North Carolina

A Gardener’s Delight: The Private & Public Landscapes of Asheville

Program No. 21968RJ
Come to Asheville to witness some of the nation’s most renowned gardens and landscapes as you explore the Biltmore Estate, North Carolina Arboretum and several private gardens.

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At a Glance

Since Frederick Law Olmsted designed the landscape for George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate in the late 19th century, the people of Asheville, N.C. have prided themselves on the gardens and natural beauty of the region. Join local experts as they share their botanical knowledge and lead explorations to public spaces including the Biltmore Estate, the North Carolina Arboretum and the Botanical Gardens at Asheville. Then, enjoy guided visits to several private gardens owned by local residents.
Activity Level
On Your Feet
Walking up to one mile over uneven terrain.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 13 to 24 participants.

What You'll Learn

  • Spend an afternoon at the North Carolina Arboretum and admire its many gardens, including the Bonsai Pavilion — home to the largest collection of bonsais (seasonal) in the Southeast.
  • Enjoy guided visits to several private gardens in Asheville and the surrounding area, and walk the impressive grounds of the Biltmore Estate.
  • Admire the flora of the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, home to 600 species of plants native to the Southern Appalachian region and 50 rare plants including Pale Yellow Trillium (blooms in early spring).

General Notes

The Retreat Difference: This unique, often basic and no-frills experience at a Road Scholar Retreat includes opportunities for early morning exercise, interaction with the local community for insight into local life, an authentic farm-to-table or locally sourced meal, a live performance or event, and a value-priced single room. Opportunities are available for traveling companions to attend a different program at Montreat during the same week.
Featured Expert
All trip experts
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Bobbie Pell
Bobbie Pell, a trained naturalist with a degree in outdoor environmental education, shares her love of nature, conservation, and everything floral. She is completing a UNC Certificate of Merit in eco-gardening through the NC Arboretum. A professional artist for over 15 years, she blends basic artistic design elements with information gained from research, readings, and garden courses by Audubon and the National Wildlife Federation. She offers opportunities to make holistic, artistic connections with nature, sculpting home gardens into spaces of serenity and beauty.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

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Tracy Bailey View biography
Tracy has been on the program staff of Montreat Conference Center since 1986. She began working with Elderhostel programs in 1989, and in 1997 assumed the additional role of on-site coordinator. A native of the area, she graduated from Asheville-Buncombe Technical College in 1981. Her favorite hobbies are hiking, pottery and reading. Tracy married Sam in 2007, and added three daughters to her family. In addition to her own grown children, she and Sam have been foster parents since 2010. They have four grandchildren.
Profile Image of Bobbie Pell
Bobbie Pell View biography
Bobbie Pell, a trained naturalist with a degree in outdoor environmental education, shares her love of nature, conservation, and everything floral. She is completing a UNC Certificate of Merit in eco-gardening through the NC Arboretum. A professional artist for over 15 years, she blends basic artistic design elements with information gained from research, readings, and garden courses by Audubon and the National Wildlife Federation. She offers opportunities to make holistic, artistic connections with nature, sculpting home gardens into spaces of serenity and beauty.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of our published materials, programs are typically advertised more than a year prior to their start date. As a result, some program activities, schedules, accommodations, personnel, and other logistics occasionally change due to local conditions or circumstances. Should a major change occur, we will make every effort to alert you. For less significant changes, we will update you during orientation. Thank you for your understanding.
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6 days
5 nights
15 meals
5 B 5 L 5 D
DAY
1
Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Montreat, NC
D
Assembly Inn

Activity note: Inn check-in from 4:00 p.m. Remember to bring your nametag (sent previously).

Afternoon: Assembly Inn check-in 3:00-5:30 p.m. Pull up to the Assembly Inn porch to unload, then park your vehicle in any designated spot close to the Inn or by the lake and check in. Program Registration. After you check in and have your room assignment, join us at the Road Scholar table to register with the program staff and get your welcome packet containing the up-to-date schedule that reflects any changes, other important information, and to confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet when you check in. Feel free to relax in your room, meet and enjoy fellowship with other participants in the beautiful lobby, or stretch your legs with a walk around the campus before dinner.

Dinner: 5:30-6:30 p.m. in the Galax Dining Room, or if you prefer, outside in the Tea Garden or on Wharton Porch (weather permitting).

Evening: Orientation: 7:00 p.m. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. We will also meet the instructor. We will have opportunities for early morning stretch sessions led by a member of our staff. On some evenings, there will be entertainment such as a concert, dance, or storyteller followed by opportunities for fellowship in the lobby of the Inn. Periods in the schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding. We’ll finish up around 8:00 p.m. with some “get to know you” activities and then have refreshments and fellowship in the lobby. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

DAY
2
World of Flowers, Botany, Designing A Garden; NC Arboretum
Montreat, NC
B,L,D
Assembly Inn

Activity note: Coffee out at 6:30 a.m. 7:30 a.m. early morning stretch session. Getting in/out of vans; driving about 100 miles round-trip, approximately 2 hours total.

