Biltmore’s Solarium

This is the final post of our visit to the extraordinary house that George built.  Thanks to those who stuck it out reading them all and to those who dropped by occasionally.

solariumGeorge Vanderbilt did not do anything halfway when building the Biltmore estate.  That meant including a solarium or conservatory for tropical plants on the property.  Victorians were fascinated with the exotic.

solarium1Tropical plants are out of my comfort zone.  But my love of flowers and plants lets me enjoy the beauty of  these even if I don’t know their names.  I’m pretty sure that the orange flowers in this picture are Bromeliads.

The yellow flowers could be Candelabra or Candle Plant.

solarium2It surprised me that the light was so bright inside the solarium.  Tropical to me has always meant plants growing in semi-darkness under large foliage.  But these were thriving in the sunny conditions.


solarium4The bright red leaf is Red Anthurium.  The yellow spadix is the true flower.solarium5Crotons I do recognize.  I’ve had one for 11 years in the kitchen.  The tiny white delicate flowers dry out and drop to the floor making a mess.  But probably create new plants in the wild.


solarium7That looks like a Geranium in the bird cage.

solarium8Love the look of these wrought iron chairs.  But they were extremely uncomfortable to sit in.  A harpist was playing in this area.  My husband enjoyed that while I wandered among the plants.


solariumaYes.  I do recognize orchids but can’t identify which kind they are.

solariumaaTropical Hibiscus are my kind of tropical plants.  I have one that we’ve carried in and out of a shed for cold protection for years.


solariumbbI’ve read that there are 28,000 species of orchids; Biltmore did not have all of them.  But there was a nice representation.


solariumccStaghorn fern growing on the tree trunk.


solariumddCool House sign is a mystery to me.  It was not too hot inside, but definitely not cool.  So it must have a different meaning.

solariumeThis is the image that comes into my head when I think of orchids.  So pretty.

solariumfWith the person in the other room, this shot shows the height of the ceiling.

solariumffThink the pink flowers are Begonias.  I have never successfully kept one alive for any length of time, even inside.

solariumgI love the flower form of these Brazilian Plumes or Flamingo plants.


solariumhCalla Lilies are sometimes sold in some big box stores in our area.  I have given into the temptation before, only to be sorely disappointed.  They simply don’t like our heat or dry air, even inside.

solariumhhLook how small that pot holding the pineapple plant is.

solariumiSuch a beautiful color of Calla Lilies.

solariumiiMore Begonias with what looks like a Purple Heart vine in front of it.


solariumjjA carnivorous Pitcher Plant just draws ones eyes to itself.


solariumkkIt’s easy to see why people in the 1800’s were interested in these plants from mysterious far away places.  People still are.

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

On Top of Biltmore

On our May trip to Biltmore, we took a small group tour of the rooftop of the house.

topofBilt4As we wait for the tour to begin, we look up at the gargoyles on the outside of the building.

topofBilt0This picture shows the outside of a large circular staircase.

One mind blowing fact:  all the stone work was done on site.

topofBilt01Since George Vanderbilt had made his fortune in railroads, he had tracks built directly to the building site.  The amounts of limestone were massive.  Over time, 287 rail cars brought in almost 10 million pounds of limestone.

topofBilt3The detailed stone work is amazing.

The contract for stone masonry was awarded to a New York firm.  Since stone masons were highly skilled, they were paid $3.50 a day.  Carpenters were paid $2.50 a day and unskilled laborers received $1 a day.

topofBilt5Inside, the people in the picture give perspective to the expansive size of this staircase.

topofBilt6This dome is at the top…

topofBilt7and this is the view looking down.

We climb up to the top fourth floor of this part of the house.

topofBilt8One room contains the architect’s model:  front of house…

topofBilt9and back.  Vanderbilt’s love and fascination of European castles is evident.

topofBiltaThe construction of the largest house in America required expertise and a solid foundation.

topofBiltbAnother room on the fourth floor was a 19th century man cave.

topofBiltcThere was also another sitting room.  How many different places was needed to get away and sit?

topofBiltdThis staircase took us to a cat walk around the room.

topofBiltgWhich led out to the roof.  In this picture is the top of the solarium.

topofBiltggLooking down at the ground, the small kiosk houses the ticket booth to buy special tours.

topofBiltfFrom the front of the house, the long driveway stretches out.  I thinkg about the horse drawn carriages that originally drove this route.

