If you are planning your summer vacation now, and like to visit historic gardens, the Biltmore, a French-stye renaissance mansion nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina, is the perfect venue. 

Garden enthusiasts had an opportunity to meet Bill Quade, the Biltmore's senior landscape manager, when he spoke recently at Tulsa's Botanic Garden's annual lecture series. The event traditionally features the representative of a renowned garden. Quade has spent 23 years maintaining Frederic Law Olmstead's vision for creating these gardens for George Washington Vanderbilt III, while the 250-room castle was being built from 1889-1895.

Olmstead's work earned him the reputation as "The Father of American Landscape Architecture." He also designed the United States National Park System and New York City's Central Park. Richard Morris Hunt was the mansion's architect and also designed the facade of New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Today, the Biltmore staff calls the mansion "The Lady on the Hill."

Olmstead believed the 8,000-acre landscape should stand out as a single element complementing the iconic multi-story 250-room estate that has become a symbol of luxurious living. He also believed there should be a landscape surprise at every bend in the road approaching the mansion. The Vanderbilt home, now one of the country's most famous tourist destinations, features exquisite landscaping and multiple theme gardens.

The Biltmore is surrounded by a level esplanade and shady walks, lined by tulip poplars. The landscaping is subordinate to the mansion. The Italian theme garden actually has a French feeling, Quade notes. Originally, it was surrounded by a hedge of Eastern hemlock, now replaced by American holly, less enticing to predatory creatures.

One of tourists' favorite areas is The Shrubbery, which Quade described as "a glen-like place with narrow paths between steep slopes with greenery." The Wall Garden is also spectacular with its display of cannas.

Visitors love the rose garden, as well as one garden with an intricately designed geometric theme, featuring thousands of varied colored flowers. Quade's staff of 62 people plant 25,000 daffodils, 100,000 tulips, 23,000 mums and abundant azaleas, snapdragons, dianthus, poppies and ranunculus in season, as well as numerous fruit trees and vegetables. Garden designs are planned a year in advance.

Quade's biggest challenge? 

"I want people to know I am maintaining Frederic Olmstead's vision for the Biltmore."      

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