Posts Tagged ‘Frederick Law Olmsted’

An essential component of the majesty of the Biltmore Estate is the immensity of its grounds, a virtue supplemented by never-ending vistas, carefully manicured gardens, a shrine to conservation and cultivation of indigenous and non-native plant species, and the mature forests and pasture lands that cover the rolling hills surrounding the house.  But these latter features are not exactly what they seem and, for my money, constitute the most fascinating part of the estate.

What appears to be natural is actually far from the case.  Stands upon stands of trees and acres upon acres of pristine pastureland that seem to be the handiwork of centuries of natural processes are, instead, very much the vision of Vanderbilt himself, a vision that manifests itself today as the complex forestry plan devised by Frederick Law Olmsted.  It was Vanderbilt’s desire to transform a landscape scarred by the over-wrought agriculture activities of man into a glimmering emulation of sustainablity and regality so common on large estates in Europe.  Olmsted was able to translate this desire masterfully.

Being of the planning profession, I have become so accustomed to landscape plans for streetscapes, master plans, or parks containing mathematical feet-off-center calculations and rigid, almost thoughtless linear patterns for plantings that simply being immersed in such a different philosophical scheme at Biltmore completely mesmerized me.  Olmsted’s superior understanding of the life cycles of, individually, species of flora and, collectively, their natural progression into true habitat formation is evident here.  The visitor does not realize they are standing amidst the results of a large-scale landscaping plan because the execution of the plan and the thoughtfulness that preceded its culmination have guaranteed naturalization.  The forest replenishes itself and will for centuries afterward.

It was a long-term vision, one in which both Vanderbilt and Olmsted knew, if done correctly, would take decades to accomplish, well beyond their life expectancies.  It’s because of this dedicated commitment (something that in the profession can seem so rare in a day where projects approved due to their ‘sustainability quotient’ are actually not very sustainable at all) that we are able to enjoy the Biltmore’s grounds so much today.


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