Nurturing Biltmore’s Orchid Collection

On a spring afternoon in Biltmore’s greenhouses, you may come across Jim Rogers tending to our thriving collection of orchids.  Jim’s forthright manner tells you everything that you need to know in a matter of minutes. A retired artist, he created beautiful sculptures and did commissions for the Dalai Lama and a bronze portrait of Senator Sam Nunn. But according to him, orchids have always been his passion.

“When I was in graduate school in Johnson City, TN, I was in the woods and saw a plant that I didn’t recognize,” Jim said. “I brought it home and tried to grow it.”  After some research, he realized that it was a terrestrial orchid. From that moment, he fell in love with orchids and began amassing a personal collection that at one point grew to 200 plants!

After retiring from sculpting in 2006, Jim felt it was time to cultivate another orchid collection. A Biltmore fan since his initial visit in 1970, he called our horticultural department and asked to volunteer. The phone call transformed into a part-time job caring for the orchids.  “I believe that if you follow your bliss, it will lead to bliss,” says Jim. “That’s what I’ve done. I have a wonderful orchid collection—it just belongs to Biltmore!”

Jim cares for 300 orchids in the production house and 100 orchids in the Conservatory. He also rotates the Conservatory’s plants so that guests always see a stunning collection of orchid blooms during their visit.  A typical day includes repotting plants that have outgrown their home. “I spend time with each plant, tending to its needs,” says Jim.

Weekly chores include fertilizing and watering. “The rule of thumb among orchid enthusiasts is to fertilize weekly—weakly. The philosophy is that when orchids are in the wild, they only get a smattering of nutrients from their surroundings,” says Jim. “Then I water once every week until they’re soaked.”

Jim’s main objective is to grow and care for the collection, but he also has future dreams of cultivating a Biltmore orchid fine enough to win an American Orchid Society Award.  “I would love to see a Biltmore orchid win an award,” says Jim. “When an orchid receives an American Orchid Society Award, it retains its genus and species name, but the society adds a clonal name to the plant. The clonal name is given by the grower, so my hope is that one day we have an orchid named by Biltmore.”

Ready For Roses

Ready to welcome spring and summer with a garden full of glorious roses? Let’s start by preparing a new bed for your beautiful blooms, with great tips and helpful insight from Paul Zimmerman, exclusive Biltmore Rose Consultant:

Preparing a new rose bed

Raising great roses starts with great soil. The better the soil is, the healthier the plants will be. February and March (and even April, depending on your location) are good months to get new garden beds ready.

According to Zimmerman, the “life” of a soil is found in its microorganisms. Some microorganisms break up fallen debris like trees and leaves, others break it down even further, and some then help the plants take up the nutrients from the broken down material. Nutrients like fertilizer that you add to the soil get taken up, as well.

When preparing a new garden bed, Zimmerman follows these steps: compost.

  • First, till or break up the existing soil of the bed until it’s loosened.
  • Spread about 3–5 inches of compost across the bed and work it into the soil. (Many types of compost are suitable, such as compost you make yourself, last year’s leaf pile, horse manure, or mushroom compost.)
  • Add compost a few months before you plant roses so it can “stew” for a while. You won’t need to keep turning it—just let nature do its job.

Woman tilling a rose garden

TIP: If the area you are preparing has been part of a lawn or has never been worked at all, consider introducing some of those microorganisms in the form of a drench.

Preparing a site for the new rose

“Do I need to dig a 2 x 2 foot hole when planting roses?”

That’s one of the questions that Paul Zimmerman hears all the time.

“If you prepare the entire bed, you only need dig a hole big enough to fit the rose into. In the beginning, I followed the ‘2 x 2 foot hole’ rule, but after nearly 20 years of planting roses, I’ve stopped worrying about it because I can’t see any difference. By taking the time to prepare the entire bed and then following a regular regime of mulching and amending the soil, you will never have to dig a 2 x 2-foot hole to plant a rose again. Your back will thank you!

The most reliable indicator to know when to prune roses

For gardeners who live in an area with a true winter, pruning roses can be tricky due to the freeze/thaw cycles experienced during the coldest season. Prune too early, and a sudden warm spell may stimulate new growth that could be harmed in the next freeze. Prune too late and you run the risk of cutting off the spring flowering.

To prune roses at the right time for your region, books and articles often advise you to find out when your area receives its last frost of winter, count back a certain number of days, and prune then.

Woman pruning a rose bush

“There’s nothing wrong with this method except that lately it seems there is no ‘normal’ when it comes to weather,” said Lucas Jack, Biltmore’s rosarian. Last year, our roses reached peak spring flowering at least three weeks early.”

