On the outskirts of Asheville, North Carolina, totally surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, sits the Biltmore Estate. Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest single-family home, it was build at the turn of the 19th century by George Washington Vanderbilt, grandson of railroad magnate "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt.
With that kind of size and pedigree, the house gets most of the attention. However the job of designing gardens to complement this masterpiece was given to Frederick Law Olmsted, a designer well up to the task. Olmsted is probably best know for his public projects, like New York Citys Central Park. This was the last and also the largest commission Olmsted took on in his career.
Mr. Vanderbilt came to the project with very definite ideas of his own. The original landscape plan was referenced in a surviving letter from Vanderbilt to Olmsted, showing that an area Olmsted originally designed as a fruit and vegetable garden was transformed into an ornamental garden at Vanderbilts request. But you can definitely see the Olmsted influence in the gardens, even as they have evolved over the years.
Gardens by their nature are dynamic, ever changing works of art. So there is an inherent challenge to maintaining an historic garden. No reputable garden designer expects their work to remain static. But how do you maintain the integrity of a notable garden without condemning it to the obsolete?
The gardeners at the Biltmore estate in Asheville, NC have solved that conundrum by working to maintain the spirit of the original plan, along with many of the original plants and trees which have survived, and supplementing with suitable modern varieties that keep the gardens relevant.