Starting with a place I visited in the opening photo, do you all know whose house this is? It is a privately held home and belongs to the Vanderbilt family (now Cecil family). The name of the home is Biltmore, aka The Lady on the Hill, and it is located in Asheville-the location of the fifth Spring Fling for Garden Bloggers. Before I forget I truly must say a big hearty thank you to Christopher C of Outside Clyde for stepping up to the plate and organizing this spring fling.
First of all what is a spring fling and why is it for garden bloggers? A spring fling is kind of like a conference with the attendees all being garden bloggers. When all attendees have a common link it is not a difficult job to think of fun things to do for the garden bloggers. For us we visited gardens! You do not need an invite to attend a spring fling-just a desire and willingness to commit and the conference fee of course. You should probably be a garden blogger as well or a close family member of a garden blogger. At one time I thought you had to be invited but it does not seem that way at all to me now that I've attended.
This was my first spring fling but to today's date there have actually been five flings of garden bloggers from all over the world. I remember when the first fling happened in Austin in 2008. The idea of getting garden bloggers together from far flung reaches of the country was a new and innovative idea. All of the people who attended that fling just happened to have a common thread-and that was the fact that they were garden bloggers. Most of the people probably had never met one another prior to that fling. Imagine that! All of the attendees had such a good time that the tradition of organizing garden bloggers conferences each year has been created and carried on by some very fine people who are most brave to take on such a big project. My hat is off to them all.
Each year after that things got better and better and more attendees joined in the festivities in different cities (Austin 2008, Chicago 2009, Buffalo, 2010, Seattle 2011, and now Asheville 2012). Festivities included lots of garden tours and garden goodies and new 'friends'. While many of the bloggers attending this fling had already attended other flings and perhaps knew a lot of the bloggers it was my first fling and I and the other newbies found it neat to meet several people whom we only really 'knew' through blogging. Many of the attendees I really did not even know through blogging at all but did try to visit their blogs to get to know them a bit better. Time was short at the fling and it was a bit difficult to get to meet and talk to all of the other bloggers I wanted to meet, but honestly, after the first night and the 'meet and greet' portion of the 2012 Spring Fling I forgot all about blogs and just really focused on meeting the people. We all had so much in common-gardening and blogging; which are usually very big facets of most garden bloggers lives. Can you say kindred spirits?
I did try to meet a lot of people but meeting people was not really the best part for me, the best part for me was really talking to the people. There were many opportunities to talk but they were mostly the stolen moments while on the buses or on the garden tours when a bit of respite under shade provided for some one on one talks as in the above picture. I enjoyed talking with so many people and you know, now that I think about it, it was kind of like reading their blogs but better because of course there were many more cues that enabled communication between us. Blogging is fine but can be a bit one sided. Let's face it, when I post I post about things that mean a lot to me. When you all comment I can respond but still the conversation is a bit one sided don't you think? Well, it was not this way at the fling if you really sat down and made the effort to talk to others and to communicate-it was definitely a two way conversation that blogging really can't bring to the table. Here are some of the things I learned about from people I spoke to: community gardens, rose whisperers, heard reasons for moving around the country, talked about Colorado, irises, trenching tomatoes, black soil in Iowa, types of peonies to grow in the south, I got to use some rusty German with a fine lady (she was so gracious she did not begrudge me my awful German), I thought about meandering the mountain trails (and did!), I saw some fabulous photographers in action on our garden walk and talk, boy, there was just so many wonderful folks! I could go on forever but won't, just let me say that for me getting to know a few of the people really made the fling a really great experience. The gardens came second-shhh-don't tell the gardens.
Here is one of the people who I was very excited to meet-finally! You all know her as The Queen of Seaford, aka Janet.She and I have been talking a very long time not only on the blogs but via instant messaging on FB when we play Scrabble. We have also talked telephonically so it was delightful to finally meet this lady.
Carolyn of Carolyn's Shade Gardens is indeed a kindred spirit. She and I both have shade gardens and are even in the same zone. Through talking we learned that even though we are in the same growing zone that does not necessarily mean we can grow the same things. One day I will visit Carolyn's gardens in person and can't wait because her gardens are amazing to me. She and Donna from Garden Walk Garden Talk came down from the north together and I really enjoyed getting to know these two as I have often visited both of their blogs. Donna is a fantastic photographer and in her hands surroundings come alive. Just check this post about the fling.
I just happened to have 'known' the above two ladies from their blogs but the other bloggers whom I met and did not know I still found their blogs were all just as fascinating and interesting and different as any blog I regularly visit. Unfortunately we can't read all the blogs there are but we can meet the bloggers on those special occasions when we gather for the spring fling. Blogging is what brings us all together to these flings. Every single one of us is unique and different and our blogs are also unique and different. The thing I really like about blogging is there is a flavor for all of us out there. Carolyn and Donna are completely different bloggers but I like them both. I view Carolyn as a knowledge focused blogger who shares photographs to help enhance her words. Donna is more of a photographic blogger who shares words that enhance the photographs although her recent post has surely stirred the pot of debate about flings. I consider my blog to be more of the former like Carolyn's blog but I appreciate all sorts of blogs. That is the beauty of blogging-there is one or more for everyone!
One of the sponsors of our fling was Sow True, a seed company based in Asheville North Carolina. I really enjoyed my visit there because the business behind seed selling and collecting is really fascinating to me. The cool room was a neat thing too and our hosts were awesomely gracious. For more on the cool room and our hosts see Skeeter's post found here.
