The Biltmore Estate Gardens Asheville, NC

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.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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38 Responses to The Biltmore Estate Gardens Asheville, NC

  1. HolleyGarden says:

    I think the Biltmore gardens are amazing. Grand – and that’s how it should be! And the historical aspect is important, too, with such an estate such as this. You make a good point that the future may hold some very different gardens for us than what we are used to now. But I hope that future includes being allowed to have the garden we love – whether that is grass, vegetables, or flowers.

  2. I need to go back. I should have season passes for living so close. I like lawns, yes I know, heresy, there is a need for a calming spot. I will continue to diminish the volume of grass in our yard, but with dogs I want grass for them to run on. I would rather that than them running through the gardens. (which they do!)
    Love the first photo framed as a poster.

    • I too have very little lawn, but design for big estates that require it. It is all determined by the character of the neighborhood, the style of the architecture, and the wants/needs of the clients. I always am amazed how opinionated many get on this subject. Being a designer myself, I am middle of the road. My wants and needs are different that those of clients. And clients are the final say. It is my guess that was the case at Biltmore as well.

  3. We enjoyed Biltmore, too! If I remember right, the entire 8000 acres was landscaped by a landscape architect? Amazing, I hope you took the tour of the winery, too.

  4. You bring great historic context with this post. I realize grass is tabu now but I think it is a necessary element in such a grand estate. I can’t imagine living without some grass. It is an important place for my kids and dogs to play. Another issue of course is that kids today aren’t getting outside enough and if we eliminate all the grass they would suffer even more. I love your photos…they really show off the grounds!

    • My small amount of turf grass at my home was also designed for my dogs. I did a whole post on that in my design series. I totally agree on kids not getting out in the environment. I remember as a kid I was never inside. I even studied outside.

      Grass being taboo is a recently invented way of life. It sells books and creates good reading when it is condemned. I prefer to support wildlife, and that is my reason for limiting a turf yard. But, I have mentioned before, from a design point, that every city yard having a run of perennial beds looks like a wild mess. The diversity of gardens with some yards breaking up the confusion is a good thing aesthetically. Also safer. My dense landscaping may have contributed to my neighbor’s home getting prowled recently. Someone was looking in his windows, probably hidden behind my hedge. It is always something to consider when landscaping, what effect one property has on another.

  5. A.M.B. says:

    I have always wanted to see the formal gardens at Biltmore! What a beautiful place. I can see how some might consider the expansive lawns a bit stiff/dull, but it looks just lovely to me. I’m looking forward to the rest of your posts in this series.

  6. Wait a minute – grass is “taboo” only among a very small circle of garden enthusiasts. For the vast majority of homeowners, “yard” means lawn with some foundation plantings and a flower bed or two. That is certainly true in my suburban town, especially among the large number of folks who use lawn services. And yes, I would argue that conventional lawns are still used more than they should be, which is different from saying they should be abolished.

    As to the Biltmore, I think I would enjoy seeing it, but it is not the kind of landscaping that really appeals to me. As you say, it has a historic value that should be appreciated. Actually, from your photos it reminds me a little bit of Versailles.

    • I agree. This rabid trend of tanking the lawns is getting a bit tiring. Your noting the small circle is probably true, but they are a vocal bunch. I always wonder how many hypocrites are among them too. Preaching one thing and doing another. I prefer to have wildlife around me and turf grass does not get too many desirable critters, but city living does demand some consideration to the neighborhood. Those that defy the norm are not necessarily the best neighbors either.

      The main problem with the whole grass or no grass issue is how the ones that choose to have it are portrayed. You would think those that choose no grass are the ones that walk on water and the ones that have it should hide in shame. That is how ridiculous this issue has gotten. The attitude should be, have what you want for the reasons you want it. Heck, it’s only a garden for heaven’s sake, and trends change. If we wait long enough the issue will be mute anyway. Nature will determine it for us.

      • I would be reluctant to criticize people who defy the norm of front lawns, in part because I’m one of them. I do think people who plant alternatives to lawn should keep their neighbors sensibilities in mind, and there are ways to do that. But I agree with your point that people should have the kinds of gardens they want for the reasons they want them. I also agree that self-righteousness is never appealing (or productive), and is rarely justified since we all have our ethical inconsistencies (don’t get me started on the people who shop at Whole Foods – but of course I shouldn’t start because occasionally I go there myself).