Breakfast: In the Galax Dining Room.

Morning: Welcome to the World of Flowers with naturalist, Bobbie Pell! Today we begin our gardening adventure by creating a foundational layer for the week. First, we will consider our approach to nature: Scientific (plant ID), Aesthetic (Artistic, Beauty), Physical (Gardening labor, walks), and Philosophical (Spiritual, Folklore). Throughout the week we will be visiting many gardens, so it is good to be familiar with different types of flowers (terminology), the differences between perennials and annuals, the advantages of using native species, and learning the basic principles of planning a garden space. After our morning break, we move into Designing Your Garden: Landscape Archetypes, Design Elements, Garden Art. We will look at effective design principles that allow for personal expression through plants. You can create a variety of garden spaces, each with its own personality, through additions to your plant choices through structures (arbor, trellis, bower, glider, seat/bench), artwork (wind spinners, chimes, whimsical ceramics, glass and metal works), water features, bird feeders, and borders (shape/form). Primary design elements will be covered, applicable to any size garden. This will lead into the history and background of the North Carolina Arboretum, our afternoon field trip, which sits in the middle of a 434-acre public forest and garden located within the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, surrounded by lush folds of the botanically diverse Southern Appalachian Mountains. Be sure to check out their website!

Lunch: In the Assembly Inn dining room.

Afternoon: After lunch, we will board the vans for a visit to the North Carolina Arboretum. It displays the largest collection of Japanese bonsai trees (and a few plants) in the Southeast's grandest collection of such botanical wonders in a beautiful, specially designed pavilion that salutes their classic beauty. We will then visit the beautiful Quilt Garden that is re-designed twice a year, once for spring and once for fall displays. We'll end our adventures for the day with a visit to our first private garden.

Dinner: In the Assembly Inn dining room.

Evening: An evening program with a local storyteller or musician/band will entertain us as we relax after a busy day. The remainder of the evening is at leisure, with opportunities for fellowship in the lobby of the Inn.

DAY
3
3 Bs for Wildlife; Black Mountain Garden Visits, Olmstead
Montreat, NC
B,L,D
Assembly Inn

Activity note: Coffee out at 6:30 a.m. 7:30 a.m. early morning stretch session. Getting in/out of vans; driving about 10 miles round-trip, approximately 1/2 hour total.

Breakfast: In the Assembly Inn dining room.

Morning: We with gather with our instructor for a class "Seasonal 3 Bs" for Wildlife: Birds, Bees, and Butterflies. As we travel through the seasons, we will examine blooming seasons, challenges, and protective foliage for wildlife. Specific bloom shapes and colors attract pollinators to keep your garden vibrant. National Aubudon Society shares a Native Plant Database where you can choose plants that will attract specific birds to your garden. Follow this link: https://www.audubon.org/native-plants. Shrubs add shelter, protection, texture, and color throughout the year. The National Wildlife Foundation offers a new certification program which encourages gardeners to "plant with a purpose" to aid endangered species while assisting gardeners in making their plant choices. For more information, follow this link: https://gardenforwildlife.com/. After a brief refreshment and fellowship break, we'll go into nearby Black Mountain to explore the Black Mountain Community Garden founded in 1997 by Dr. John Wilson. This garden moved to its current site on town property in 2004. About 75% of the garden plots are available for individual rentals while the other 25% are used to grow crops solely for donation. With the help of many volunteers, 3,000 pounds of food are grown annually for donation within the community to a local food pantry and a weekly meal site. The garden also includes over one hundred fruit or nut bearing trees, bushes and vines. A greenway trail encircles the garden and connects with the greater greenway system of Black Mountain. Along one border of the garden and paralleling the greenway is a three hundred foot long native plant and medicinal at-risk species trail. The trail is on the United Plant Savers national registry of Botanical Sanctuaries. We will return to the Inn after our field trip.

Lunch: In the Assembly Inn dining room.

Afternoon: Before visiting two more private gardens in Black Mountain, our classroom time will be discussing landscape archetypes and architecture. Classical landscape archetype spaces are grasslands / meadows, woodlands / shrubs, forests, and edges. Each contain a hierarchy of layers to produce dynamic garden spaces regardless of size. The impact of the ground-breaking work by Frederick Law Olmstead, the "Father of American Landscape Architecture," is still followed by avid gardeners through the application of solid, gardening practices and principles. Olmstead is also the namesake of the North Carolina Arboretum who first envisioned such an institution near Asheville as part of his legacy of the Biltmore Estate.

Dinner: In the Assembly Inn dining room.

