An Overview of Biltmore’s Gardens
When George Vanderbilt began purchasing land for his grand country estate in 1888, the tracts were rough and overworked. Vanderbilt wanted to create an European country setting to complement his grand chateau, but he knew that he needed help to accomplish his goal. He hired Frederick Law Olmsted, the first American landscape architect, to fulfill his vision. It would be Olmsted’s final project and perhaps his most grand legacy. A
Beautiful Vision for Biltmore
After visiting the estate for the first time in 1889, Olmsted wrote to Vanderbilt, “My advice would be to make a small park into which to look from your house; make a small pleasure ground and garden, farm your river bottom chiefly to keep and fatten livestock with view to manure; and make the rest a forest, improving the existing woods and planting the old fields.” Vanderbilt agreed with Olmsted’s recommendations, especially the suggestion that agricultural operations should be developed.
Biltmore would be a working estate with a large farm carefully designed by Olmsted. But it would also be a place of beauty where impressive gardens would showcase nature’s glory. Olmsted included a combination of woodlands, fields and gardens, which blended European design with his signature naturalistic style.
His plans were for several formal gardens – a four-acre Walled Garden, a 16th-century Italian Garden with three reflecting pools, and a dramatic Rampe Douce and Esplanade lined by an avenue of trees at the entrance to Biltmore House. In addition to these more formal touches, Olmsted also planned a Shrub Garden, a Lagoon and an elaborately designed three-mile Approach Road.
The Creation of the Azalea Garden
To assist with the development of the gardens, Olmsted hired a Cornell-educated horticulturalist, Chauncey Beadle. Beadle was only hired temporarily in 1890, but ended up staying until his death in 1960.
During his time on the estate, Beadle developed a love for azaleas and amassed a personal collection containing 3,000 plants. In 1940, he donated the entire collection to Biltmore. The shrubs were planted in the Glen, which is now known as the Azalea Garden thanks to Beadle’s extraordinary generosity.
Exploring Biltmore’s Gardens
Today, guests enjoy access to all of Biltmore’s gardens. Including:
Library and South Terraces
The terraces were designed for Vanderbilt’s guests who preferred to stay close to Biltmore House. The South Terrace provides spectacular views, while the Library Terrace is shaded by an arbor of wisteria and trumpet creeper vines.
The Italian Garden features classical statuary and three formal water gardens. Designed for quiet moments of reflection, this area also hosted tennis and croquet matches on the grassy area near the house. In warm weather, koi and goldfish swim in the pools among large Victorian lilies, water lilies, Lotus and papyrus.
A path leads you through the Shrub Garden, notable for two N.C. State Champion Trees: the golden rain tree and river birch. This garden consists of more than 500 different varieties of plants, shrubs, and trees, many of which were popular in the early 1900s.
This sheltered valley is surrounded by a grove of white pines and hemlocks. It is filled with an array of spring blooming shrubs including forsythia, spirea, deutzia and mock orange.
This four-acre formal garden features flowerbeds planted in the “bedding out” style popular in the late 1800s. Two arbors totaling 236 feet serve as its spine. The central beds feature thousands of tulips in the spring, vivid summer annuals and a kaleidoscope of mums in the fall. Themed areas include a Victorian border, winter border, scented border, butterfly garden and white border.
Historic Rose Garden
More than 200 varieties of heirloom and hybrid roses bloom in the Rose Garden. This garden also features historically inspired rose displays with may poles, plus a selection of varieties that are undergoing trial.
Designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, this glass-roofed building nurtures exotic orchids, ferns, and palms and provides flowers and plants for the house just as it did in the Vanderbilts’ time.
This 15-acre garden—the largest on the estate—contains one of the country’s largest selections of native azaleas. It represents 60 years of work by Chauncey Beadle, an avid azalea collector and horticulturist hired at Biltmore in 1890 and who later became the estate’s superintendent. Also notable are the evergreen China firs—often mistaken for pine trees but with wide, flat, sharp leaves rather than needles—and the Katsura trees that display brilliant foliage and a distinctive “cotton candy” fragrance in autumn.
Frederick Law Olmsted created this water feature from an old creek-fed millpond, adding a rustic boat house so the Vanderbilts’ guests could rest while enjoying the gardens. The arched brick bridge crossing the pond was featured in the 1991 film The Last of the Mohicans.