At the far end are staircases to climb up to a viewing area.  At the top of the hill is a tent set up for weddings.  There is probably a road that leads to it.  Parking areas are about a half mile away with buses that bring visitors to the house.


topofBilthhA wooden walkway allows visitors to safely traverse the rooftop.

topofBiltjGeorge Vanderbilt’s initials and family crest in copper are eroding away.

topofBiltjjThis dome is the top of the inside staircase and holds the heavy light fixture.

topofBiltkThe red topped building in the top left of the picture is part of the wall in the garden area.


topofBiltlThe details way up high that can’t be seen from the ground are astounding.


topofBiltmmIt definitely feels like an European estate.


topofBiltnnThe slate roof tiles are held by a system of steel bars.  Each tile has a wire to hold it.  A worker had to twist each wire.  Wow.


topofBiltooVanderbilt obviously toured many churches and castles in Europe and wanted what he had seen replicated here.

topofBiltpThe sea of green trees and mountains.  What a view.

“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”  Mark Twain

Gardens at Biltmore

The gardens at Biltmore are fabulous, as expected.

gardensThe wooded garden area is huge, and I doubt that we saw all of it.  It is naturalistic in design, but definitely has some order to it.  There are wide paved paths through sunny and shady areas.

Most of the shrubs were unfamiliar to me.

biltmoreflowersBut a few had labels.  This Weigela (Weigela florida) in the honeysuckle family is gorgeous.

gardens2At one spot, there was a glimpse into the more formal gardens.  The wooden arbor seen here is in the center of the gardens that are laid out symmetrically.

gardensdAt the main steps that lead down into the formal gardens, almost the whole garden is in view.  In the far back is the conservatory with tropical plants.  These were popular on large estates during the Victorian age.  Today, they are found in large public gardens.

gardens4A type of Beebalm, maybe.  A reader provided the information that this is a Centaurea.  Glad to know.

gardens5Tall spikes of Gomphrena pop with the shaded wall background.

gardens6Japanese Iris require an acidic soil, so we certainly cannot grow them here.

gardensaaAlmost all of the flowers were planted in generous groupings.

gardensaaaThe white tree in the background at the right caught my attention.

gardensbCloser, it’s still a mystery.

gardensbbAh ha – a Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus).  I’ve only seen ones with orange blossoms in our area.

gardenscLots of different types of Bearded Irises scattered throughout the garden.

gardensccA large rose garden area had all kinds of different varieties.  It was a little too early in the year for them to be in full bloom.


gardenseBehind the wall at the back of the gardens are greenhouses plus a nursery.

biltmoreflowers3Love the contrasting colors.


biltmoreflowers4The Peonies blew me away.

biltmoreflowers6It is just too hot and dry here to grow them.

biltmoreflowers7But, if I could, I’d have a whole yard of them.

biltmoreflowers8Love them all.

gardensgPretty color in the petals but unknown to me.

gardensggThis white plant was very strange and was in two different spots.  I couldn’t tell if they were bulbs that needed to keep their foliage until it all shriveled up or if it was a plant with that color of foliage.

gardenshEuphorbia Lime Green bush.

gardenshhVery striking.

gardensiiThe flower beds along the outside walls were wide and layered.  Very attractive with the wooded garden behind them.  Wonder how they weed?


gardenskkAzaleas that must be young plants.

gardensjjIn one corner of the wall was what looked like a house.  I figured it was a storage area for gardening supplies, but it might have been a house for a gardener at one time.  Behind the lady, who was a gardener putting out bedding plants, and to her right is an arched exit that leads into more wooded garden areas.

“Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity.”  Lindley Karstens

Downstairs at the Biltmore

Tickets to Biltmore include a two day pass that allows one to wander around the grounds and a walk through of the public rooms.  Two days really are needed to see it all.

downstairsAt an additional cost, tickets for guided tours in small groups allow guests a more personal look at life during the time frame of Biltmore.  A tour entitled Upstairs, Downstairs shows the contrast of daily life for the owners and guests and for the staff.

downstairsfA previous post showed the opulence upstairs.  A bit of that continues on the lowest level of the house, especially for the men.  This is a smoking room.

downstairsffThe gun room…

downstairsgprovided another getaway for males.

downstairs1There was also a bowling alley,

downstairs2a swimming pool,

downstairs3and a workout room.

downstairs6The rooms that kept life going at Biltmore were where the servants lived and worked, like the kitchen.


downstairs8The dumb waiter was an efficient method to serve food at the correct temperature.  Downstairs maids would prepare the food and load it.  Then an upstairs maid would gather it and serve it.

downstairs5Also on the lowest level or basement were rooms for food storage, both canned and


downstairsaThe dreaded laundry room.  Just think, all those clothes of guests, linens from the beds, napkins, and on and on had to be washed, dried, and ironed.

downstairsaaNot sure, but the roller on the right was probably a steamer iron for sheets and tablecloths.

downstairsbA drying rack for larger items.

downstairsbbIroning.  I pity the souls who labored here.

downstairscIt seems that George Vanderbilt thought of everything.

downstairsccA room where fresh flowers were arranged – probably daily.

downstairsdVases for flower arrangements.

downstairs9Dining room for the servants.  Our guide said to think Downton Abbey because it was accurate about life on a large estate.

downstairsddA maid’s sleeping quarters.

downstairseAnd another one.

It would be easy to berate the lifestyle of the upper classes in the  1880’s and early 1900’s as being abusive of the lower classes.  The truth is that Vanderbilt brought jobs to the area, built housing for town and field and dairy workers, constructed a church and other buildings in the nearby town of Asheville.

Although I can’t fathom the lives of the either the rich or the poor at that time, it was what it was.  Events of the present day indicate that people still think that life is not fair.

“The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated.”  Eliza Doolitte from My Fair Lady

Grounds at Biltmore

Although George Vanderbilt bought 128,000 acres, at his death in his 1914, his widow needed operating funds for Biltmore.  She very cleverly negotiated with the US government to buy thousands of acres and to designate that land as a US forest reserve, the Pisgah Forest.  Currently, the estate still owns 8,000 acres but seems much larger with the forest around it.

uppergardensThe grounds surrounding the house are at different levels and several distinct garden areas.

On this side of the house is a vast raised area.  Looking at the house, there is a huge covered arbor.

uppergardens7The family would have walked out this door into the shady arbor.

uppergardens555Presently, numerous benches allow day visitors to sit in a fairly cool spot.

uppergardens88Look at the size of the trunks of the Wisteria vines.

uppergardens9Looking through the side of the staircase going down to another area, one can see a vast level area that is about 40 or 50 feet above the ground.

uppergardens1There are gravel walking paths and a few patches of grass with classical statues.

uppergardens2Notice the garb of an ancient Greek.

The whole platform is approximately one half or more of a football field.  Excellent viewing area off into the distance.

uppergardens4Behind this statue, a lower garden can be seen.

uppergardensaOn the oppose side of flat area is a view of the country side, including the forest in the background.

uppergardens33The roof has intricate designs.  Both inside and out, every area of the house was thought out in depth.  And no expense spared.

uppergardens3Heading back up the stairs from the viewing area..

uppergardens5And then down the stairs away from the arbor courtyard into a garden. Another Wisteria arbor to the right over a pathway leads to other gardens.


uppergardensbbThe vines aren’t as thick over this arbor, so I’m guessing that it was recently trimmed.

