A Biltmore Storm


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!

Oakleaf Hydrangea on Steroids!

Oakleaf Hydrangea on Steroids!

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.

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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.

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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.

Shrimp plant; mine doesn't look like this!

Shrimp plant; mine doesn't look like this!

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!

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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.

vanderbilt-after-storm20090618_2099

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.

Vanderbilt-path-after-storm20090618_2134

Even water-logged, the gardens were gorgeous.

My Yarrow doesn't look like this, either.

My Yarrow doesn't look like this, either.

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.

Daylilies ran forever. You guessed it, mine don't look like these.

Daylilies ran forever. You guessed it, mine don't look like these.

The hydrangeas and rhododendrons were peaking as well, a sight I’ve never had the opportunity to see before. The size of these blooms!

Yes, that's a normal-sized woman's hand.

Yes, that's a normal-sized woman's hand.

And what is this gorgeous flower? The black leaves and brilliant yellow flower was stunning. I want one!

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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.

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Everything was so peaceful as we exited! What a change. It was a great experience, one I’ll never forget.

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17 thoughts on “A Biltmore Storm

  1. I’ve been there,and I was more impressed with the grounds than the buildings. There plants are spectacular! The whole time I was in the conservatory two thoughts were going through my mind: 1- What would a good ole hailstorm do to this, and 2- this would be an oven in my neck of the woods, useable only Dec thru Feb!

  2. I have to admit, Nola, the whole thing was impressive to me. The house was so far ahead of its time, with the electrically heated indoor pool (in 1895!), running water in all bathrooms, flushing toilets, and gorgeous architecture. I really didn’t get to see the grounds, as it rained as soon as we got out there, and once the electricity went out, we had to leave. But it was a grand adventure!

  3. Robin,

    I enjoyed the photographs on your blog. We share some of the same daylily varieties. I just started my own “on-line journal” about my gardening experiences: http://gardenfences.wordpress.com/ I’m a true novice at this, so any advice or listing of informative sources would be helpful.

    I, too, marvel at gardens in more temperate climates. I just helped my dad’s wife revamp a shady, perennial garden in Raleigh, N.C., and it is amazing how quickly gardens there take off.

    Thanks!

  4. welcome to the Austin Garden Bloggers group! The first place I suggest you start is by visiting the blogs that I have listed in my links of other garden bloggers around town. Those gardeners are all much more experienced that I, and each of them also have a blogroll to visit. I learned a tremendous amount about gardening in our climate (or NOT gardening, as it may be soon if this weather keeps up!), and “conversing” with them via comments on their blogposts. Have fun!

  5. Wow. I’d have loved your Biltmore photos under other circumstances, but these were pretty cool, since you captured such a doozy of a storm. I’m sure you were bummed out, but it sure made for an interesting post. And, you got to see and smell and taste some rain, too!

  6. Welcome back to town, Diana. Actually, I wasn’t bummed. Though I did miss out on seeing the gardens in all their glory, I truly loved the experience that I had. And it gives me an excuse to go back again for another visit, right?

  7. Having lived two decades in both Carolinas, I’ve visited Biltmore House many times. But never as a gardener! I’d love to go back and see it now.

    Wow, what a doozy of a storm though. I’m glad it didn’t spoil your visit. Probably all the Texans there that day were drinking up the rain, eh? Too bad you couldn’t have brought back some for Austin. 😉

  8. You’re right, Pam, seeing a storm after so long was more exciting than seeing the gardens. I didn’t realize you lived in both Carolinas. How wonderful that you can appreciate the plants in Texas after such a history with lushness.

  9. Very cool! I think I visited the Biltmore as a very young kid but I really don’t have any memories of it. I particularly love the humongous hydrangeas.

  10. As did I, Vertie! They were absolutely everywhere; my friend’s home was filled with blue ones, and every place we went there were hydrangeas, rhododendrons and daylilies. wow!

  11. We drove through the Smokies and the Highlands of North Carolina on our honeymoon, Robin, lived in South Carolina and have made many visits to both Carolinas over the years but I’ve only seen the Biltmore through the magic of bloggers who’ve been there. Those hydrangeas would have made me croon, too!

    I think your yellow-flowered black-leaved plant is a Dahlia called either ‘Mystic Illusion’ or ‘Knockout’ – http://www.finegardening.com/plantguide/dahlia-mystic-illusion.aspx. It wants rich, moist soil with partial sun. My fingers are twitching with covetousness, but buying one to plant here would be condemning it to death!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  12. I believe you might fall in love with Asheville/Biltmore and never want to leave, Annie! The hydrangeas in white, lime, blue and pink were absolutely everywhere, in all their glory. And that Dahlia! Oh yes, “rich, moist soil” LOL! Maybe in east Texas, but nowhere else in Tejas. I guess we will have to love it from afar. Thanks for the identity, as always.

  13. Is there something wrong, or are you just busy? I was updating feeds and I usually delete those that are not active in 4 weeks. I thought I’d ask before I let such a pretty blog go.
    Thanks.

  14. Yes, Nell Jean, there is something wrong. Central Texas is in the worst heat and drought weather ever in Austin’s history. The garden isn’t worth photographing, and too discouraging to write about.

  15. Oh, Dear, I’m so sorry. We suffered through two years of drought in ’07 and ’08. The grass went dormant. I dribbled water on the flowers. This spring, I thought I just couldn’t drag hoses for another summer. This has not been a dry year, but the pond has not yet filled up again, so the water table is still low.

    I hope things look up for you soon. I did not delete the feed; I’ll wait for better times at your place.

  16. Biltmore is so magical. What beautiful plants. The conservatory is spectacular. So glad the falling trees missed you and your car. Whew! Looks like you had a lovely time.

    ~Dawn

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