Chanticleer: a gardener’s wonderland

I’ve had a very hard time putting this post together.

This is, I think, because the garden I’m profiling has had such an impact on me.  In my garden-conscious life, only a handful of places have made such an impression:  the Japanese strolling garden at Butchart Gardens, Christopher Lloyd’s creation at Great Dixter, and two New York City gardens — the marvelous Wave Hill and the striking plantings in Central Park’s Conservatory Garden.  All of these spaces are spectacular and all had the effect of actually weakening me in the knees upon first viewing.

There are moments we remember for different reasons:  a glorious vista that washed a feeling of  smallness over us, an interaction with wildlife that makes us feel a profound connection with nature or a feeling of being embraced by the natural world.  Like those pure feelings we had as a child.

In terms of garden spaces, for me it is a feeling of communion with beauty …

… and when this is combined with some understanding of plants and the work involved in maintaining a spectacular creation, the result is beyond appreciation: it is pure joy.

Some gardens are gardener’s gardens.  We are familiar with the plants, their culture and often their fussiness.  We are also familiar with their ubiquitous uses.  When we see a plant that is used creatively, whether it is juxtaposed with its perfect companion(s) or placed in a situation that is unusual, we have a moment of acknowledgement that is also wrapped in exquisite pleasure.

So here’s my experience of exquisite pleasure.

On a Friday in mid-August, my friend Patti and I left town early, armed with her excellent home-made lunch, Bridgehead lattes and good walking shoes.  We were anticipating an eight hour drive south, to a small town called Wayne, Pennsylvania.  This place is on what’s called the “Main Line”, that is, a direct railroad line from Philadelphia hence the perfect spot for wealthy east coasters to build and enjoy their grand summer homes.  Indeed, many of the homes in this area are spectacular, with grounds that rival arboretums.

But our destination was not just any home – it was Chanticleer.

Anticipating a visit to such a horticulturally important place can also be filled with dread.   We chatted on the drive down: what if it doesn’t live up to our expectations?  What if we find nothing but flaws?  Of course, we should not have worried.

This estate was the home of Adolph Rosengarten, Sr. and his wife Christine, whose family owned Rosengarten and Sons, a pharmaceutical company that produced quinine, a substance found in the bark of the cinchona tree and used to treat malaria, since 1822.   That firm would later become part of Merck & Company in the 1920s.

Perhaps it is poetic justice that the estate quinine built would be home to gardens that revel in all things tropical:

Chanticleer is 35 acres of gardens, rolling hills, woods and lawns.  The house that looks down onto the pond garden (pictured above) is approaching its 100 year anniversary as it was completed in 1913.   The spectacular terraces that surround the house were designed by landscape architect Thomas Sears, but the plantings there have been developed since Adolph Rosengarten Jr.’s death in 1990 and in the years since Chanticleer’s opening to the public in 1993.

Chanticleer’s gardens are maintained by twelve full-time gardeners.  Each section of the grounds is overseen by one person, allowing him/her to form a relationship with it and over time, achieve its horticultural potential.

Although this garden has only been in the public eye for only 20 years, images of certain parts of it have now become iconic.

While it was wonderful to see these magazine images in real life, I almost preferred the smaller, less photographed corners of the garden.

… unbelievably, there is more to see but I don’t want to overdo it ;c)

I would like to thank each and every one of the gardeners who work in this garden:  you can see their happy (who wouldn’t be?) mugs here.

The all-season staff are:  Przemyslaw Walczak, Lisa Roper, Ron Di Pietro, Dan Benarcik, Joe Henderson, Laurel Voran, William Stuart, Scott Steinfeldt, Douglas Randolph, Doug Croft, Peter Brindle, Jonathan Wright and Terry Struve.   And the seasonal staff are: Marilyn Leonard, Erin McKeon, Nate Pinelli, Tom Maczko, Yvonne England, Tom Lieb, Lucy Dinsmore, Patty Volpi.

And the staff in charge of greeting and informing visitors are:  BJ Johnson, Cynthia Pierce, Anne Sims, Taddy Dawson, Anne Rhoads.

And not least, the administrative and facilities management people:  Ed Hincken, Facilities Manager; Bill Thomas, Executive Director & Head Gardener; Fran DiMarco, Administrative Assistant; Bryan Christ, Assistant Facilities Manager.

Thank you all for such an enriching garden experience.

I’ll most definitely be back.

(By the way, if you’d like to look at an excellent piece on this garden through another gardener’s eyes, go here to James Golden’s blog.)

Road trip! Two very distinct and breath-taking American gardens

I am so incredibly inspired and over the moon about the two gardens that we’ve just visited over the past two days.

The first was Chanticleer, in Wayne, Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia) –

and  this…

and this…

To Longwood Gardens, in Kennett Square, near Philadelphia as well –

and this –

and not least of which, things like this –

What an incredibly enriching experience, of which I’ll tell you a lot more about when I get home…


August angst

It rained and rained and rained today – finally!  So we went for a walk in the woods.

Why is it that August brings with it some kind of seasonal ‘fast forward’, so that before we can even turn around, the summer is over?  ‘Back to school’ commercials, cooler nights and leaves lashed to the ground with this refreshing rain — all of it makes me kinda nervous.  Probably because I hated grade school.

There.  I feel better again.