In 1895, painter John Singer Sargent produced this noble portrait of Olmsted at Biltmore. It hangs in the Biltmore House, where it is viewed by thousands of visitors daily.
A rare photograph of Biltmore’s key planners. Frederick Law Olmsted is seated at center; George Vanderbilt stands center-right; and architect Richard Morris Hunt is standing center-left. Below, a map provides an overview of Olmsted’s master plan for the estate.
Biltmore’s approach road, in all its glory. Aside from the asphalt, much of the route remains as Olmsted envisioned it, serving as a conduit to another world and providing the “striking and pleasing impression” he sought.
In its expanse and remarkable level of detail, Olmsted’s massive planting plan for the approach road is a marvel to behold. In it, he specified where to place groupings of hundreds of different species of plants.
In Vanderbilt’s service, Olmsted and Hunt functioned as a dream team, melding their visions for the grounds of the estate and the spectacular house. The two men had worked together on previous projects, and by all accounts reached clear accord on their main objectives for the property and the residence, the results of which are on grand display today.
Olmsted and Hunt worked hand-in-hand with Vanderbilt to stage the grand house at an ideal spot, using land surveys, topographic maps, and their own observations. An unobstructed view of the mountains to the west became a clear priority, and the chosen site required considerable grading to afford the construction just the right perch. Olmsted also prioritized land that would be well-suited for the multifaceted gardens that would surround the mansion.
Over and over, Olmsted reworked his plans for Biltmore’s distinctly different but complimentary gardens.
One of his early drafts for the Walled Garden is at left. It shows how he initially envisioned the space to be populated predominantly with vegetables.
The garden today.
The Shrub Garden today—what Olmsted originally called the Ramble.
Olmsted’s intricately drawn plan for the home grounds offers reminders that despite the mansion’s extraordinary size, it was but one of the myriad features Olmsted designed for this central part of the estate.
An early photo of the Italian Garden during its construction.
A favorite of Olmsted’s, the Bass Pond once had two little islands; one of them has disappeared over the years and is now being restored by Biltmore staff.
The bridge at the Bass Pond, shown as the estate was under development a notable collaboration between Olmsted and Hunt.
The bridge at Brass Pond today.
Olmsted’s blueprint for the main ponds at Biltmore offers indications of just how varied and important they were to his overall concept.
Olmsted was initially dismayed by the state of the woods at Biltmore, which had been over-harvested.
With help from some of the nation’s leading foresters—and after convincing Vanderbilt of the crucial roles trees wold play then and into the future—Biltmore became one of the leading lights in the national forest conservation movement.
Biltmore was the crown jewel of Olmsted’s illustrious career and one of his last major works. Tragically, he began to succumb to dementia and other ills as the construction of the estate was winding down, but by then he had succeeded in implementing most of his vision.