Twin Projects at Biltmore Gardens
Fred J. Nisbet, Asheville, N. C.
Twin twenty-year projects have been instituted at Biltmore Gardens, Asheville, N.C., in starting major collections of rhododendrons and hollies. 'Starting' may not be the right word in either case, especially in regard to rhododendrons.
The Chauncy Beadle Collection of native azaleas is already famous. In addition there are on Biltmore Estate enough Asiatic and hybrid azaleas to make the total about 40,000 plants. There are other rhododendrons too, mainly R. maximum, R. catawbiense, and the less common R. carolinianum, minus, and chapmanii, totaling quite a few extra thousand plants.
The "new" collection, however, takes down the bars between the Azalea Series, and the rest of the genus, and opens the prospect of a collection of practically all the Asiatic species and many hybrids, both new and old, which will grow in this region.
The climate and soils here are ideally suited to such a project. Our elevation on the Estate (some 12,000 acres) ranges from about 1995 feet to better than 3600 feet. Winters are normally mild (1957-58 was a horrible exception with -6°F!) and rainfall is about 45 inches, very well distributed. Summer temperatures sometimes reach the lower 90's but nights are unfailingly cool.
A nursery area has been established in thinned-oak woods. Fifteen beds (5' by 100') are established and will be filled in another two weeks (April 10). The remaining 15 beds will soon be built. A Skinner irrigation system has been installed and the whole area has been tightly fenced to keep out the deer and rabbits.
Open propagation benches with automatic mist were built last summer and worked well on a trial basis. Three of these (4' by 50') have a capacity of about 40,000 plants. This summer we plan to add two new cold frames (6' x 150') to supplement the already crowded older frame area.
Hollies work in so well with rhododendrons that the two programs are nearly synonymous in many of their aspects. While we have 16 foot Ilex crenatas (With 8 inch trunks), Ilex cornuta burfordi 12 feet tall and 20 feet in spread, the range of our species and varieties is limited.
Mr. Beadle collected many of the southern hollies and large specimens of most of them are doing well. The new program is putting emphasis on Ilex aquifolium varieties and many of the non-American species. Generally, small plants or un-rooted cuttings are purchased and the nursery area will be depended upon to handle most of the plants for several years.
As these plants, both rhododendrons and hollies, reach "landscape size," suitable areas will be available. The full hardy sorts will be given full exposure. Less hardy sorts will be planted, along with camellias, by winding trails in thinned woods of Oak and Pine. Really tender species and varieties will be grown in the Conservatory, recently entirely rebuilt.
The decision to start with small plants was reached when we studied the enormous potential for a collection in this area. With our soil, climate and rather extensive area we feel that a goal of several thousands of different rhododendrons is possible. About five or six hundred hollies seem equally feasible.
This spring we have added 508 newcomers in rhododendrons and 129 new hollies. After about twenty years we can draw a deep breath, look over the collections and see whether these goals were wishful thinking or, as I believe, rather realistically based on our conditions.
In the mean time all members of the American Rhododendron Association are cordially invited to visit us and watch our progress.