Friday, June 18, 2010

Biltmore's Gardens

A view back at the house from the path leading to the Biltmore's Italian garden.

The estate's grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted...the landscape architect most noted for his design of New York's Central Park.

Yeah...that guy. Pretty impressive! Originally the property was just heavy forest; under Olmsted the wooded vistas and garden's took shape. Biltmore claims that the grounds were the first "managed" forest in America.

All sorts of interesting tree specimens were planted in "display" couldn't help but notice the huge trees set apart on small knolls with identifying signs to inform you of where the tree naturally grew.

The there was the walled Italian garden. It was rather between seasons; I have seen pictures of it in full spring and fall glory.
The garden was divided into two equal parts by a walk way, and on one side was a small gardener's cottage.
Even though we missed the flower display at their prime, that is not to say that there were not eye catching individual flowers, like this nearly black hollyhock.

The walk way dividing the garden was covered with lathe and shady grapevines and clematis.

At the end of the walk was a small "English" garden area, and then the hot house.

I've recently become a fan of potting edible items together with floral items. Chard is a lovely way of adding height to a potted combination.
I don't know what this plant is called...
But the up close shot is interesting. Is that the flower's bud or the pod???
The poppies almost looked like tulips!
Inside the hot house, which lived up to it's name. Ashville, North Carolina does get fact this past winter they had 36 inches of snowfall. A hot house is necessary for growing tender and tropical flowers.
And boy could they ever grow them!
I think this was my favorite thing in the hot house.
Isn't that a creative fountain?
The water flowed through the wine bottle and gently filled the barrel top to overflow down the sides of the barrel.
The floating wine corks is another great idea.
(Biltmore also has a winery on the estate, but we will get to that later.)
Another wine themed fountain! I wonder how hard it would be to drill holes through the bottom of three wine bottles and hook up a fountain like this one?
I'm always up for container garden suggestions....
Oh yes, a Wardian case. I'd love a Wardian case. (Named after Mr. Ward who traveled about collecting plants and noticed that plants sealed up in glass cases continued to grow. He eventually displayed a fern that had been growing for 16 years without additional water sealed up in a glass box. Mr. Ward..the Father of the Terrarium.)
Another way to recycle wine bottles.
Wonder if I could locate one of those "Tap-its" that used to be advertised for turning bottles into water glasses.
Does anyone else out there remember those ads?

The funniest moment of the time in the hot house: A woman informing her rather disinterested husband that THIS was rhubarb. She even made him walk over to it so she could point it out up close.

I managed to keep out of it, and keep my mouth shut...and it wasn't easy for me to do so either.

My favorite spot in the hot house. If I had been a guest of the Vanderbilt's I surely would have spent some time with a friend drinking tea and chatting in this scene.
Bernie and I tend to wander about separately. It is always fun to re-discover each other along the way.
To give you an idea how tall these houses are.
There were actually several "rooms", each with specific amounts of plant growing needs being addressed.
Guess what this plant was named?
Bet you want a Lollipop plant just because of the fun name.
Sea creatures?
Or queens with wide brimmed bonnets? (orchids are so much more interesting when viewed up close.)
It felt steamy hot to us, but while we were there, the overhead steam system kicked on. Whew!
There was one room devoted just to orchids.
(Longwood Garden in Pennsylvania has a more impressive orchid room imho.)
There was also a garden about those door handles?
I fell in love with this small fountain.
And this flower package. It was a good thing that you have to pay for extra luggage these day or I would have been lugging a bunch of stuff home.
We headed back to our car...taking pictures along the way.
A stealthily camouflaged squirrel kept an eye on us as we got into our car.
We had to drive through the gardens to get to our next stop. It was at that point I noticed the espaliered fruit trees against the garden walls.
The dogwood was just past it's prime. A dogwood tree covered in the snowy white or pink four petal blossoms is as southern as magnolias and Spanish moss.
A stream ran though the property.
Up on the hillside: can you guess is up there?

Canada geese of course!

(They really are everywhere.

