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Preservation Takes Root in Biltmore’s Italian Garden

Written By Jean Sexton

Posted 12/07/23

Updated 02/09/24

In Our Gardens

At Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, historic preservation projects come in many forms, encompassing far more than just the exterior of Biltmore House and the priceless collections of art and furnishings that fill America’s Largest Home®.

The grand gardens and grounds, designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, are preserved as carefully as any other aspect of George Vanderbilt’s 8,000-acre estate.

A new preservation project takes root

“In November 2023, we began removing the Hemlock hedge that bordered the Italian Garden for more than 50 years, replacing it with an American Holly hedge that is true to Olmsted’s vision for the area,” said Bill Quade, Director of Horticulture.

View of the holly hedge in front of the Conservatory at Biltmore that is part of our preservation project
The American Holly hedge at the top of the steps between the Rose Garden and the Conservatory yielded 350 cuttings for the Italian Garden preservation project.

This preservation project started in 2018 ago with cuttings taken from an original American Holly hedge located between the Historic Rose Garden and Butterfly Garden in front of the Conservatory. The cuttings—a mix of 350 male and female plants—were grown in containers at a regional nursery until they reached an appropriate age and size for transplanting.

Taking preservation to new heights

View of the Italian Garden near Biltmore House
Added during the 1960s, the high Hemlock hedge blocked the view from the Italian Garden into the areas below it.

“The hedge has dropped from a height of approximately 10 feet down to about 4.5 feet that we’ll maintain as the holly continues to mature,” Bill said. “That creates quite a drastic visual change for the area, allowing a much more open view down into Shrub Garden toward the Conservatory.”

Archival Biltmore photo of a pond in a garden with planters beside it
This archival photo taken August 23, 1895, shows the urns placed at regular intervals along the newly planted American Holly hedge that bordered the Italian Garden until it was removed in the 1960s.

In addition, replicas of the 16 large urns that are visible in early photos of the Italian Garden have been reproduced by the same company that re-created the urns in front of Biltmore House. Filled with leafy evergreen plantings, the urns have been added at intervals throughout the hedge.

Installation and completion

Green holly leaves and red berries
As the hedge grows in and matures, the mix of male and female American Holly plantings should provide evergreen leaves throughout the year along with bright seasonal berries.

“We don’t know why the American Holly hedge surrounding the Italian Garden was removed in the 1960s,” said Bill, “but with this preservation project, we’ll be using modern knowledge and techniques to adapt the original plan slightly to help the new hedge thrive and give the evergreen plantings in the urns the ability to survive year-round.”

“I believe this might be the most dramatic landscape preservation project since the replacement of the tulip poplars in front of Biltmore House in 2005,” Bill added.

View of the Italian Garden hemlock hedge and mountains at Biltmore
The Italian Garden Hemlock hedge as it appeared before being replaced with the American Holly hedge from Olmsted’s original design intent for Biltmore’s landscape plan.

A first-look for Biltmore Annual Passholders

This information was originally shared with Biltmore’s Annual Passholders in the Fall/Holiday 2023 issue of Ambassador, our exclusive Passholder magazine. If you’re interested in getting insider access and exclusive benefits—like unlimited daytime visits for a full year!—check out our Passholder page.

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