Biltmore to Test Rhododendrons
Fig. 9. Biltmore House, the finest home in America was built by
Mr. George Vanderbilt. It contains 250 rooms and countless art treasures.
The newly created Rhododendron Collection at Biltmore Estate, Asheville, N.C., has already received national recognition. The Board of Directors of the American Rhododendron Society, meeting at Portland, Oregon, has designated the new plantings as an Official Test Garden of the Society.
The recently formed Southeastern Chapter of the A.R.S., meeting at Asheville, unanimously approved the action of the Board. Dr. Ernest Yelton, of Rutherfordton, N.C., president of the Chapter, said "We are fortunate indeed to have the world-famous gardens and their extensive facilities made available for large scale testing of these aristocrats of shrubs under our own conditions."
"We here in the Southeast are in one of the finest rhododendron growing areas in the world," commented Dr. Fred J. Nisbet, Superintendent of the Estate when he was informed of the appointment. "It is unfortunate that we have limited our plantings in the past mostly to a few native kinds. There are literally thousands of sorts which could grow here, for we have a wonderful combination of soil and climate. Many of the Asiatic species and European hybrids are among the choicest shrubs grown anywhere. What we have to do now is find which of them are adapted to our conditions."
A twenty year program of forming a major collection of these shrubs, which include the well loved azaleas, was begun in 1957. A specially adapted nursery has already been constructed where thousands of small plants, representing more than 500 species and varieties, have been planted since last October. As these grow to "planting out size" the permanent planting area for the collection will be prepared.
The gardens of Biltmore Estate are known to gardeners and plantsmen everywhere. Developed by Frederick Law Olmsted for George Vanderbilt from 1889 to 1895, they surround the magnificent 250 room Biltmore House. This French Renaissance mansion has been called "the finest home in America." (Fig. 9)
The original estate covered 125,000 acres and was the "cradle of forestry and conservation in America." Mr. Chauncy Beedle, the first Superintendent of the Estate, made it a plantsman's paradise during the 59 years he was in charge. Included in the 12,000 acres remaining in the Estate is the Chauncy Beadle Memorial Azalea Garden, "the largest and only complete collection of native American Azaleas in the world."
"We have a big start here," admitted Dr. Fred J. Nisbet, "as azaleas are just one series in the genus Rhododendron. During the next few years we should assemble one of the finest and most nearly complete collections known. We hope that our testing will lead thousands of gardeners, nurserymen and botanists in our area to plant many of the finer kinds which we find adapted to our conditions.
A special Judging Committee of the Southeastern Chapter of the A.R.S. will pass on the performance of all new varieties and species grown at Biltmore. The reports of this committee will be available to all members of the Society. From time to time reports will be made to the public as well.
As more than 65,000 visitors from all over the world tour the Estate each year, the influence of this new Test Garden and Rhododendron Collection should indeed have far reaching effects. Happily, the gardeners of the Southeast stand to gain the greatest benefits from the whole program.