A favorite pastime of Biltmore Blooms is visiting the Azalea Garden—one of the largest selections of native azaleas in the country. The 15-acre garden is home to more than 20,000 plants, offering thousands upon thousands of vivid blooms of white, yellow, orange, and every shade of pink imaginable.
Biltmore’s Azalea Garden in peak bloom
But did you know the Azalea Garden was not actually part of the original plan for the estate?
This parade of color is a culmination of the passion of Chauncey Beadle, an avid azalea collector and horticulturist hired at Biltmore in 1890 who later became the estate superintendent.
Chauncey Beadle, ca. 1906
Beadle and “The Azalea Hunters”
Beginning in 1930, Beadle, along with fellow botanists and friends Frank Crayton and William Knight—aptly called “The Azalea Hunters”—spent countless hours over long weekends and holidays driving through each southeastern state searching for every species, natural hybrid, form, and color of azalea.
Chauncey Beadle in the Azalea Garden, ca. 1948
Beadle maintained his massive personal collection at his farm on the east side of Asheville until 1940, but he knew that he needed to find a home for his azaleas, fondly referred to as his “children,” before he became too old to care for them.
He could think of no better home than the Glen in the valley below Biltmore’s Conservatory and gardens. Edith Vanderbilt Gerry and Judge Junius G. Adams, Biltmore Company president at the time, agreed.
Azalea Garden ceremony, ca. 1940
Establishing the Azalea Garden
In honor of his then fifty years of service to Biltmore, the estate held a celebration for Beadle* on April 1, 1940, in the Glen, which from that day forward would be named the Azalea Garden. All estate employees and their spouses were invited to the event.
Edith Vanderbilt Gerry and Chauncey Beadle, ca. 1940
During the ceremony, Edith unveiled a marker that memorializes Beadle’s lifetime of faithful service and gift of his azaleas to Biltmore.
Join us in celebrating the generosity and genius of Chauncey Beadle with a springtime stroll through the Azalea Garden. Plan your visit today!
Downton Abbey: The Exhibition ended September 7, 2020. Please enjoy this archived content.
Did you know everyday life in Biltmore House bore striking resemblance to fictional life at Downton Abbey? In honor of Biltmore playing host to Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, let’s take a look at some of the similarities—and differences—between these two grand homes.
A Working Estate
The greatest overarching parallel between Downton Abbey and Biltmore is the idea of both as working estates overseen by one man and his family. While Downton Abbey is set in England, George Vanderbilt’s vision for Biltmore was heavily influenced by the model of similar English estates. There were numerous tenant families working the land, and the Vanderbilts grew to know each of these families closely over the years.
Within the houses, the standards of domestic service were much the same between the Crawleys and the Vanderbilts. While there were some differences in the ways American and English households were managed, the housekeeper played a major role. At Biltmore, this role was primarily filled by Mrs. King; for Downton Abbey, it’s Mrs. Hughes—both known for their massive house key rings and calm demeanors.
Though numerous characters within the Downton Abbey household, both above stairs and below, expressed concerns about advancements in technology, they were widely embraced at Biltmore. Even in 1895, Biltmore House was constructed with many of these in mind: telephones, elevators, forced heating, mechanical refrigeration, an electric servant call bell system, electric lighting, and more.
Preserving the Home
One of the primary themes in Downton Abbey is the importance Lord Grantham and his family place on preserving and maintaining their home for succeeding generations. This has also been a prime concern at Biltmore for George Vanderbilt’s descendants. Today, the estate is owned and overseen by the fourth and fifth generations of the family.
How do we select the finest fruit for Biltmore wines? Here’s an overview of the process, from grape to glass!
Sourcing fine North Carolina vintages
In his book Lady On The Hill, George Vanderbilt‘s grandson William A.V. Cecil noted that “Asheville was about the same latitude as Gibraltar in the Mediterranean, and with an altitude between 2,100 and 2,500 feet, the fields of the estate would enjoy warm days and cool nights in the summer.”
While the climate of Western North Carolina is not nearly as predictable as that of the Mediterranean or other major grape-growing regions, when conditions are right, the fruit produced in our estate vineyards is exceptional and earns the Biltmore Reserve label for our finest North Carolina vintages.
