There was a time. When winter blues needed serious green. When tropical warmth, vivid colors, and heady fragrances took you back to your happy place, to a far more cheerful season. It’s right now at Biltmore. More precisely, at the estate’s green-packed Conservatory, where Todd Roy and Kathryn Marsh share the mood-altering retreat on a gloomy, ripe-for-depression winter morning.
“As you walk through the door—” Todd says.
“Aaaah!” Kathryn interrupts with a gasp.
“Uplift,” Todd continues. “I mean, the colors, the bright colors—”
“And the temperature, too, hot and humid,” Kathryn says, adding. “You feel like you’ve walked into a tropical oasis.”
Todd, a gardener, and Kathryn, a conservation horticulturist, are among 60-odd plant whisperers who tend the Conservatory’s residents. Flora by the hundreds, the plants provide physical, emotional, and spiritual nourishment, especially for folks with seasonal affective disorder who might be losing it right about now. “What we’re doing in there is very thought out,” Todd says. “Where we place things, we paint with plants. It’s an art.”
They stand just outside the grand 1895 greenhouse on a morning just cloudy enough to be a bummer—until you walk into 7,000 square feet of color so vibrant and varied, balminess so humid and snuggly, and fragrances so heady and mouthwatering, you feel your solstice-sad Eeyore magically bloom into a spring-sunny Pooh.
See over here? That’s the ylang-ylang, a fast-growing tower of a tree that originates in Indonesia and whose rich oils perfume Chanel No. 5. And there? That’s the dombeya; just yesterday its delicate pink blossoms appeared. “It’s a tropical hydrangea,” Todd says, “that smells like buttered birthday cake frosting.”
If that’s not enough to melt your wintertime frost, step into the Orchid Room, one of the Conservatory’s six glass-enclosed apartments. Here, at least 600 orchids vibrate with more colors than a box of Crayolas—lady slippers, dancing ladies, moth and corsage orchids, to name just a few. They’re immigrants from Southeast Asia, South America, Papua New Guinea, and beyond, and some cost a small fortune. After the Biltmore’s legendary Christmas season, the Conservatory’s orchids take center stage. The peak season for these prized flowers begins in January and runs into March. The delicate, often rare, and breathtaking masterpieces belong to one of the, if not the, largest flowering-plant families on Earth.
“Just the beauty is so uplifting,” Kathryn says. “To be surrounded by something gorgeous and warm and colorful.”