Evening: An evening program with a local storyteller or musician/band will entertain us as we relax after a busy day. The remainder of the evening is at leisure, with opportunities for fellowship in the lobby of the Inn.

DAY
4
Garden Inspirations and Meditation Spaces, Free Time, Movie
Montreat, NC
B,L,D
Assembly Inn

Activity note: Coffee out at 6:30 a.m. 7:30 a.m. early morning stretch session. Getting in/out of vans; driving about 50 miles round-trip, approximately 1 hour total.

Breakfast: In the Assembly Inn dining room.

Morning: To orient us for the day, we begin with a brief class on plants for both sunny and shady areas. As with each class, students are encouraged to highlight plant suggestions from the Powerpoint presentations which may later be used in their personal gardens. We'll have a brief overview of the gardens/places we will visit and then leave for our field trips.

Lunch: We will return by 1 pm to Montreat for lunch.

Afternoon: The remainder of the afternoon is free. Take this opportunity to see and do what interests you most.

Dinner: In the Assembly Inn dining room, we’ll have a farm-to-table meal featuring locally-produced and locally-sourced foods.

Evening: At leisure. We will have an opportunity to view a movie, with a garden theme of course!

DAY
5
Art in Response to Nature; Biltmore Estate Gardens
Montreat, NC
B,L,D
Assembly Inn

Activity note: Coffee out at 6:30 a.m. 7:30 a.m. early morning stretch session. Getting in/out of vans; driving about 40 miles round-trip, approximately 1.5 hours total.

Breakfast: In the Assembly Inn dining room.

Morning: Having chosen some favorite flowers to incorporate in your gardens, we look today at classical artistic responses to nature. For centuries, nature has inspired artists in all venues by the varieties of form, color, and beauty. GARDEN ART: You can create a variety of garden spaces, each with its own personality, through additions to your plant choices through structures (arbor, trellis, bower, glider, seat/bench), artwork (wind spinners, chimes, whimsical ceramics, glass and metal works), water features, bird feeders, and borders (shape/form). Over the years, meanings have been attributed to certain flowers, deepening our relationship with these plants. We will examine the use of unique flowers by viewing slides of artistic renderings from master paintings housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art followed by the Language of Flowers, a litany of emotional depths paired with flowers created by the British Victorians. We conclude this class with an overview of the garden planning and designs of the Biltmore Estate. After a short refreshment break, we'll embark on our time travel excursion to the luxurious historic Biltmore Estate where you can venture into the Conservatory and Gardens (House not included today). Once you are sated on the beautiful orchids in Conservatory, hybrid tea varieties in the Rose Garden, seasonal blooms in the Pattern Gardens, and water treasures in the 3 pools of the Italian Gardens, we will travel across the estate to Antler Hill village whose layout of garden water features and container gardens resembles a quaint English village square.

Lunch: On the Biltmore Estate grounds, we’ll have box lunches.

Afternoon: Following our lunch, we will take in another historic Asheville landmark, Grovewood Gallery Sculpture Garden. Unique garden art and sculptures compliment the beautiful, natural setting that surrounds Grovewood Village. Stroll the meandering ivy-bordered pathways, enjoy a picnic in the garden, or simply admire the panoramic views across the valley to the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. An impressive collection of wind sculptures Utah sculptor, Lyman Whitaker who focused his artistic ability on gracefully capturing the spirit of the wind through his kinetic art.

Dinner: In the Assembly Inn dining room.

Evening: We’ll gather for a last evening together as a group (probably a concert), followed by an opportunity for games/cards/TV in lobby for fellowship. Prepare for check-out and departure after lunch tomorrow (and be sure to request a box lunch if you cannot stay through lunch on Friday).

DAY
6
Botanical Gardens at Asheville, Program Concludes
Montreat, NC
B,L

Activity note: Coffee out at 6:30 a.m.. Getting in/out of vans; driving about 90 miles round-trip, approximately 2 hours total. Inn check-out 11:00 a.m.

Breakfast: In the Assembly Inn dining room.

Morning: Our instructor will start with an orientation to the Botanical Gardens of Asheville by sharing its community-based beginnings, flowers of interest, and programs. Their mission is the preservation and promotion of the native plant species and habitats of these mountains. They hope to increase public awareness of this region's unique botanical diversity by maintaining gardens for the enjoyment of the public and by providing educational programs and research resources for the community. This six-acre sanctuary, located next door to the University of North Carolina at Asheville, sports hundreds of native plants grown in a garden of peaceful walkways. Visit their website: http://www.ashevillebotanicalgardens.org. Please plan to check out of the Inn before we leave for our field trip. We will return in time for lunch together, or box lunches are available for those who choose to leave from the Botanical Gardens (please pick up from the kitchen before you leave Montreat).

Lunch: In the Assembly Inn dining room. This concludes our program.

Afternoon: If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!






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