Preparing Biltmore’s Historic Gardens for Fall

The task list is long in Stacey Weir’s weekly planner this time of year as she and her crew begin preparing Biltmore’s historic gardens for fall.

As Historic Gardens Manager, Stacey and her team must focus on putting the gardens to bed after the long, lush days of summer are done.

Preparing our historic gardens for fall
Preparations for fall begin during late summer in Biltmore’s historic gardens

“The landscape has delighted our guests all season with a showy tribute to Frederick Law Olmsted’s original landscape scheme,” said Stacey, “but now it’s time to be preparing Biltmore’s historic gardens for fall.”

The ever-changing gardens require meticulous note-taking and calendar-minding to stay on track for the next season… and the next and the next.

It’s challenging for Stacey to summarize what her team does to get the gardens ready for fall and winter, but she shares some of the main tasks below–and notes that you can follow the Biltmore team’s lead in your own garden at home.

Fall tasks at hand

“One of our first tasks for preparing Biltmore’s historic gardens for fall begins just after Labor Day,” Stacey said. “Our crews will be busy pulling all of the tropical plants that have been on display during warmer weather.”

Preparing Biltmore's historic gardens for fall
After Labor Day, tropical plants will be returned to the Conservatory

That means the massive terra cotta planters filled with elephant ears that line the front of Biltmore House and other areas are being emptied and stored for next summer.

“Some crew members will suit up in waders to work in the Italian Garden pools where tropical lilies and enormous Victorian lily pads are just finishing their blooming season,” said Stacey. “The crew will weed out the remains and clean the ponds.”

Preparing Biltmore's historic gardens for fall
A gardener dons waders to work in the Italian Garden pools

In addition, Stacey notes that height pruning in the floral pattern beds and borders of the Walled Garden is a priority in order to keep leaf drop manageable as the winds pick up with seasonal change. Perennials are cut back to ensure good growth for spring.

“We’ll lift the dahlia bulbs out of the ground in the Walled Garden’s Victorian border to allow the soil to dry naturally,” Stacey said. “The bulbs will be placed in a cool dry place to store over winter to be replanted in the spring.”

Mum’s the word in the Walled Garden

Fall mums in the Walled Garden at Biltmore
Vibrant mums are a sure sign of fall in the Walled Garden.

Biltmore’s signature fall color flower display of mums will also be planted in the Walled Garden pattern beds.

The mums will begin showing glorious color in late September and early October, with peak bloom around the second or third week of October. 

“We usually plan a warm-toned color scheme for fall, with shades of orange, golden yellow, and deep reds and purples,” noted Stacey.

Fall leaves become a part of Biltmore soil

Preparing Biltmore's historic gardens for fall
The beautiful fall colors of the Azalea Garden. Credit: The Biltmore Company

As temperatures cool and the leaves begin to change color, just like at your house, there’s leaf management to consider. The horticulture crew embarks on several leaf clean-ups throughout the season to minimize final clean-up at the end of the season.

Crews collect the leaves and use them for compost, or they put the leaves in to a tub grinder with woody debris and grind everything to use for soil.

Any leftovers are used in a compost that made with herbaceous debris, which is broadcast in the field crops and food plots throughout estate property.

Christmas and winter work

Poinsettias growing at Biltmore
Poinsettias being grown in the production house at the Conservatory

A portion of the poinsettias used during our annual Christmas at Biltmore displays are grown in the production house near the Conservatory.

Planted in July, the poinsettias begin to pop up in early fall. A selection of the full-grown plants will be placed in Biltmore House, while the others will decorate the Conservatory.

In early October, the Conservatory team will also plant tulip bulbs in pots in order to have tulip bloom and color “under glass” by Valentine’s Day in mid-February.

Looking ahead to Biltmore Blooms

Spring tulips at Biltmore
Tulips are a sure sign of spring at Biltmore

And then, there are the tulips which herald the start of our springtime Biltmore Blooms celebration.

To enjoy vivid blooms in April, the bulbs must be planted in November just before Thanksgiving. Actual planting days are based on temperatures to avoid planting when the ground is frozen.

