The Biltmore Estate, click to see larger, it is a beautiful scene looking out across the Great Lawn.
George Vanderbilt had the French Chateau inspired Biltmore constructed in 1895 as an escape from the rigors of the everyday. It is an 8000 acre estate that the descendants had graciously opened to the public.
I visited as a guest along with others from the Garden Blogger’s Spring Fling. As a designer and architect, I was quite moved by the home and property. It really is a historical masterpiece of the time period, when grand displays of the wealthy were the norm.
The property is very diverse in that the formal gardens surround the mansion, and the informal areas comprise the rest of the property. I previously showed some of the forested and fielded areas in the post, Is that a Bear at the Biltmore , images from the bus ride into the estate. I also showed the image above in that post.
I was a little disappointed that a post quickly appeared after the Fling that was very critical of the formal gardens, it was entitled, Beautiful, But Kind of a Yawn. That post must have been taken down, because I went searching for it to counter the points made since I did not share the same experience of the gardens, or the same opinion in the use of the turf grass.
If I recall correctly, the post took issue with the sizable grassed courtyards and promenades. The house is so ornate, that anything but would take away from the architecture. Grass is visceral and very quiet to look at, calming in color, texture and sense of space.
And it was a status symbol. It presents this estate in a grand manner, with the approach being ceremonious with the horseshoe-shaped drive. It allowed a clear vista into the estate, as well as from the estate. The design has a lot going on in what appears to many as just grass.
Turf was, and is, a very important design element visually, and has a psychological component as well. It helps one to feel the sense of monumentality in this case by setting the stage for the structure, but does tone down a landscape in other applications, giving the eye a resting point. A building so grand, does need this resting point.
In this time period, it proclaimed that the home owner was so wealthy that he could afford to use the land for play, rather than as a place to raise crops. Up until the American suburbs were introduced by the late 1800s, the lawn remained the privilege of the wealthy and upper class. The Biltmore was built just as everyday Americans were only just getting a small patch of their own status symbol.
It really was the dawn of a new era as suburbs were only beginning as a result of the general implementation of electric railways in the late 1800s. Suburbs began to grow and grow in the United States, as a result of the first working model of the motor car in 1896. It was not until 1908 until the first consumer models came off a production line.
From these timelines, you can see that when the Biltmore was constructed, horses were the means of transportation. This must have played heavily into the design.
Really, a riding deck mower to mow square inches? I think looking at and discussing the use of grass in our culture is almost laughable, from both sides of the fence.
We are moving away from the turf dominated landscapes of the previous century and no longer equate turf grass with wealth. Today we choose more maintenance and environmentally friendly landscapes.
Ironically, this move takes us further back in history with the varied plantings and mixing of garden types. Back to the early colonists who had no time for something as unproductive and useless as a lawn. Early Americans planted their cottage gardens with edible and medicinal plants, plants that were actually very useful to their everyday lives.
But since the use of turf is very historically and socioeconomically motivated, did it ever occur to those ‘grass haters’ that what comes around goes around? In this era of climate change, don’t you think that in the future, many will be nostalgic for the lush green carpet?
Whether they agree or not with landscapes that include grass, there may be a time people will be envying the wealthy once again who can keep their grass when others can no longer afford to. Also, many of the people having little tolerance for turfed landscapes, probably grew up playing and picnicking on lawns. All the arguments on the use of pesticides and herbicides aside, lawns can exist without them. And people can enjoy them better than on the paved surfaces so common today.
It is not just grass that will be affected by warming and drying climates either, it will be gardens in general the way the environment seems to be shifting.
Even the native plants will succumb if rains disappear, so history may repeat but in a glaringly different way.
Long promenade across the Great Lawn to where the first image was taken.
But presently, turf still has a place in the landscape, although current lifestyles favor the use of perennial flower beds, herb gardens, groundcovers, and little grass.
The use of grass at this estate is historically correct for the time period and although it is the monoculture that was described elsewhere, it is fitting to the estate. Let’s just hope that the future of climate and environment allows the wealthy to keep their grass.
Axis view from the house towards the Statue of Diana.
Since the post no longer can be found on that particular blog, I will just end to say that I thought the estate was very well designed. Yes, it is opulent, but that adds to the appeal. I myself would not have designed in so much grass, but readily understand and respect the time in which others did so. Another complaint I have read repeatedly on other sites was that people did not walk the length of the Great Lawn to experience the rest of this landscape. But my images show that they did.
Like my 12 part series on Chanticleer, the posts on Biltmore will be a series of four. Next, we visit the Rose Gardens.