As sponsors Sow True donated some seeds for all the bloggers who requested some prior to the fling. They also contributed a lot of goodies to our swag bags as well. I ordered two kinds of carrots from them. I have planted my carrot seeds and will post a picture later this year once the carrots mature. It has only been within the last year that I have been able to grow carrots and now I am addicted! There is nothing better than a freshly picked carrot pulled from the ground except maybe a freshly picked tomato picked from the plant. What do you all think?
Two other fling sponsors were the Biltmore and Botanical Interests. In the above picture Biltmore is represented by the lady in the light blue shirt. She had happily arranged a large pot of specialty lettuces grown from seed that came from Botanical Interests represented by Judy (the owner of Botanical Interests) on the right. They are both standing in front of the Botanical Interest seed rack at the gift shop at the Biltmore. How cool is that to meet the owner of those seeds? I know that lady was floored to meet Judy as was I. Let me tell you about Judy and that GREAT BIG SMILE. You never saw Judy without that smile and boy she made every single person around her happy-myself included. She also has a great team working for her at Botanical Interests that includes Ryan and Evelyn. Both Ryan and Aileen were present at the fling as well and this team was a super good team. If I was still teaching management in college I would assign the students a case in good management called 'Botanical Interests'. Another short story about Botanical Interests is when I first began blogging Botanical Interests became a follower of this blog. That small act of following so encouraged me and made me so happy that to this day (several years later) I still think good things about Botanical Interests.
Back to the Biltmore we go. Skeeter, the Saint and I arrived in Asheville on Wednesday with plans to visit the Biltmore house on Thursday prior to the fling starting. Our fling did include admittance to the estate but there was not enough time for us to explore both the house and gardens. To do up Biltmore right you really need a full day or day and a half.
Having lived in Europe (mainly Germany) for over ten years I was able to visit a lot of castles and gardens. I was really curious to see how the Biltmore would compare to the castles I visited in Germany such as Neuenschwanstein and the Schwetzingen Schloss. I must say I was not disappointed! The Biltmore compared very favorably. In fact I found the Biltmore to be much more to my liking. That was mostly due to the woodwork, warm surroundings such as trims, and wood flooring, and super comfortable accommodations that just about anyone could comfortably live in. Castles in Germany are not known for comfort-more for opulence. They are also rather cold due to all the stone building materials and old age of them. The only difference between the gardens at Biltmore and the gardens I saw near castles in Germany was the fact that German gardens usually had more art, follies, and outbuildings than what was found at Biltmore. Nonetheless, Biltmore stacked up wonderfully to any castle I've ever been to so if you are sad because you haven't visited Europe, please go visit Biltmore and see our American castle and gardens. The above fountains were working fountains and looked inviting enough to hop in for a quick dip. There are no photos from inside of the Biltmore house because photos inside the house are not allowed.
Here is a view from the back side of the Biltmore house. There was a huge covered veranda that caused me to get scared when I looked over the railing. This veranda was very high off the ground but if one does not look down they might be okay. It appears this landscape is all natural and as it has always been but that is not the case. Frederick Law Olmsted designed the entire estate of Biltmore. Mr. Olmsted is often referred to as the father of landscape architecture and is quite renown. Some of the parks and landscapes Olmsted has been involved in other than the Biltmore are: Central Park, and the country's oldest state park Niagara State Reservation in Niagara Falls New York. A good amount of the Biltmore landscape was scraped, filled, moved, and planted so that just the right views would be seen from key vantage points according to Olmsted vision.
Having just completed a pond I was most interested in the water gardens. These Italianate styled water gardens were majestic. I can't say that I have ever seen anything like them. The scale and amount of water plants in them was perfect for the estate and house.
Some of the water gardens had islands in the center. Others had just a bog area like the one above. There were a lot of irises and pickerel weed blooming. We were told the water lily display was a grand display. While we were there it did not seem like all of the water lilies were put out in the pond as of yet though. Still, the ponds were magnificent.
This is a view of the walled garden area which we (the bloggers and I) would be seeing another day. Skeeter, Mark and I were intrigued by what might be hiding behind these hedges. We could only catch a glimpse of some of the shrubs such as the above smoke tree.
Another shot of the walled garden.
After we toured the house the Saint drove us up to the farm which was near the winery. Here we got to visit a grand kitchen garden that was filled with all sorts of butterfly plants, herbs, and vegetables. I use the above photo to demonstrate companion planting. Do you see the onions planted between the kales? It looks like there is also dill coming up here. This kind of planting works very well if you have limited space. The trick is to plan it out thoroughly as you do not want vegetables shading vegetables. In our case in the above pictures the kale will shade the onions; which would be a good thing to provide some cooling shade for the cool season crop of onions. The dill will eventually overgrow the kale and onions but its shade would be a fine shade which would be appreciated by both the kale and the onions. Companion planting is an awesome thing to do in the garden.
And what would a farm be without animals? The Saint found a sleepy and friendly billy goat that was laying at just the right height for some petting. He was so cute!
Skeeter and the Saint had a great time. I was able to snap a few shots of them. Don't they look right at home in the garden?
Lastly, there is a three mile entry/exit road that you will have to drive to reach the estate. The entire length of the road was designed and landscaped also by Olmsted. The cutout beds and native woodland plants were very beautiful. Due to the early spring we missed the big show of rhododendrons and azaleas but their cousin was still in bloom. Do you recognize the above flower found on an ericaceous shrub that grows in the same conditions as azaleas and rhododendrons? It is none other than mountain laurel. Do check out my fun post with some trivia about this beautiful shrub.
in the garden....
Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team, In the Garden