To ensure we can meet the growing demand for Biltmore wines, however, we also look to our local vineyard partners in Polk County—a lower-elevation region just south of Asheville that experiences slightly warmer temperatures with less danger of late season frost damage.
We also look to our west coast partners for the quality and consistency of grapes needed to handcraft our award-winning wines. Several times each year, Biltmore winemaker Sharon Fenchak schedules extended visits to California to meet with our growing partners and select outstanding vintages for Biltmore wines.
“Some of the finest American wine grapes come from the vineyards of coastal California,” Sharon said. “The terroir—the different combinations of weather and soil in each hill and valley—translate into the distinctive flavors and qualities that characterize the wines of that region.”
California’s Northern Coast
This large wine grape-growing region is located north of San Francisco, with a maritime climate that is affected by cool fogs and breezes from the Pacific Ocean. Some of California’s best-known American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), including Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Lake County, Napa, and Russian River Valley, are located here.
Stretching from San Francisco Bay south to Santa Barbara County, this region offers a warmer climate that still benefits from the cooling influences of the Pacific Ocean. We partner with vineyards from such prestigious AVAs as Arroyo Seco, Cienega Valley, Monterey, and Paso Robles.
“Some of the more unusual varietals we choose from partner vineyards here include Barbera, Marsanne, Mourvedre, Rousanne, and Tempranillo,” Sharon noted.
A wide range of grapes are now being
grown in the fertile valleys of Washington, making the state an
important producer of outstanding wine varietals. Vineyards are found
primarily in the eastern half of the state that benefits from a dryer
shrub-steppe ecosystem and the rain shadow of the Cascade Range.
The state experiences long hours of daylight—approximately two more
hours per day during the growing season than California—and milder, more
“We are excited to be working with some great partner vineyards in
Washington,” said Sharon. “We’re selecting a lot of excellent grapes
for our American Series and Limited Release Series wines.”
Handcrafting our award-winning wines
While Sharon and her team handcraft
the majority of our wines from start to finish at Biltmore’s Winery in
Asheville, North Carolina, our Vanderbilt Reserve wines and Antler Hill wines
are created in the particular region where they were grown. This
painstaking process is overseen—from selecting the vintage and
expressing the varietal character to aging the wine—by Sharon during her
visits to California.
“All our wines represent the Vanderbilt family’s legacy of gracious hospitality on which Biltmore was founded,” Sharon said, “and as Biltmore’s winemaker, I am committed to handcrafting our wines with the philosophy of keeping each one true to varietal character and consistent from vintage to vintage. Whether I’m at work in North Carolina or California or Washington, I’m focused on creating wines that reflect the quality of this family-owned estate and Winery.”
Biltmore’s stunning natural beauty and long tradition of hospitality have earned it recognition as a romantic destination for more than a century. But with 8,000 acres to explore, it can be hard to pick the perfect must-see spot to share with your loved one. Take a look at our list of the top five most naturally romantic locations on the estate.
Strategically set on the far west corner of the South Terrace, this secluded spot offers sweeping views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountain vistas.
Tucked away between the Pergola and the Shrub Garden is the Tennis Lawn, an often overlooked “outdoor room” with a fairy-tale view of America’s Largest Home.
Indoor enchantment awaits in Biltmore’s Conservatory, a private tropical oasis that houses a wide variety of exotic plants beneath its grand glass roof.
Bass Pond Waterfall
An easy stroll down our Azalea Garden path leads to this rewarding view of the Bass Pond Waterfall—a picturesque backdrop for many Biltmore proposals.
Shores of the Lagoon
Perfect for a picnic or a pleasant stroll, the shores of the Lagoon offer a number of quiet, cozy spots that have a marvelous view of Biltmore House in the distance.
Image credits Feature image: Stephanie Wilson Tea House image: Yu Lin Hsu Tennis Lawn image: Jason Rosa Conservatory image: The Biltmore Company Bass Pond image: Breanoh Lafayette-Brooks Lagoon image: Gary Horne