Warning: lots of pictures in today’s blog.
Saturday finds us back at the WNC Farm Market. Don and I fill two reusable cloth shopping bags with fresh produce. I had dug out a couple of my grandma Jewel’s recipes to prepare. My grandmother was a helluva good cook. Born and raised in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, she made all the delicious Southern-style dishes I grew up loving, from scratch. I am so glad I took the time to write down some of her recipes while watching her prepare them. I don’t recall her ever using a cookbook. The ingredients and process were all in her head, they would have died with her when she passed. We bought green beans, new potatoes and country cured ham to make granny’s bean side dish. Squash, zucchini, red peppers and portobellos to marinate and grill. A bag full of ripe home grown tomatoes for tomato pie and a huge bucket of juicy red strawberries to use for breakfast parfaits, snacking, and strawberry pie. Mmm, mmm, mmm.
No stopover to Asheville is complete without a visit to the Biltmore Estate. With 8,000 acres to cover, we’ve decided to break it up into a two day self tour of the grounds. Today’s goal was to view the gardens. We spent 4 hours just walking among all the lush landscaping. Good thing we wore comfortable walking shoes.
There are 9 distinct areas to the gardens. We began our tour at the Conservatory. The glass roofed building houses exotic orchids, cactus, tropical flowers and ferns. During the Vanderbilt’s time, it provided flowers and plants for the house. The Conservatory also hosts an outside cafe and benched courtyards. Beyond the Conservatory is the aromatic rose garden filled with a vast selection of heirloom roses and rose displays. Their fragrance followed us throughout the walled garden.
Next we came to the 4 acre formal garden. The flowerbeds in this area are planted in the “bedding out” style that was popular in the late 1800’s. The beds are divided by two long arbors. The flowerbeds could easily be copied on a less grand scale for the average yard. Butterflies and Dragonflies were in abundance. A stairway at the back of the walled gardens took us up to the Shrub Garden beyond. Paths lead you among the 500 varieties of ornamental shrubs and trees. This garden is home to two North Carolina state Champion Trees, one a Golden Rain tree, the other a River Birch. The path eventually led us to the Spring Garden.
The Spring Garden is in a sheltered valley. Nestled among the pines and hemlocks are blooming shrubs such as forsythia, mock orange, and deutzia. We found Rhododendron, Dogwood and Mountain Laurel still in bloom here and a few Magnolia’s were just beginning to bud. We passed under a stone bridge to reach the Azalea Garden Most of the Azalea blooms were already fading away but here and there we still found the occasional blossom.
The 15 acre Azalea Garden is the estate’s largest garden. It claims to contain one of the country’s finest selections of native azaleas some of which are over 60 years old. Beyond the Azalea Garden is the Bass Pond and Boat House. When the Vanderbilt’s resided at the estate, the boat house provided rowboats for family and guests to fish and explore the mountain creek fed millpond. A wood chip covered path around the pond will take you to a lovely waterfall. The nearby meadow is bursting with song from the many birds nesting there. Returning to the Conservatory, we then ventured out in the opposite direction toward the house to view the terrace and Italian Gardens.
I left Don and Tucker to sit under the Wisteria covered side terrace while I explored the south terrace with it’s magnificent view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the estate vineyards and the French Broad River. It is breathtaking! Standing here, it’s easy to see why George Vanderbilt chose this spot to build his famed Biltmore Estate. The terraces were constructed convenient to the house so that the Vanderbilt’s could relax and breathe in the fresh mountain air.
A short sculpture lined stairway off the terrace took me down into the Italian Gardens. The main feature is the three reflecting ponds filled with water lilies and other aquatic plants. The ponds are stocked with koi and goldfish, I even spied a frog amongst the lily pads. The lawn nearest the house hosted croquet tournaments once upon a time. A pathway at the rear led me out and up to the dual gates of the house. On my left, the impressive Biltmore House and to my right, the brick, two tiered walkway that leads to the Statue of Diana. Diana was my destination. It was from her perch I took my favorite shot of the house below. Eventually I made my way back to where I’d left Don and our boy.
We completed our tour of the grounds driving alongside the French Broad River to Antler Hill Village and Winery. From there we could see the farm, barnyard animals and the Inn. A short jaunt past the Inn, The French Broad River joins the Swannanoa River. We followed the Swannanoa to the Lodge Gate and exited the estate. We will return tomorrow to explore the house.
Here’s lookin’ at you kid…………………..