        • I too am one of them, the only one in my neighborhood. Those that I meant are the ones that over accessorize. We have all seen them, the front yard looks like a garage sale. They are usually the ones with too many cats too. 😀

  7. Ah I see we are both visiting gardens at the moment, but very different ones. The scale of Biltmore is immense – pure statement. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on grass and it’s introduction to the suburbs (reminded me of my studies in Planning oh so long ago!), it’s use in landscape architecture and the environmental impacts. All in all an anjoyable read and visit

  8. Oh, how grand! It’s wonderful that the public is able to enjoy this.

  9. Donna, I have visited the Biltmore estate twice, and although I hadn’t seen the outlying areas you shared in the earlier post, I did see all of the closer-in vistas you shared here. I never once thought that there was “too much lawn.” I enjoyed the expanse of it and how it set off all of the architectural elements of the house and grounds. Your lovely photos brought back many good memories.

    • It is all about historical context. Others calling out for a design change really made my hair stand up on end. I never did reply to the post in question because I could not have been civil in my remarks. Blogging is so much of ‘that’s a pretty photo, ” and “Amazing job”, you know the safe and superficial things. I just left a post where the blog author did one of the most thoughtful and comprehensive posts on a famous garden and all the comments proceeding mine said “Beautiful images.” No one made a comment on the content of the post, which was so good, it was like reading a book.

  10. I liked the grass and will always have it in my garden too. The maintenance is another thing, urgh. Mowing and weeding the lawn gets old but it is oh so soothing with a lot of gardens in a landscape.

    • Your comment brings up another issue. They didn’t have power mowers in the 1890s. Was all that grass kept short by SHEEP? Push rotary mowers would have taken an entire regiment of mowers.

      • Many estates did employ sheep, but I am not sure about Biltmore. Today, many ‘green’ corporations, like Google, have rent-a-goats. They are trucked in and let loose on campus. Fertilizer and a mow job in one. I bet Biltmore has a huge grounds crew, and also I doubt the grass was the variety it is today. I would love to look into this.

    • Tina, I mowed only three times this whole year. The season was so dry that the grass barely grew. I did water which I very rarely ever do this year for the first time and the grass still did not grow. It stayed pretty green rather than going dormant. My grass right now is very green and healthy (lots of weeds though, but I don’t much care). My neighbor, who has a lawn service and waters everyday has enormous areas that are dry and brown. These will not green up either. They are burnt out from repeated fertilization/pest control in too hot and dry of weather. A few neighbors had new sod this year to go along with their lawn service programs. Also, lawns looking pretty shabby despite constant watering. I am wondering when it will occur to people that this inappropriate level of lawn care is senseless. So what if there are weeds. If mowed the green is better than whimpy bladed grass from bad timing on the fertilizer.

  11. Having been a golf course superintendent, turf grass products sales representative, landscape designer and contractor, turf grass has always been prevalent in all the landscapes I’ve designed, maintained and implemented. Every home I’ve lived in has had a large percentage of turf, and I suppose for a man a great looking lawn is a ‘man’ thing.

    Aesthetics aside, due to a downsizing in my own economy, I’ve had to lower my use of high aesthetics and high maintenance turf. I loved the look of a striped blue green lawn, the best in the neighborhood or town. I have started added more landscaped areas. After receiving my last two water bills and a lack of rainfall, I must again lower my use of turf grass and change to more warm season turf grass’s which go dormant during extended drought periods such as buffalo grass. I used to grow 609 buffalo grass in Texas and let it grow up to 5-6″ . The gray-blue color was ‘meadow like’ but also aesthetically pleasing.

    I too become weary of the doom and gloom turf grass haters. And don’t get me started on discussions of fertilizer and pesticide use. I sold and used them for 25 years. What’s strange to me
    as I write this however is how I’ve changed my viewpoint to more of a moderate from the standpoint of pesticide use. I believe pesticides get blamed for everything unjustly sometimes. But I believe also the main reason pesticides are used is caused from using the wrong plant in the wrong place.