We had quite a wait for the que of Canadas to pass. They just kept coming and coming....
The little streams emptied into the French Broad River. Apparently you can canoe or boat down the river as a tour option too.
Next stop: The winery and the new Antler Hill Village, about 2.4 miles from the big house.
To be continued...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Carolina Adventure: Part 4: Visit to the BIGGEST house

Yes, it was bright and early when the alarm clock went off on Saturday morning.
And it was promptly shut off.
We wound up sleeping in to just before ten am. While I got ready to go, Bernie went down to grab a plate of breakfast for us to eat in the room. Can you guess what famous southern style breakfast we enjoyed?
(Hint: It wasn't grits!)

I had only been in South Carolina for a day and a half, and already we were leaving to go where the leaves were heart shaped.
Where hot yellow Marine owned muscle cars taunted other cars.

Nay Nay indeed!
So where were we now?
First in Flight: North Carolina! In Ashville to be precise.
Why were we there?
To finally get to visit the biggest privately built house in America!

(We had reserved tickets once before and were unable to go there for some reason...this adventure had been a long time in coming!)
Biltmore: The country getaway home of Mr. and Mrs. George Vanderbilt.

For six years, George built the place when he was a bachelor; the mansion became the home of his new bride Edith in 1898. (She who captured the heart of the man that everyone wonder would ever be caught.)

The story of their "homecoming" after meeting aboard ship, marrying in France and honeymooning in Europe rivaled any romantic story in print.

I was greatly dismayed to learn that no photos or even sketching was allowed inside. With a new mega chip and stoked up battery in my camera I was ready to have a photographic field day.

The picture above is the outside of the conservatory room just inside and to the right of the house's entry way.

Twin lions guarded the steps to the entry. (We missed our Tiggie!)

Inside the house's 4 acres of floor space are:
250 rooms
34 bedrooms
43 bathrooms
65 fireplaces
Breakfast room
Billard room
Music room
and much more...
The banquet hall is seven stories high, like a banqueting hall in an ancient castle.
Oh, and it has a full pipe organ installed in one wall so the diners can enjoy music while they dine.
The basement alone housed a swimming pool (with underwater lighting!) gymnasium and changing rooms, bowling alley, servants' quarters, kitchens, and more.
Mr. Vanderbilt had a gorgeous two story library in which resides Napoleon Bonaparte's chess table and chess set. The table, we were informed, was where Napoleon's heart was placed during his autopsy.
I assume it was in a container of some sort.
Otherwise: Ewwww.

Each room had a person assigned to be a host and to answer visitor's questions. We were using an audio tour, but when I came to the library I had a question: What was the last book added to the library?

I stumped the hostess. She admitted no one had ever asked her that question! Everyone wanted to know the title of the oldest book.

Maybe if you go you can ask and see if she has looked the answer up ;-)

Photography as allowed on the balcony. The Blue Ridge Mountains rolled away past the green pastures and woodlands.

It was easy to imagine being a real guest and sitting out on the balcony on the cool wicker chairs, enjoying the view, the fragrances on the breezes and conversations with George or Edith or other interesting guests.

There really was a nice breeze that billowed through the sheer window curtains in the bedrooms. I could imagine being a guest in one of the guest bedrooms and awaking to sweet fragrance and beautiful view.

It was no small balcony!
George Vanderbuilt not only had a magnificent taste in architecture, he also had a fabulous collection of 15th century tapestry, art prints, and color combinations.

His wife Edith was very into photography so lots of pictures exist of the frolics at Biltmore. You can see some of her photographs in a slideshow and glimpses into some of the rooms HERE.

Her pictures of her only daughter Cornelia and the five St. Bernards that shared the home would have made for classic blogging materials.
George wanted his home to function as a "get-away" from his famous Vanderbilt upbringing and celebrity status of the day. His dad was uber rich as were his brothers. George didn't work to expand the Vanderbilt empire; instead he took his portion of the inheritance and plowed it into his North Carolina home and gardens and traveling about the world.