The most reliable indicator? Forsythia

No scientific instruments, no estimated frost date, and there isn’t even an app for it– just nature sensing the elements and doing what it does best, with perfect timing.

The forsythia knows when winter is coming to a close and spring is just around the corner. If it’s a long winter, forsythia blooms later. During a short winter, it blooms sooner. Keep an eye on the forsythia and when its cheerful yellow blooms begin to appear, get ready to prune your roses.

Garden and Patio Inspirations

Silver Tiffany teapot with pineapple decoration on lid

Inspired by Biltmore

Pineapples have been used as a symbol of hospitality since the 18th century. In colonial America, ship captains returning from tropical trade routes brought the exotic fruit (virtually unknown in North America) back with them to share with family and guests. The iconic pineapple shape began to show up in architectural trim and on signs denoting welcome.



Cast stone pineapple statue in Azalea Garden

A Meaningful Gift

A beautiful Tiffany silver coffee pot with an exquisitely detailed pineapple adorning the lid (above, right) was given to George and Edith Vanderbilt as a wedding present in 1898 by Mrs. Anna Roosevelt Cowles, Theodore Roosevelt’s  sister and trusted advisor, who was a frequent visitor to Biltmore.

“This was not only a very personal gift,” said Leslie Klingner, Biltmore’s Curator of Interpretation, “but also a symbolic one considering the Vanderbilts were legendary hosts who treasured their guests.”

Unique Stone has captured all the grandeur of the symbol with their Hospitality Pineapple. This beautiful accent is perfect for your garden and lends a warm note of welcome to your visitors.

Cast stone birdbath

For The Birds

Birds flock to Biltmore for a sip or a dip in an elegant birdbath like this one in our Walled Garden, which inspired Unique Stone to create a Gilded Age Birdbath like the ones the Vanderbilts installed for their feathered friends.

garden turtle

Unique Stone

Our partner Unique Stone creates beautiful cast stone garden planters, statues, benches, and decorative elements by taking inspiration from the magnificent décor found throughout Biltmore. Each piece is hand-finished for an aged patina as timeless as the estate itself.

The staff at Unique Stone is continually inspired by the work of those early craftsmen that shaped Biltmore House into the National Historic Landmark it is today. By creating such beautiful and detailed outdoor elements, Unique Stone honors the vision of legendary architects Richard Morris Hunt, Frederick Law Olmsted, and many others.

The Biltmore Garden Collection by Unique Stone allows you to bring the old-world charm of Biltmore to life in your own yard, garden, and patio.

To view other products, visit the Biltmore Garden Collection from Unique Stone.

A Valentine Blend of Bulbs

A sweet ‘Valentine’ mix

Want to surprise your favorite gardener with a sweet spring gift? Consider easy-to-grow dahlias in a gorgeous array of colors like the new Biltmore ‘Valentine’ mix from Netherland Bulb Company. Dahlias offer glorious blooms sure to delight the novice gardener as well as the seasoned professional.

This dahlia mixture contains several different varieties and is called ‘Valentine’ in honor of the red and white colors you can expect from the mature flowers. The mix is perfect for the adventurous gardener—just plant in the spring and be surprised all over again in summer when the colorful blooms began to open up in your garden.

As one expert said, “Never have so many gardeners received so much for so little work, as when they grow dahlias.’‘

Ask your local garden center for Biltmore ‘Valentine’ dahlia mix and other Netherland Bulb Company products.


Hooked on dahlias

Dahlias come in a wide array of sizes, colors, and textures and are one of the most rewarding summer flowers of all. They’re really easy to grow and generally provide spectacular results whether you leave them in the garden or use them as cut flowers in arrangements.

If you’re already a dahlia fan, you know just how wonderful they are. If you’re not as familiar with these summery showstoppers, here is the information you need to get started (and prepare to be ‘hooked!’).


Dahlia details

Dahlias are native to Mexico, but there’s about as much resemblance between the original native varieties and the modern Dutch hybrids as there is between a toy car and a brand new model in the showroom.

When planting dahlia ‘bulbs,’ be aware that the bulbs are actually tubers. They look a lot like peony roots—or sort of like a bunch of carrots. The plants grow quickly and always produce lush, green foliage. Some dahlias grow quite tall, as well, and may need to be staked for support—especially those varieties that produce large, heavy flower heads.

Thanks to our licensee Netherland Bulb Company for providing interesting information on dahlias—plus a wonderful mix of cheerful colors sure to make everyone smile!

