Lucas Jack and Biltmore’s Rose Garden
Written By Judy Ross
In Our Gardens
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.
Biltmore’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.
“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.
In 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.
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.