Friday, June 1, 2012

America's Castle: The Biltmore

When I found out that this year's Garden Bloggers' Fling was going to be held in Asheville, North Carolina, I was so excited, not only to meet other bloggers and discuss gardening for a full three days, but because seeing the Biltmore Estate has been on my "bucket list" for a long, long time.  Although a tour of the Biltmore gardens was on the tour schedule, seeing the house itself was not.  So my traveling companions, Lisa and Beckie, and I arrived early on Thursday in order to tour the house before Fling activities got into full swing.

The Biltmore House was built by George Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, a self-made man who one might say achieved the American Dream by becoming the wealthiest industrialist of mid-19th century America.  The house was completed in 1895 after six years' of construction, which I find amazing considering the amount of elaborate detail throughout the house. Massive fireplaces--no two alike, it seemed; ornately carved woodwork; antique tapestries and priceless artwork on the walls . . . the whole effect left me awe-struck, walking around each room slowly so as not to miss a single detail. I found myself asking many questions of the docents available in each area and found the history of the estate and the Vanderbilt family fascinating. 

View of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the balcony of the house

The Biltmore rivals any castle I've seen in Europe; in fact, I liked it better.  It is opulent, but you could believe a family had actually lived there.  What appealed to me, too, was the fact that this wasn't a structure built by a mad king or rich monarch taking advantage of peasant labor.  George Vanderbilt and his wife were known as kind and generous people who treated their employees well, as evidenced by the surprisingly large and comfortable servant rooms on the lower level. 

Over a million visitors tour the estate each year, including the silly tourist waving to the camera above.  The income brought in by these visitors, along with some entrepreneurship, have enabled the Vanderbilt family to retain ownership of this beautiful landmark.  They have worked hard to preserve the house's original splendor, restoring the interior with authentic furnishings and wallcoverings of the period. (Photographs were prohibited inside.)  The grounds, too, are being restored as much as possible with the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted's vision in mind.

I could go on and on about all the interesting details about this house, but if you would like to know more, you can check out the official website here.

The Saturday of the Fling found us back at the Biltmore, this time with the whole group touring the gardens, which, as one might expect, are as expansive as the house.  Near the house the gardens are formal in design, including a walkway lined with Grecian-looking busts.  

Poseidon's fountain

A pergola at one end was covered with what must be very, very old wisteria.

The walled garden provides plenty of walkways to stroll leisurely and view plantings close-up.

Friends Beckie and Lisa took a moment to pose under a rose arbor.  Lisa's hat was made specially by a friend for this trip to the Biltmore--I think she might have been the most photographed Blogger on this day!

At the far end of the walled garden, steps led down to a conservatory filled with all kinds of lush plants. 

My favorite spot to rest for a bit were the two flanking butterfly gardens in front of the conservatory.  Filled with salvias, nigella, coneflowers, and other natives--and, butterflies, of course--this is more my style of garden.

As you travel further from the house, the landscape becomes much more informal.  A fellow blogger checks out this striking conifer, a Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar.  I wish I had explored a little further, because seeing photos on other blogs I realize I missed some beautiful sights.  But there was so much to see and do, it was hard to take it all in in a few hours.

Besides, we didn't want to miss the garden party!  Here Skeeter (center), her husband The Saint, and Laura enjoy the champagne provided by the Biltmore.  The Biltmore was one of the Fling's sponsors and not only provided free access to the gardens for us, but also some other goodies. 

Seeing the whole Biltmore Estate requires a full day--at least. Tickets may seem a bit pricey, but they give you access to not only the house and gardens, but also the winery and most other parts of the estate.  If you have only a few hours, though,  I would recommend touring the house first.  The gardens are lovely, but the house is so magnificent, it's worth every penny of the admission price.  Seeing this home made an impression on me that I won't soon forget.  Enjoying the Fling at Asheville with other garden bloggers and crossing off one of the top ten on my bucket list made this a very special trip indeed!


  1. I just love that last photo, Rose. You framed the garden so well with it. I'm so glad that photos weren't prohibited outside in the garden. Do you suppose they don't allow them inside for fear of theft? I imagine some of the artwork is priceless.

    Everything looks wonderful, but the best part of your post is seeing some of the bloggers I've known for quite a while now, if only through their blogs. Maybe next year I'll be able to go to the Fling and meet some of them in person.

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  3. This is a destination on my list to see. It looks like the Fling was very well treated and enjoyed it immensely!