“Each fall, our crews plant thousands upon thousands of bulbs including tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths in the Walled Garden and across the estate. When spring arrives, the total number of blooms is breathtaking!” said Stacey.

The matrix

Detailed drawing of Conservatory plantings
A hand-drawn sketch shows details of a planting in the Conservatory

To keep track of every plant–from seed to taking them out of the production house to putting them in the ground–all of these timetables and tasks are organized on paper.

The plans include a “priority matrix” that the gardeners have developed through the years to determine which tasks to focus on first depending on factors such as guest-facing locations and type of plant.

Otherwise, “It’s all a jumbled mess in your head,” Stacey said, She’s quick to add that when you’re working in the gardens season after season, the memory naturally retains the details.

Gardeners are constantly thinking several steps ahead of the task at hand. “In horticulture, everything effects the next thing,” said Stacey. “Perennial-wise you have to make allowances now to have success in the spring. Everything has the continual life span of birth and rebirth almost.”

Plan your fall getaway today

Couple enjoying fall at Antler Hill Village
Plan your spectacular fall getaway to Biltmore today!

From colorful leaves to crisp days and cool nights, there’s no better time to enjoy a visit to Biltmore than during the fall season. Plan your getaway today.

Painting with Plants in Biltmore’s Conservatory

From brilliant bromeliads to elegant orchids, painting with plants in Biltmore’s Conservatory is how Todd Roy, Conservatory Horticulturist, describes his work.

Painting with plants such as bromeliads and orchids in Biltmore's Conservatory
A breathtaking display of bromeliads and orchids in the Conservatory

Caring for Biltmore’s Plants

Todd Roy checks plantings behind the Conservatory
Todd Roy checks plantings behind the Conservatory

Caring for this glorious garden under glass—filled with tropical treasures from around the world—is no easy task, but Todd enjoys his work in such exotic surroundings.

“It takes a lot of effort to keep the Conservatory looking so lush and beautiful,” said Todd. “All these plant species have different moisture needs, so we spend the first several hours of each day watering everything by hand—it helps us keep a close eye on the thousands of plants in our care.” 

Tropical Plant Treasures

Pink anthurium in Biltmore's Conservatory
Pink anthurium thrive in the Conservatory

Todd has been part of Biltmore’s Conservatory staff for the more than four years. Prior to joining the estate, he worked as a horticulturalist for a historic estate in southwest Florida, which gave him an appreciation for tropical plantings.

“I focus on adding to the diversity of what we offer in the Conservatory,” Todd said. “We have some palms that are very old, and some Cycads that date back to the time of the Vanderbilts, but we’re always adding new things for guests to discover and enjoy.”

Painting with Plants

Painting with plants and colorful foliage in the Conservatory
Todd incorporates colorful foliage into his designs

Along with his horticultural skills, Todd has a background in fine art, including painting and photography. His work in the Conservatory gives him a living canvas for expressing his creativity.

Detailed drawing of Conservatory plantings
A hand-drawn sketch shows details of a planting in the Conservatory

“From flowers to foliage, there are so many colors and textures to work with that it really is like ‘painting with plants’. My designs often begin with the color and pattern of foliage and how I can best create multi-level displays that intrigue our guests and engage their imagination,” said Todd.

A special project in 2019

Biltmore Gardens Railway includes this replica of the Bass Pond spillway in the Conservatory
In 2019, Biltmore Gardens Railway included this replica of the Bass Pond spillway in the Conservatory

In addition to his regular responsibilities, Todd was instrumental in preparing the Conservatory to host Biltmore Gardens Railway in 2019.

The charming botanical model train display featured replicas of estate landmarks, handcrafted in meticulous detail from such all-natural elements as leaves, bark, and twigs.

“Once the structures and the trains were installed, we had to create displays around them that both complemented the exhibition and showcased the Conservatory itself as one of Biltmore’s historic gardens,” Todd said. “It was an enormous project, but our guests really enjoyed it!”

Biltmore Gardens Railway returns in 2020

Biltlmore Gardens Railway display
Biltmore Gardens Railway in Antler Hill Village

Biltmore Gardens Railway returns to Biltmore this summer; you can enjoy it in Antler Hill Village from July 7 through September 7, 2020.

