I had the opportunity to visit The Biltmore Estate (http://www.biltmore.com) in Asheville, NC last weekend. It was not by chance. I was meeting friends and when deciding where to meet I naturally opted for the choice which would allow a visit to renowned gardens and landscape.
The Biltmore house and grounds were begun in 1888 by the then 25-year-old George W. Vanderbilt, grandson of the famous and fabulously wealthy Cornelius Vanderbilt. When completed in 1895 the 175,000 square feet house was heralded as the “largest private residence in America” and the grounds covered 125,000 acres. Vanderbilt hired Richard Morris Hunt as his architect and, significantly for the purpose of this blog and landscape history, Frederick Law Olmstead Sr. for his landscape architect. The Biltmore Estate would be Olmstead’s last major commission.
The project did not have an auspicious beginning. The land purchased for Biltmore was flat, over–farmed and over-logged. After surveying several thousand acres Olmstead decided the farmland was too depleted to support the type of grand gardens that Vanderbilt wanted and told him that the land was unfit for gardens. Vanderbilt, however, would not accept this verdict and Olmstead continued with the project.