  4. I wish I could have made it to the Fling - it sounds like you saw some wonderful places and had a great time! I was able to visit Biltmore during Christmas time a few years ago. Such an amazing house! It was decorated beautifully for the holidays, but the house itself outshone the decorations by far. I would love to visit it again sometime when the gardens are blooming - it's on my list!

  5. What fun! Becky and Lisa rocked the house-both so very cute. You three made a good team! So happy to have met you all!

  6. OMGosh, you got me sipping the bubbly! Now everyone will know I’m a slush! LOL. It was a fun day and sitting in that spot while sipping champagne was a delight. We missed a lot of the gardens due to sitting there but had the best time visiting with Flingers as they passed by. The house was awesome and yes, worth every penny spent to get inside! One down of my list as well… I think Biltmore was on a lot of Bucket Lists… Key word, WAS….. Thanks for the pic and for keeping me Skeeter….. Loved meeting you and we will def meet again girl…

  7. Loved the twisting of the roots of that vine and also the way you took that photo through that oval in the trellis.
    Glad you had a good time.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  8. It sounds like a really lovely trip, and your photos are beautiful, as usual :-)

    I especially love the wisteria stems.

  9. Love that picture of you in front of the Biltmore!!

  10. What an impressive looking house and a wonderful view from the balcony! You looked very at home on the lawn, Rose :-) It is clear you all had a lovely time and I love all those colourful hats!

    The rose arbour is beautiful and I also liked the last photo taken through the trellis.

  11. W2W, I thought maybe the ban on photos indoors had to do with copyright issues. The latticework was a perfect frame for photos--I wasn't the only one who thought of this, I see. I hope you can make it to the Fling one day, too! Next year is Seattle, but I'm doubtful on that, but in two years it's going to be in Charleston, S.C.

    Laurrie, This really has been a place I've wanted to visit for a long time. The Biltmore was very gracious in accommodating us on the garden tour.

    Indie, I would love to see the house decorated for Christmas--I bet it was gorgeous!

    Tina, One of the best parts of the Fling was meeting bloggers I've "known" for a long time, especially you!

    Skeeter, so good to meet you, too! I was drinking the sparkling grape juice that day, so perhaps you were, too?:)

    Maggie May, This was a trip I had been looking forward to for months, and I can honestly say it was even better than anticipated!

    Cassie Renee, The wisteria stems were something else--they must have been as old as the house.

    Janet, I sent that photo to my daughters to give them an idea of the kind of retirement home I want when they send me off someday:)

    Songbird, I only wish I could have taken a few photos inside. I was so impressed with the house itself that the gardens seemed a bit anticlimatic.

  12. What a beautiful estate! Thanks for sharing it with us. There are so many spots of interest.

  13. Rose a wonderful tour!Oh my that old Wisteria wood what stories it could tell of the gardeners who cared and pruned it!
    Nice to walk about luxury and admire!

  14. Hi Rose, It is fun to see such different views of the exact same garden. You almost might guess that it was a different place altogether. The shot of the Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar is quite amazing. And I really like the last shot looking out on the formal garden.

  15. Dear Rose,
    Such an amazing place. I have read about it! I bet seeing the house and the gardens was inspiring.
    Your photography is also inspiring...the rose arbor in full bloom made for a perfect spot for Lisa and Becky's photograph.....
    What a great hat!

  16. It all looks wonderful. I love walled gardens, especially with old red brick. And the rose arbour is lovely.

  17. My bucket list includes actually staying at the estate! Thanks for sharing these pictures which are divine. I almost felt like I was there in the company of friends.

  18. What a wonderful tour you had! Complete with champagne, I'm jealous. You look like you all had so much fun together. Wish I could see the inside of that castle, sounds incredible and I love antique architecture.

  19. Looks lovely
    Glad you managed to
    Tick something nice off your list!
    S x

  20. Such an amazing place. I hope to see Biltmore some day too. Love all the photos you shared. Really neat to see the bloggers I follow together too!
    I think one should have a nice big hat while touring there. It just looks appropriate.

  21. it is a very cool garden...I can't believe you stopped by my garden and I wasn't there to greet you. xoxogail

  22. I am so HAPPY you took us along on this trip!

    The tree is a 'Silk Floss'- my husband made me plant mine way out back where it would not endanger unsuspecting people- so many of my friends are tree huggers- with those thorns....

  23. Lydia, Thank you for the i.d. on the tree in the post about the Gentling gardens. I wished later that I had taken a photo of the whole tree in order to try to identify it. I checked out the 'Silk Floss', and yes, this is exactly what it looked like!


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