Autumn gardens and biking at Biltmore House

November 17, 2022

During our trip to Asheville, North Carolina earlier this month, we spent a day at the Biltmore House — but didn’t get to see the castle-like chateau that the New York-based Vanderbilts built as their summer retreat. We’ve toured the house before, and it’s interesting, but I didn’t feel the need to revisit it. But an estate with gardens and parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted? Whom I could visit weekly.

The house sits above the garden, and elegant stone steps and balconies shaded by old wisteria vines lead you down.

“Back Yard” in Late-Fall Color

The house and its terraces overlook the aptly named Blue Ridge Mountains.

We passed through Italian gardens, where lily and papyrus ponds glowed in the warm season but were mostly dormant after several hard freezes. When we reached the long wisteria terrace overlooking the shrubbery garden, we paused to enjoy the view.

Many deciduous trees and shrubs at the Biltmore were still in rich color in early November. The Japanese maples were dressed in a smoky red color.

Amsonia in pumpkin spice (my most coveted plant from the garden).

Another Japanese maple, almost bare, allows us to admire its gnarled and waterfall-like forms.

A maroon Japanese maple frames a view of the large house.

Besides maple, Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) was beautifully colored and still held its leaves. It was standing across the garden.

The seedheads of garlic chives make spooky parasols.

Beautiful foliage

Snowball Tea (Viburnum i will finish) with rich red leaves and berries

This weeping blue atlas cedar (Atlantic Cedar ‘Glauca pendula’) is one of my favorite plants at Biltmore. See how it arches over the path – a rambunctious creature with outstretched tentacles.

A white camellia in bloom

Back to the fiery colors of fall!


And more!

Walled garden

Entering the formal walled garden, we found the gardeners building annual fall beds and making good progress. Gah! I’m glad I didn’t miss the fall display in all its Crayola intensity.

I love how orange chrysanthemums are preserved playing off the orange trim. Purple and orange mums can get wilted from multiple freezes but still seem garden worthy to my eye. However, Christmas decorations continue to grow, and I imagine mini Christmas trees, decorative cabbages, and pansies now take the place of mums and salvias.

Actually there are already some pansies here. And would these conifers work as mini Christmas trees? I need someone from Asheville to report to.

But this early November, it was still autumn for a few hours.

Along the edge of the walled garden, bedding gives way to a border of annuals, shrubs, perennials and grasses. Check out these gorgeous, orange-berry trees.

In fact this entire bed surprised me with its fall colors and diaphanous grasses.


Another look at those berries from a different angle

Erect grass and annual castor bean

Another interesting combo, which we can easily replicate here in Texas: beautyberry, Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), and softleaf yucca. Beautyberry definitely likes afternoon shade in our climate. A vine-covered arch gracefully frames the yuccas.

Euphorbia and artichoke with a matrix of dwarf pink grasses

Golden shrubs complement the orange-tiled walls and roof of the gardener’s cottage.

Behind the cottage we found another Persian Ironwood, with a sign declaring it the NC State Champion Tree.

After touring the conservatory and doing a little shopping in a Gardener’s Place gift shop below it, we made our way back through the Shrub Garden, where this beautyberry and hydrangea combo stopped me in my tracks. Shazam!

It’s very good.

Even better with the red, orange and gold leaves of the surrounding trees.

Biking at the Biltmore

Until this trip, the entrances to the house, gardens, and park were all I had seen of the Biltmore. This time we decided to cycle around the estate. So we went to Bike Barn in Antler Hill Village and rented electric bikes for two hours. I haven’t been on a bike in years, but as they say, you never forget. Still, gear shifting and power assist on an electric bike were new to me, and it took a little practice to get the hang of it. You can really cruise along flat trails, and when you shift gears correctly and adjust your power, even climbing steep hills is like magic. Which is good because Biltmore has some real hills.

A romantic view of the Biltmore House across the misty lagoon.

Paved tail off and onto gravel

When I saw a tall bamboo wall next to the door, I swung around and entered. It is a circular glade of bamboo!

We pedaled around it a few times and then got back on the trail.

The trees were beautiful in their late-fall delicacy, both gold…

… and red.

Park-like hilltop resting place

View of Bass Pond and its arch bridge

Heading back I enjoyed this view of the French Broad River and the Blue Ridge beyond.

What a beautiful place, and a great way to experience the larger estate at Biltmore.

Approach Road

As we returned to our car and drove out the winding approach road to Biltmore, I was reminded of a long-ago school field trip here when I was about 13 years old. (I grew up two hours south of Asheville in upstate South Carolina.) A Biltmore guide boarded our bus as we arrived to brief us on the grounds.

Olmsted shaped and planted lovely open woodlands along the 3-mile access road, he told us. I was shocked. I looked out the window at what I thought was pure nature, only somehow more beautiful, and was surprised to realize that it was designed to look that way. That scale, and vision!

It was my introduction to the power of landscape architecture, that sometimes invisible hand.

It’s interesting what sticks in your mind from a field trip four decades ago.

I have a long history with the Biltmore and its gardens. It was like meeting an old friend again.

Gardens are like that.

Next: A beautiful drive through the Smoky Mountains and Cades Cove, where we saw bears and elk. For a look back at fall leaves, falls, and food in and around Asheville, click here.

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All material © 2022 by Pam Penick for Excavation. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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