I recently had the good fortune to visit a friend in North Carolina. While we grow many of the same plants, to look at the gardens there and look at my back yard, you wouldn’t think they were even related. Everything growing there is on steroids, I’m tellin’ ya! HUGE, glorious, green, lush, vigorous flowers, vines, shrubs, trees, everything. Oh! So THAT’S what a garden is supposed to look like? This Texas girl never realized. (You’ll notice I use the word “huge” many, many times in this post!)
The first part of our trip was in Asheville, home to the famous Biltmore Estate. Built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1888 and 1895, it is the largest privately owned home in the United States at 175,000 square feet and 250 rooms. And the gardens!
The guided castle tour, of which we saw “only” 55 rooms, was overwhelming and dramatic. It was raining (oh, glorious!) when we came back outside, so we sat and had a coke and watched the rain. It’s easy to see how the Great Smokey Mountains got named in this view from one of the main balconies after the gentle rain.
As the rains began to stop, I wanted to view the renowned gardens while we could. My friend and I started walking towards the Conservatory, 1/4 mile away, when the rain came back. There were many people out and about, so all of us jogged to to the Conservatory, which is 7500 sq ft of formal and informal greenhouses.
Inside are over 6 different rooms of plants: the Palm room, the Orchid Room, the Hot Room, the Cool room, and more that I can’t remember now. It was mind blowing, with hidden and secluded seats and benches scattered throughout, ponds, waterfalls, bird baths, you name it. Everywhere I looked, over thousands of square feet, were huge plants, everything blooming, an astounding sight.
While we’re in the Conservatory, protected from the rains except for a few leaks, Asheville got the storm of the century. For over half a hour, a torrential rain came down, with screeching wind, ridiculously loud, roof-shaking thunder boomers, and magnificent cracks of lightning. The final thunder boomer ended with a tremendous bang (and some screams), and the entire estate lost electricity!
There were probably over a hundred of us caught in the Conservatory. It was a breathtaking experience, with the air full of electrical charge, and floodwaters almost coming in the front door. We began to peek outside as the downpour subsided. The skies were too gray for me to get some of the flood-type pictures, but you can imagine. There were many leaves down everywhere.
The normally gracious staff apparently had never dealt with anything like this before, because they were in a bit of a tizzy. When the rain stopped, we made our way to the gift shop nearby. The staff there told us that there was 60 mph winds (which apparently was a big deal here; just a gentle breeze in west Texas. Of course, there are no trees to knock down in west Texas, either) and large trees were down all over the roads leading out of the estate. Without electricity, there was no communication between the Conservatory and the main house, as well as the shuttle buses to the parking lots. It took us over an hour to make our way back to the main house and get a shuttle back to our car.
As we picked our way back to the main house, we saw signs of the storm everywhere. Trees limbs hung low from the weight of so much water, so fast.
Even water-logged, the gardens were gorgeous.
I was fortunate to be in North Carolina at the peak of Daylily season. Oh My! Daylilies on the highways, daylilies at every home, daylilies of all kinds, everywhere. What a sight to see.
The hydrangeas and rhododendrons were peaking as well, a sight I’ve never had the opportunity to see before. The size of these blooms!
And what is this gorgeous flower? The black leaves and brilliant yellow flower was stunning. I want one!
As we left, on the 5 mile road exiting the 125,000 acre estate, there were huge fallen trees that they had chainsawed and hauled to the side to clear the way. The skies were bright and blue again, though we could see hail clouds in the distance. It was a fabulous experience for this drought-stricken gal that hasn’t gotten to be in a good storm in a few years.
Unfortunately, there were more than a few people whose cars were damaged from trees coming down in the parking lot. Ours was okay, thank goodness.
Everything was so peaceful as we exited! What a change. It was a great experience, one I’ll never forget.