WORDS: The Biltmore

\My wife has been reading a very interesting book of late, the title of which is The Devil in the White City. Among other things, the book is about the great world’s fair in Chicago during the 1890’s. Well, our family likes to read to one another when we come to passages we think others might want to hear. A typical conversation would go something like this, “Oh, honey, listen to this.” Our children are always saying, “Papa, listen to this.” Or “Mama, listen to this.” It is one of the refrains of our family experience.  Well, my wife read to me from The Devil in the White City this week. The passage itself is all about Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s great, landscape architect. Olmsted, the landscape designer hired to help with Chicago’s world’s fair, saw landscape design as something much more than laying out flowerbeds. He sought to have the field of landscape architecture “recognized as a distinct branch of the fine arts, full sister to painting, sculpture, and brick-and-mortar architecture.”

This passage started me thinking about Olmsted; and as we’ve been discussing visiting foreign gardens, I thought we should discuss more fully a landscape right here in the U.S., in North Carolina and created by this landscaping genius Olmsted. I am, of course, referring to the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, North Carolina. It’s a landscape that every American ought to see. The estate and landscape and gardens surrounding it can hold their own in comparison to any landscape in the world.

George W. Vanderbilt was one of the richest men in the world when he hired Olmsted to create the landscape around a French chateau he was to build in North Carolina. The chateau itself has 365 rooms. None of the royalty in Europe would be ashamed to live there. The chateau is surrounded by 4,100 hectare acres of spectacular North Carolina mountain scenery and 10 hectare acres of formal gardens. There is an Italian garden with pools, a rose garden, fine greenhouses, walled English gardens, and massive plantings of hollies, boxwoods, azaleas, and rhododendrons.  As an American gardener, to walk through the grounds at the Biltmore makes me swell with pride. The place is simply fantastic.

So, I would like to suggest that you go visit the place. One of the nice things about the Biltmore Estate is that it is right here in America. You don’t have to cross an ocean to see it. The Biltmore Estate is still privately owned but is financed by visitors who come to see it. On the grounds there is a four star hotel, Inn on Biltmore Estate. There is a full-fledged winery, wonderful restaurants, and many outdoor activities like hiking trails, kayaking and canoeing. The place is just perfect for anybody wanting to get away and have a bit of vacation without any hassle. I’ve only spent one day there and it wetted my appetite. I’m sure I could spend three or four days in perfect contentment. I’m told the Christmas season is especially marvelous; but I think when I go again, it will be in the late spring or early summer. After all, I am a gardener.

Now, back to Olmsted. Olmsted spent much of his life designing public gardens- projects like New York’s Central Park and the world’s fair in Chicago. One of the things he enjoyed about designing the Biltmore was that there were no committees to deal with. If he could talk George Vanderbilt into doing it, it was done. Miles and miles of roads were constructed. Hundreds of thousands of trees were planted. Gardens fit for kings were built simply because George Vanderbilt wanted them, and Frederick Law Olmsted said they would be fitting.

So, if you haven’t made any gardening resolutions this year, why not resolve to go and see the Biltmore? I am absolutely positive you will enjoy it.

To begin plans, you might want to start with www.biltmore.com or call 877-444-3782 for information. This will be an easy resolution, for you will pamper yourself and at the same time take in a bit of the fine arts. And that fine art I am referring to is landscape design.
(Originally published in The Daily Sentinel Nacogdoches, Texas)

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