This year, the botanical model train display will showcase iconic American railway stations, some of which have ties to the Vanderbilt family.

Featured blog image: Todd Roy displays a brilliantly-colored bromeliad in Biltmore’s Conservatory

Biltmore Gardens Railway: A Structural Comparison

Twice a year, the Conservatory is transformed into a wonderland of creativity. Discover Biltmore Gardens Railway, featuring miniature estate landmark replicas made of all-natural materials gathered from Biltmore’s grounds. Let’s take an up-close look at the attention to detail paid to the recreations of these historic structures.

Image 1: Photograph of the Lodge Gate from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1900
Image 2: Applied Imagination’s recreation, on display in the Conservatory’s Exhibition Room

About the Lodge Gate Recreation

  • Materials collected from the estate: horse chestnut, magnolia leaves, pine bark, hickory nuts, lotus pods, contorted Filbert, bamboo, winged bean, pine cone scales, and acorn caps
  • Dimensions: 28”x22”x15”
  • Time to complete: 275+ hours
Image 1: Photograph of the Conservatory from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1910
Image 2: Applied Imagination’s recreation, on display in the Conservatory’s Orchid Room

About the Conservatory Recreation

  • Materials collected from the estate: horse chestnut, pine bark, anise, honeysuckle, ash, winged euonymus, contorted Filbert, and oak bark
  • Dimensions: 21”x52”x14”
  • Time to complete: 350+ hours
Image 1: Photograph of Biltmore House from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1910
Image 2: Applied Imagination’s recreation, on display in the Conservatory’s Palm House

About the Biltmore House Recreation

  • Materials collected from the estate: baby acorns, acorn caps, star anise, pine cone, contorted Filbert, grapevine, honeysuckle, eucalyptus leaves, bamboo, ash bark, oak bark, and elm bark
  • Dimensions: 66”x122”x55”
  • Time to complete: 1700+ hours

The enchantment of Biltmore Gardens Railway is a semi-annual event at Biltmore. Check our event listing for upcoming dates and plan your visit today!

Exploring Biltmore’s Conservatory in Asheville, NC

Imagine the luxury of having a house full of tropical plants to delight your senses—ranging from 40-foot palms to four-inches tall bromeliads. George and Edith Vanderbilt enjoyed that experience with Biltmore’s Conservatory, a beautifully designed greenhouse built for nurturing plants. 

Beneath its expansive glass roof, the Conservatory contains hundreds of plant varieties grown in several purposefully designed spaces, including the Orchid Room, Hot House, and Cool House. From spring to late summer, the Biltmore Gardens Railway is on display. The seasonal botanical model train display features small-scale replicas of the estate’s structures and includes approximately 800 feet of miniature rails.

Palm House at Biltmore

As you enter into this section of the Conservatory, you’ll immediately 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.

Orchid Room at Biltmore

To the left of the Palm House is the Orchid Room, filled with exotic orchid blooms in 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 expansive collection. Blooming orchids are rotated into the room year-round, ensuring an endless show of color.

Exhibit Room

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 year-round.

Hot House at Biltmore

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 popular houseplants.

Cool House at Biltmore

This is a subtropical zone, featuring Australian tree ferns, banana trees, and the aptly-named Lollipop plants and Shrimp plants. Note the overachieving Thai Giant Elephant Ear; with leaves 4–5 feet long, this plant has the biggest leaves in the Conservatory.

Alleys

Each summer, the alleyways adjoining the Hot House and Cool House are filled with plants for guests to enjoy. The Hot Alley features Bromeliads, while the Cool Alley showcases plants from the ginger and Heliconia families.

Potting Room at Biltmore

This workspace in the Conservatory has been used for over a century to re-pot plants as needed.

Enjoy 365 Days of Biltmore with an Annual Pass

Enjoy the grandeur and beauty of the 2,000+ plants in Biltmore’s Conservatory year-round. Purchase a Biltmore Annual Pass so you can return season after season to enjoy our gardens!