Winter Warmer-Upper

In the winter months, The Conservatory offers a welcome and toasty respite for folks roaming theInside the Conservatory grounds around Biltmore House and the Walled Garden. Maybe it’s going out on a limb to say it’s one of the warmest spots in all of western North Carolina, but certainly it comes pretty close.

 The Conservatory’s soaring greenhouse design by Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt, has a way of sneaking up on guests despite its 40-foot height and 7,500 square feet. That’s because it’s located down a steep hill from Biltmore House.

 Its position on the lower part of the property protects the building from the harsh winds that roll across the south lawn (terrace) of Biltmore House. Plus, as per the architect’s plans, it doesn’t distract from the view of the front of Biltmore House.  Our visitors today often don’t realize the building’s majestic beauty until they’re practically right up on top of it!

In the winter months, its internal temperatures mimic those of a jungle, with thousands of tropical plants experiencing their peak blooming time. Towering palms and colorful Begonia, Bird of Paradise, Lollipop Plant and Anthurium dazzle on a dreary cold day.

And between now and the end of March, The Orchid Room, located in the southern wing of the building, turns into an absolute showplace with a huge variety of stunning orchids, nurtured and maintained by the Conservatory’s crew members.

Stop in for a warm-up!

About the photos

During the winter months, Biltmore’s Conservatory provides a warm respite for Walled Garden visitors (top). Anthurium  thrives in the building’s tropical temperatures.

Biltmore and Roses: a 120-year love affair

Roses and Biltmore share a 120-year history that began when Fredrick Olmsted first started planning the grounds. When guests visit the Rose Garden, they are walking into a very special part of the estate’s history. Both George and Edith Vanderbilt took an interest in the garden, and they worked closely with Chauncey Beadle, then head of estate landscaping, to make changes to it, and double it in size from its original layout, drafted by Olmsted.  

Historical records contain correspondence from a century ago with many rose nurseries, including Jackson & Perkins. The earliest roses were purchased from Ellwanger & Barry, Mount Hope Nurseries of Rochester, N.Y.; John N. May, Rose Grower of Summit, N.J. (Beadle’s former employer); Penrose Nurseries (Robert Scott & Son) of Philadelphia; Howard Rose Company in California, and numerous other suppliers.

The Biltmore Nursery

The estate’s commercial nursery business also grew and sold many varieties of roses as shown in the Biltmore Rose Catalog. Variety selection, wish lists, and a host of rose-related issues went back and forth between Biltmore and the horticultural companies with which they worked. The Biltmore Nursery was one of the largest plant nurseries in the United States until a 1916 flood destroyed the operation.

After the flood, the idea of a Biltmore nursery remained dormant for some time.  During the 1960s, however, the estate developed and operated a nursery for wholesale and retail sales of ornamental nursery stock and to supply a landscape contracting business, as well as a commercial greenhouse operation for the production of hanging baskets and potted flowers. In the 1990s, another estate nursery venture was developed with plants primarily sold to regional nurseries and garden centers until late 2007.

Biltmore International Rose Trials

A new part of roses at Biltmore are the Biltmore International Rose Trials. Patterned after similar trials all over Europe and under the umbrella of the World Federation of Rose Societies, the trials give breeders from all over the world a place to trial and display their roses. Awards are announced each spring with the judging and a festive awards luncheon. Learn more about this year’s event here.
Drawing from the inspiration started by Mr. Olmsted and brought fully into bloom by Mrs. Vanderbilt, Biltmore is again emerging as an innovator and leader in the world of roses.

Thanks to Paul Zimmerman, exclusive Biltmore Rose Consultant, for his contribution to this piece. He has specialized in roses for nearly 20 years and is the owner of Paul Zimmerman Roses.

It’s Bedtime for Tulip Bulbs

gardener planting bulbsWe pause now from our holiday postings to bring you a mini-preview of things to come this Spring.

In our region, November is the time to plant springtime bulbs. And that’s exactly what Biltmore’s Walled Garden crew did earlier this month, spending many hours on hands and knees tucking tulip bulbs into the ground for their long winter’s naps. They’ll need the rest – the tulips, we mean – because they have a show to put on.  (Not that our hard-working crew doesn’t need the rest, of course!)

When April arrives, our annual Biltmore Blooms event (formerly known as Festival of Flowers) will already be underway. The bulbs currently in the ground will transform themselves into bright green stems and showy petals in coordinated hues of pink and dark purple; and yellow, orange and light purple.

Estate-wide, the horticulture team planted around 96,000 bulbs. They dug thousands of 6-inch deep holes and dropped between eight and six bulbs into each one to ensure three or four weeks of bloom time.

