seeing the grounds wake up from winter,” Bill said. “Biltmore looks like my great-grandfather and Frederick Law Olmsted, the estate’s landscape architect, envisioned with all the gardens, grass and trees in full color. Warmer weather is a welcome change and the Spring Garden, Azalea Garden and Shrub Garden offer a wide range of color before and after the tulips in the Walled Garden have put on their best show.”

A Favorite Spring Floral Arrangement

We love all those spring blooms, too, so we decided to celebrate the season by creating an easy arrangement that harmonizes with any décor. We developed a stunning centerpiece that evokes the fresh feeling of spring with a classic blue-and-white theme, anchored in one of our estate-inspired tin containers. We added pretty pops of color through the use of greenery and graceful peacock feathers, plus a decorative egg-filled bird’s nest as a special nod to spring.

Fresh Materials
Biltmore tin container
Floral oasis (for cut flowers)
Blue spring Dutch iris
Cream stock
Pittosporum (we used a potted version in this arrangement)
White roses
White hydrangea
Peacock feathers
Decorative bird nest with eggs

To create a fresh arrangement like this one, cut a piece of floral oasis foam to fit snugly inside your container. Soak it well, then begin adding flowers and greenery.

Tip: you can create an equally pretty arrangement by using small potted plants (or even permanent botanicals) rather than freshly cut flowers. Choose green and flowering plants of different heights for texture and interest, and add pieces of Styrofoam to lift some pots higher than others.

Floral arrangement shown in our Biltmore-inspired tin container.

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.