Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Biltmore Gardens in Winter

Inside the Conservatory
I'm not trying to convince anyone that a garden in winter delights the eye as much as in summer.  I'm not even attempting to persuade someone that it's as lovely as spring or fall.  However, The Biltmore Gardens in winter pleasantly surprised me.

Designed by the founding father of American landscape architecture, Fredrick Law Olmstead, the original 125,000 acres of Vanderbilt property has been pared down over the years to a manageable 8,000 acres for the many horticultural experts employed today.  (The 87,000 acre Pisqah National Forest just south of Asheville formerly belonged to the Biltmore estate.  Thanks to the pioneering work in forestry management of Mr. Gifford Pinchot and Dr. Carl A. Schenck, this area is now considered "the cradle of forestry.")  There are many gardens surrounding the house each with their own purpose and endearment.  

Arriving at the estate the morning after our Candlelight Tour, we followed the winding Approach Road with its many indigenous trees and shrubs and spotted several rare species of plants that didn't belong to the area yet looked at home.  Olmstead designed this three mile drive to delight visitors arriving leisurely by horse and carriage; we crept along the road, but a Ford Excursion with a noisy diesel engine just wasn't the same.  One of the parking attendants gave us an excellent tip for visiting the gardens only:  put your flashers on and you can drive all the way past the house and park at the Conservatory.  This was more convenient for us since we had brought Ginger the dog along (FYI- dogs are allowed in all outdoor areas of the estate, but no buildings.)
Unusual Orchids abound in the Orchid House

Wyatt: still determined to buy The Biltmore Estate
Taking turns walking Ginger, we toured the Conservatory.  Here, the garden thrives year round!  The glass roofed building, designed by the main house architect- Richard Morris Hunt, branched out to many separate houses: Palm House with its enormous center tree, Cool House with poinsettias and other cool weather plants, Hot House with year round beauty, and the breathtakingly bizarre Orchid House with the odd assortment of the strange, but beautiful orchids.

Ginger was one cool pup!
Next, the four acre Walled Garden, originally designed for a utilitarian kitchen garden, became a formal English garden at the request of George Vanderbilt.  In winter, this garden is a shadow of its summer glory with only a few spent rose blossoms still clinging to their vines.  This garden, alone, requires a future visit to the Estate.  Each season (except winter) displays a colorful show in the symmetrical flower gardens from daffodils to zinnias to chrysanthemums.  In winter, a master gardener can study the layout and design of the garden without the hindrance of flowers blocking the view. (How's that for optimism!)

The views from the House are spectacular!
The Shrub Garden and the Italian Garden leading up to the House from the Walled Garden are perfect for the exercise enthusiast.  These are where Jane Austen's contemporaries would "take a turn" in the garden.  Both of these are lovely at any time of the year and while walking we boned up on our horticulture knowledge as each plant is labeled in English and Latin terminology.  When we finally reached the House, Ginger pulled at her leash in order to make each visitor we met a new friend or completely terrified if they were already bent that way.  We took a few daytime shots of the massive home and headed back to our car exhausted, but filled with fresh air and a hunger that comes from exercise and good times.

On to the Antler Hill Village for lunch... and maybe a little wine tasting?


Love the signature side spiral staircase!

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