Painting with plants

Only a handful of people in the world have orchestrated a live plant installation on the scale of the Biltmore House’s new flower carpet, says Travis Murray, Biltmore’s garden crew leader.

They’re big in Belgium: The Biltmore brings a flower tapestry this side of the Atlantic. Photos By Anne Fitten Glenn

Biltmore’s gardening crew recently spent a week creating the carpet. It took six days, eight crew members and 144,000 flowering plants – this following almost a year of planning, engineering and plant growing.

“We’ve never done something on this scale,” Murray says. “I don’t know anyone else who has done something on this scale with live plants. It’s going to be something to see.”

The Flower Carpet, nearly a quarter-acre in size, will be on display through Sept. 14 on Biltmore House’s South Terrace.

Its design was inspired by a bronze heating grate in America’s largest home. Biltmore asked employees to find the best architectural detail to emulate with plants.

“The heating grate has a great geometric pattern, and we knew we could copy it well, and it would look good from a distance,” says Parker Andes, Biltmore’s director of horticulture. “Of course, we’ll be adding color. I have a feeling people will look at the carpet and say, ‘Wow.’”
Andes says he’s created patterned flower beds before, featuring images such as an American flag or a clown face, but nothing of this size.

Flower carpets are popular in Europe, particularly in Belgium. The city of Brussels has constructed one biannually since the 1970s in one of its central squares. The Brussels carpets are constructed with live begonias, not plants, so the creation only lasts three days and four nights.

Please pass the marigolds: Workers install the flowers.

Biltmore decided to use plants in hopes of helping the carpet last for three weeks. Although Andes is concerned about the area’s drought, he notes that all of the estate’s gardens are irrigated by Biltmore’s reservoir on Busbee Mountain. Concerns that rain from Hurricane Fay would disrupt the carpet’s installation were unfounded.

In fact, Andes says: “We’re happy to work around the rain. It’ll make the carpet that much more beautiful.”

Asheville resident Sandra Crouch plans to visit the flower carpet.
“It’s always interesting to see what the house comes up with,” she says. “I just love flowers, and I’m partial to odd things in the garden.”

The only other flower carpet that Andes knows of in the United States is displayed in Cincinnati, Ohio. The city installed their second annual flower carpet, in the shape of a giant butterfly, this past spring. That carpet was constructed entirely of potted pansies.

The plants for Biltmore’s carpet consist of purple and gold coleus, pink and red begonias, blue ageratum, and yellow and orange marigolds. All plants were grown by Lowell’s Greenhouse in Shelby, N.C., which worked closely with Andes and the garden crew to choose the best plants and color scheme.

Looking down on the flower installation from inside the Biltmore House.

Viewings of Biltmore’s Flower Carpet are included with the cost of regular admission until 5:30 p.m. daily. On Sept. 5, 12 and 13, Biltmore will host “Flower Carpet Evenings,” which include wine, hors d’oeuvres and live jazz. Evening tickets are $65, although those with day passes can upgrade.

Part of the carpet’s design includes turf pathways, and during the evening events, visitors can walk through the carpet and get a close-up view.

“If everything goes well, the carpet will pay for itself with tickets sales,” Andes says. “And the dollars we bring in from this will go right back into the gardens.”

He adds that he’d be up for constructing another flower carpet another year, if all goes well with this one.

what: Flower Carpet: A Living Tapestry
where: Biltmore Estate
when: Through Sept. 14 (Included with cost of admission to Biltmore. www.biltmore.com. (800) 411-3812.)

 

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