    Better get out of the rabbit hole, Greg.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful and honest comment, Greg. It is good to hear from someone like yourself that has been in this industry. I don’t look at turf as high maintenance because I have so little of it, but also because I don’t do anything about the weeds and lack of rain normally. This year, I did water in July. Like I said to Tina, I only mowed three times because the weather was so hot and dry. My biggest job with grass is the edging I do in Spring. I don’t use pesticides because I value the insects more than I value my plants. It is like when the rabbits visit, they don’t kill off the plants like the asters, so I don’t do anything about them. My garden is so over planted anyway, I will share. I can only imagine how bad the weather has been this year in places like where you are from. We had it bad, but you had it worse. I even read there may be another dust bowl in the future. I am seriously concerned for the environment in the coming years. More so for farmers than gardeners. We may be pulling up perennials to be planting food crops if it gets any worse. I too question the criticism level against companies like Scotts. What happened this year with Scotts and the National Wildlife Federation was a shame. The NWF caved under the pressure from those ‘vocal bloggers’. The names they volleyed at Scotts on the NWF site was embarrassing for the industry as a whole. I always look at the bigger picture. Good could have come out of them working together and also, I wonder what we would pay for produce without companies like Monsanto and Scotts. It would be better all around to have the companies use development money for safer products and work within safe limitations of product use.

  12. Really interesting post on two counts for me. When I first saw the picture, I thought I was looking at something European – I had no idea anything like this existed in the US. And, I frankly have never though about grass before, or it’s role as a symbol of status. Got me thinking – thanks very much for sharing.

    • I am so glad you mentioned that my post “got you thinking.” I really like to engage a reader and get them to add opinion and thoughts. As for looking like a European estate, that was the architects directive I am very sure. The French, English and Italian gardens and old world villas and castles were much admired in this country.

  13. I have never been to Biltmore, so your tour is extremely interesting for me. I agree with your comments about creating a suitable setting for such an opulent house and about how necessary the lawn is to rest the eye when confronted with such an ornate building. It is very tricky to replicate the sense of rest that lawn offers to the eye – and to the mind.

    It has been interesting to read the comments above. In my humble opinion, a fed, watered, striped, treated luxury lawn is unrelaxing. A mown and edged lawn makes a great foil for plants and gives the kids somewhere soft to play – and I love to see some weeds – a lawn simply isn’t a lawn without daisies! I just remove any prickly weeds out by hand, then I kick off my shoes since
    walking barefoot across a lawn on a sunny day is luxury indeed.

    • Thank you for you comment and opinions. I do agree with you wholeheartedly on the ribbon like mowing of estate lawns. Unfortunately, this formal appearance is often requested of the lawn service companies on these estate properties. And you are correct, all have timed and scheduled irrigation, along with regimented fertilization.

      I am like you and enjoy the small daisies and violets that appear in the grass. I even like the dandelion in early Spring, not so much when they seed or only show rosettes. In our area, shoeless lawn walking is like walking a mine field. Too many city cats! 😀

  14. I am so glad that I finally made it to the magnificent Biltmore during the fling. Definitely a one-of-a-kind place.

  15. wow…what an incredible place…the shot of the house with the lawn in front reminds me of a very similar building we have here in london, uk…buckingham palace. the biltmore building looks very much like it. but what a way to live…great if you ahve the money and the means….i’ll stick to my 1 bed apartment for now….!

  16. Still kicking that I missed this but your pictures just bring it to life…one of the best posts about the Biltmore I have seen and am looking forward to the rest!!

  17. I’ve been so bad. I’ve barely posted anything on the gardens we visited while in Asheville. I suppose it’ll give me plenty of posts to write during the winter months. I think your Biltmore photos are WAY better than anything I took. I am no fan of grass, but hardly a crusader against it. My disdain comes mainly from mowing a half-acre suburban yard every summer weekend growing up. I loathed dad’s imposed yard work (rolling, mowing, raking, edging, feeding, weeding) but relished chances to help my grandad in his vegetable garden.

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  19. Indie says:

    I was able to visit Biltmore during Christmas time once several years ago, and the architecture is definitely stunning! It’s a beautiful house! I wish I could have seen it with the gardens. Everything was very brown when I went.

    That is a lot of lawn, but Southerners do love their grass! It truly is a status symbol, even now. In many neighborhoods here if you don’t maintain your lawn sufficiently, you will be looked down on by your neighbors or even fined by the homeowners’ association. As much as I hate maintaining grass, it can be beautiful. I’ve heard grass compared to a frame around a painting – it frames the garden and house so nicely.

    The gardens look beautiful. I look forward to seeing the rest of the photos!

  20. lula says:

    What an impressive reportage!!! I like it very much and your photography is absolutely grandiouse!!!

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