The people in the picture are heading into a wooded garden.

uppergardensbAlong the wall under this arbor are water spouts provided a soothing and cooling sound of water splashing.

uppergardenscContinuing straight ahead from the stairs is a rather formal garden layout.

uppergardensccWith more Greek style statues.

uppergardensdWonder if all these statues were imported?

uppergardenseWalking along the gravel made me think of all those ladies that visited in the late 1800’s with their long skirts dragging the ground.  How hot they must have been.

uppergardenseeThere are various types of water irises.

uppergardensgAnd a few waterlilies.


uppergardensffGorgeous water Iris with deep purple.

To see some of the inside of the house, view my previous post.

“Politicans are a lot like longhorns.  You’ve got a point over here and a point over there.  And a whole lot of bull in the middle.”  unknown

The Biltmore

The trip in May included a visit to Biltmore, the largest house in the US.  The house has four acres of floor space with 250 rooms.  There are 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, 3 kitchens, and an indoor swimming pool.

The name ‘Biltmore’ comes  from Bildt, the ancestral home in Holland of the Vanderbilts and More, an Anglo-Saxon word for an open, rolling land.

abiltmoreGeorge Washington Vanderbilt III amassed a property of 125,000 acres of land.  The house was completed in 1895 after six years of construction.  If I remember the facts correctly, there were 1,000 men working 10 hours a day six days a week during construction.

biltmoreFrom the grand entryway, one passes by the inside winter garden.  The rooms are huge and stunning.

At the time we were there, a ‘Fashionable Romance’ exhibition was shown in the public rooms.  Costumes from 19 classic films were displayed.  To me, this distracted from the house itself.  Plus, the lighting for the garments made getting photos difficult.

biltmore1The Billiard Room in the bachelor wing was a retreat for male guests.

biltmore3As a young man, Vanderbilt made many trips doing the ‘grand tour’ of Europe.  He became enamored with castles and palaces.  That influence is seen throughout the house.

biltmore2Walls in many rooms are covered with tapestries.  Much of the furniture, rugs, etc. were imported.

biltmore4The Banquet Hall is straight out of a medieval castle.  The 70 foot vaulted ceiling is breath taking.


biltmore6The Breakfast Room offered a more intimate and casual (?) dining space.

biltmore7Around the glass atrium were many living areas.

biltmore8This was the Music Room.

biltmoreaFrom the hall one could step out onto a covered area to view the property.  Everything as far as the eye could see belonged to Vanderbilt.

The raised area further back is a humongous viewing and gathering area to one side of the house.

biltmoreaaThe Tapestry Gallery was a 90 ft. room with many seating groupings.

biltmorebTo accommodate tourists, the furniture was moved to one side of the Gallery.

biltmorebbAlthough I’m sure fresh flower arrangements would have been used when the family lived here, today artificial ones are used.  They’re top quality, though.

biltmorecThe library.



biltmoreddEven the wide hallways contained seating and other decorations.

biltmoreeAll the bedrooms were upstairs.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s bedroom.  In his era, wealthy people each had their own bedroom.  Even guests were provided with a bedroom for the husband and one for the wife.

biltmoreeeThe heavy furniture and dark style of the Victorian Era is especially evident in his room.

biltmorefThe Oak Sitting Room provided a private area for the Vanderbilts for breakfast and setting up agendas for the day.

biltmoreggEdith Vanderbilt’s bedroom.  George married her in 1898, so the house and grounds were already completed before she saw the place.

Her arrival to the estate after the honeymoon was a grand occasion with field hands, dairy workers, and house servants forming a long line to greet her.

biltmoregLess heavy furniture makes her room seem more airy than others.

biltmorehHallway leads to stairs to third floor.

biltmorehhThird floor living room.

biltmoreiThere were several sitting areas for guests.

biltmoreiiGeorge choose not to have sinks in the bathrooms for ladies because he wanted them to be served by maids bringing basin and ewer sets.  Crazy and inconvenient.


biltmorejjSingle beds make sense with only one person to a room.

Gracious living was the name of the game back then.  And George Vanderbilt was an expert at it.

The house has been open to the public since the ’30s and is well worth a visit.  Descendants from their daughter Cornelia still own and manage the estate.

Another post will feature the gardens.

“Contentment is the greatest form of wealth.”  Acharya Nacarjuna