The Shrub GardenThe mountain views from the house almost make the need for gardens moot. But Vanderbilt wanted a working estate and Olmsted continued the naturalistic pastural and picturesque sensibilities into the more formal gardens. The Shrub Garden, also known as the shrubbery or ramble, uses romantic winding walkways to lead you through an impressive collection of trees and shrubs.
The Walled GardenAt the end of the ramble a gate opens to a four acre walled garden, one of the largest walled gardens in America. Unlike the bucolic feel of the ramble, the walled garden is a carefully crafted tapestry of bedding plants. The beds are replanted three times a year with seasonal color: spring tulips, a riot of summer color and the jeweled tones of more than 12,000 chrysanthemums for fall. Flowering trees, espaliers and perennial borders complete the secret garden feel.
The Rose Garden and ConservatoryWhat estate would be complete without a rose garden. The Biltmores 2,300 roses are showcased in the lower half of the walled garden, with the imposing conservatory as a backdrop. Inside the west side of the conservatory are tropical palms, cacti and orchids as well as plants waiting for a place outdoors. The east side is called the Cool House and features more azaleas, camellias and bulbs.
The Italian GardenPerhaps the least naturalistic of the gardens is the 16th century Italian garden. Situated on a terrace below the house, architecture and symmetry are the key design elements. Paths cut through a wide swath of grass past 3 formal pools toward an imposing stone stairway.
Olmsted got to indulge all of his gardening fascinations and G.W. Vanderbilt spent his money well. Obviously most of us could never try and replicate the gardens at the Biltmore estate. However, their collection of plants is one of the largest in the country and there is much to be learned from studying the variety and selection and the way they were incorporated into the naturalistic landscape of a very formal estate. Olmsted didnt have the diversity of plant material we enjoy today, but when money is no object you can still be choosy. While you will be able to see the best from around the world, most of the original plant selections were either collected locally or grown on site. As older specimens died out, succeeding gardeners chose heartier, disease resistant varieties to take their place, as Olmstead and Vanderbilt would probably have done.
Admission to the Biltmore Estate includes the grounds and gardens as well as the estates three restaurants and The Biltmore Estate Winery. Many of the plants are labeled and there are handouts for a self-guided tour. For more information, call 1-800-543-2961 or 1-704-255-1700 or visit their web site at www.biltmore.com.