The most important thing to the couple was that Biltmore feel like a home and that visitors would feel at home via their hospitality.

They succeeded. Despite the massive proportions of the house, it was easy to imaging hanging out with friends, relaxing, reading, having tea etc in a very "get-away country weekend" sort of way.

The part I would have found hard was that back in that time period it was common to change your "costume" six or seven times a day. Each change could eat up almost an hour of time; and required the services of a maid to "do you up". No hanging around in comfy sweats or shorts and tee shirts back then!

While George was into automobiles, he still included an impressively large stable as part of the estate's plan.
With a lovely butter shade of tiled walls and artistic iron work about each stall, the stable today serve (all cleaned up of course!) as a restaurant for visitors

Some of Edith's pictures hung on the wall.
(She would have made a great blogger!~)

Here's a splash of history for you to justify trolling around blogdom instead of doing serious things.

Just click on the picture to see the print get a whole lot bigger!

Or do like I did: select the menu's dessert sampler to make a whole lot bigger you...
For lunch I had a delicious Sampler Platter of Carolina barbecues that had me making enthusiastic ummmmyummm sounds.

Stable Café Sampler Platter included:

Spice-rubbed Smoked Ribs

Pulled Pork Barbeque

Rotisserie Chicken,
Collard Greens

Corn & Green Chili Spoonbread

House-made Sweet Pickles
Cornbread with Honey Butter Served

with sweet tea of course!

I was in southern heaven. Bernie opted for a cobb salad which he deemed the best he had ever had. Go figure! How often do you find great reasonably priced food at places that have tours?

Feel free to check out the other menu items. It has a great selection of traditional southern foods.

The dessert sampler plate pictured above included:

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Pie

Banana Pudding
Almond Brownie

Key Lime Cheesecake

(I advise taking a wardrobe of loose fitting clothes to wear while visiting the south. Because of the heat and all...certainly not because it is so difficult to avoid finding delicious tasting food everywhere.)
The restaurant was in the stable, but other rooms lead up to where the horses were kept. They had been re-purposed for shops.

I'm not much of a one for collecting dolls, but this shop could have gotten me wanting to start.
Notice how almost all the dolls are wearing hats?

Cute, cute, cute!

The doll room actually was originally the saddle room. The metal forms still attached to the walls were used to store straddles back in the day.

Now that's a hat!

Even a simple hat looks great on a doll.

(And no, Vicki, I don't think she looks like Chuckie!)

The sock monkey who was almost a tall as a child made me think of fellow blogger and sock monkey fan Dawn.

In other shops there were interesting candy treats available...

Tempting books...

Glorious china (this is a tureen. Like anyone would dare to actually serve soup from it!)

Fragile and heavily detailed china cups (like anyone would serve tea in this? Oh, well, actually, I guess I would!)

And you could buy your own set of the Vanderbuilt's china pattern.

I realized if I was suddenly very very rich I would want one of these music boxes that allowed one to stack a collection of punched out circular music discs for a steady sweet music box sound in the back ground.

Above is a photo of the stable's roofline. In addition to the stable and saddle room, there was a blanket room, tack room, and a few other rooms that not being horsey minded, I can't recall.
There was a rather large courtyard within the U shaped building; I could imagine long ago guests meeting up in the courtyard before galloping off to the woods.
It is possible to bring your own horse, if you happen to have one, to the Biltmore Equestrian Center to enjoy riding around the grounds and whatnot, or even rent one a Biltmore horse for the day if you prefer. There are 80 miles of riding trails around the place, that should keep a horse and it's person happy for awhile!

And if you are non-horse inclined, you can take to the trails on Segways, bikes, hikes or carriage rides.
(If you plan on hitting the southern food like we did, may I suggest the bike/hike option perhaps?)
Looking out from the stable courtyard and back at the house proper. There is a tour offered of just the roof tops. I think that would be very, very interesting to take!

How's this for a cool shot? (Yeah for optical zoom!)

Looking up at the same gargoyles....

Next up: Let's step into the Biltmore Gardens, shall we?

To be continued!