Not just houseplants—this is a house for plants
All Things Biltmore • 06/06/19
Written By Judy Ross
Imagine the luxury of having a house full of tropical plants to delight your senses—ranging from 40-foot palms to bromelaids just four inches tall. George and Edith Vanderbilt enjoyed that experience with Biltmore’s Conservatory, truly a house built for nurturing plants.
Beneath its expansive glass roof are hundreds of varieties grown in several purposefully designed spaces, including the Orchid Room, Hot House, and Cool House. Now is a wonderful time to visit this horticultural marvel as it also hosts Biltmore Gardens Railway through September 29, 2019.
As you enter into the central expanse, you’ll immediate see why it was designated as the Palm House on architect Richard Morris Hunt‘s original plans. The grand space rises 40 feet high and contains our tallest plants, including the Queen Palm and Golden Hawaiian Bamboo that reach to the ceiling. Other notable specimens are the Mast Tree, a tall and narrow tree species once used to build ship masts, and the broadest plants in the building: Silver Bismark Palms, spreading 15 to 20 feet wide.
To the left of the Palm House is the Orchid Room, filled with exotic blooms boasting myriad colors and forms. There are more than 1,000 orchid plants in the Conservatory’s collection, ranging from the familiar corsage and lady slipper varieties to rare examples that perfume the air with tantalizing fragrance. Our year-round orchid display is made possible by Biltmore’s eclectic collection that has plants continually coming into flower during the year.
From over-the-top spring floral designs to a holiday wonderland, the Exhibit Room to the right of the Palm House hosts seasonally changing displays. This is a favorite location for guests to capture photos, particularly duringBiltmore Gardens Railway with its featured replica of Biltmore’s Lodge Gate.
You might recognize some of the residents of the Hot House, as the tropical environment promotes the lush growth of philodendrons, pothos, and other species sold as plants suitable for our own homes.
This is a subtropical zone, featuring Australian tree ferns, banana trees, and the evocatively-named Lollipop plants and Shrimp plants. Note particularly the overachieving Thai Giant Elephant Ear; with leaves 4–5 feet long, this plant has the biggest leaves in the Conservatory.
Each summer, the alleyways adjoining the Hot House and Cool House are filled with plants creating additional spaces for guests to enjoy. During Biltmore Gardens Railway, the Hot Alley features Bromeliads amid multi-level model train tracks and replicas of the Bass Pond Waterfall and Gardener’s Cottage, while the Cool Alley showcases plants from the ginger and Heliconia families alongside fanciful replicas of All Souls’ Church and the Biltmore Passenger Station.
This workspace used by gardeners to repot plants as needed fulfills the same function today as it did more than a century ago when the Conservatory was completed.
Want a Conservatory of your own?
In case you are inspired to build your own indoor garden, consider this: each of the 2,000+ plants in Biltmore’s Conservatory is watered by hand every day because of the unique needs of the varied species. Instead, we recommend purchasing a Biltmore Annual Pass so you can return season after season to enjoy our gardens—without the hard work!