Parker Andes, Director of Horticulture, suggests if you’re planting tulip bulbs in your garden at home, wait until the soil’s temperature drops to below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  Arrange them so their pointy sides are facing up.

 He also advises that bulbs in the ground often serve as a subterranean buffet for critters like voles. If you have problems with these tiny rodents, add a little gravel to each hole to keep them from tunneling toward your bulbs.

Extra tidbit in the name of Trivial Pursuit:  What do Biltmore gardeners talk about while planting tulip bulbs? Any number of things, says Travis Murray, Walled Garden Crew Leader. The day we took these photos, the topic was “Favorite 1980s Horror Movies.”

Plant Bulbs Now for Beautiful Spring Gardens

Longing to create a gorgeous spring garden? Fall is the ideal time to lay the foundation by planting bulbs. Popular spring bulbs such as tulips, crocuses, daffodils, and hyacinths need fall and winter to prepare for spring blooms.

Fall Bulb Planting Tips

Plant when the soil temperature is cool. “Ideally, the soil’s temperature should be between 50–55 degrees,” says Parker Andes, Director of Horticulture.

Plant bulbs in a sunny location in a hole that is six inches deep. Make sure the tip of the bulb faces upwards. For the most impact, dig wide holes and place multiple bulbs in one hole. “Grouping bulbs in one hole creates a bigger visual impact because the blooms are closer together,” Parker said.

Plant Now with Biltmore Bulbs

Get a head start on a beautiful garden by looking for Biltmore For Your Home Bulbs at your local garden center. Select from exclusive Biltmore collections created by the world-renowned Netherland Bulb Company.

Find a retailer near you.

Prepare Soil in the Fall for a Healthy Spring Garden

When a hint of autumn chill is in the air, gardening may be the last thing on your to-do list. However, fall is the perfect time for amending and rebuilding healthy soil eco-systems.

Working in Your Fall Garden

In most urban and suburban neighborhoods, the top-soil has been removed. By amending your soil in the fall, you lay the foundation for healthy plants and gardens.

Begin by adding organic materials to the soil. This gives Mother Nature a helping hand and prepares your soil for spring growth. Organic materials are naturally acidic and help break down concentrated minerals in the soil. The minerals in turn support and encourage winter root growth and provide a nutrient boost in the spring.

Gardening with Biltmore Naturals

Take the work out of preparing your fall garden with our Biltmore Naturals garden line. Our products deliver high-quality organic materials and beneficial microbes similar to the raw ingredients found in nature. This builds soil fertility and creates a healthy soil and plant ecosystem.

We recommend the following products for fall soil application:

  • Garden Build
  • Pure Castings
  • Garden Boost
  • Garden Feed (4-4-2)

Make the Most of the Outdoors

Extending your living space isn’t new—in the 1890s, Frederick Law Olmsted created outdoor “rooms” at Biltmore. From the soothing shade of the Library Terrace to the sunny Italian Garden, the Vanderbilts used these spaces for entertaining guests.

Today, there are many ways to decorate and personalize outdoor spaces. Start your project by considering how you want to use the area.

Give Yourself Room for Dining and Relaxing

Seeking space for al fresco dining and great grilling? Plan a brick or flagstone surface for sure footing. A table and chairs in cast aluminum or wrought iron are durable and stylish selections. Add practical storage with a sideboard or hutch designed for outdoor use.

Want a leisurely retreat? Think soft—lush grass and deeply cushioned sofas, chairs, and lounges. All-weather wicker and new fabrics endure the elements while providing comfortable seating. Choose from a wide range of fabric colors and patterns and change your outdoor décor to complement the seasons.


Build the Walls and Ceiling

Look to plants and other landscape materials to build your “walls.” Add privacy and screening with shrubs and trees, then layer in perennials for color and fragrance.

Treat a stunning view as “art” by framing it with plants or an arbor, or draw attention to it with a garden sculpture. No view in sight? Create your own focal point with a water feature, specimen plant, or bloom-filled containers. Finish with a vine-covered trellis or array of patio umbrellas for a “ceiling” that provides shade and a sense of enclosure.

Personalize Your Space with Accessories

Just like indoors, make your outdoor room complete with accessories. Weatherproof lamps, fountains, wall art, rustic fireplaces—the choices are endless. Remember to accent your space with colorful flowers and foliage plants to add a welcoming touch. Above all, have fun with your outdoor décor and enjoy the results.

Discover the possibilities with Biltmore™ For Your Home outdoor furniture and décor.