Bill and I took the kids to the Biltmore Estate this past weekend. We were in Asheville for the weekend anyway, and I had seen a commercial advertising that kids get in free with a paying adult through Labor Day. Not only was it a great opportunity to take the kids, it was also perfect timing for me to see the gardens in all their magnificent glory. I’ve been able to tour the estate a couple of times, once when I was 12 (when my parents took advantage of the kids-get-in-free program), and then again when Bill and I were dating. I don’t even remember the gardens from that first visit. And when Bill and I went it was in March. I drug him through the gardens even in the dead of winter, and he patiently walked by my side as I pointed out the labels of traditional hybrid tea roses, old-fashioned roses, and other perennials that would be blooming in the gardens come spring and summer.

So you better believe we walked through the gardens this time. I went into it with certain expectations. After all, Biltmore Estate hires fabulous landscape architects and horticulturists. I expected everything to be beautiful and in top shape. And it was. Every bloom was perfect, there weren’t any that were faded or dying. I can’t even imagine how much time they spend dead-heading at that place.

I also expected to see some interesting specimens growing in this mountain garden, and was duly rewarded. But much to my surprise as we entered the walled garden, one of the first flowers that caught my eye was a huge, red zinnia! I never in my wildest dreams expected to see zinnias in the mix at the Biltmore gardens.

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Zinnias have always been one of my favorite flowers. I’ve planted them almost every year since I was a teenager. I love them because they’re so easy to grow, they are prolific bloomers all summer and even into the fall, and they make great cut-flower arrangements. But I’ve always thought of zinnias as sort of the country mouse of flower gardens. Not something you typically find in a more formal setting.

And here they were, right among the perfectly manicured black-eyed Susans, dahlias and phlox. They were absolutely magnificent. Healthy and big, in both red and hot-pink varieties. They definitely made a statement.

I’m taking this as a sign that zinnias are starting to gain a little better reputation in the gardening world. And maybe the orange zinnias flowering among the basil and oregano in my herb garden will raise the profile of my own garden just a bit. But don’t worry, I won’t charge admission to see the Alley Estate and Gardens. All visitors are welcome at any time.

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Another beauty I happened to capture in the Biltmore gardens.