Tag Archives: destination

Chanticleer: a pleasure garden

The name Chanticleer to those already ‘in the know’ brings visions of exciting, quirky and multi-dimensional design where seven horticulturists (each responsible for a specific section of the grounds/gardens), as well as many seasonal gardeners, have been creating a world-class masterpiece of plant, sculpture and garden experience for over the last twenty years.  

Path with Papaver rhoeas; photo courtesy Lisa Roper

I recently contacted them by email, asking if I might use some photographs for this blog and was happily supplied with some different photos from Lisa Roper, the horticulturist responsible for the Asian Woods and resident photographer.

Terrace view with Orange Emperor tulips; photo courtesy Lisa Roper

Chanticleer was built as a country retreat on the outskirts of Philadelphia just before WWI.    The owners, Adolph and Christine Rosengarten Sr. (he, a pharmaceutical magnate) then converted the home into a year-round residence some ten years later, thereby making it their permanent address.

Red maple in the morning mist; photo courtesy Lisa Roper

The estate’s website indicates that the name ‘Chanticleer’ was taken from Thackeray’s 1855 novel called ‘The Newcomes’.   Apparently, the building of that fictional estate, ‘Chanticlere’,  almost put the lead characters in the poor-house but upon completion was, nevertheless, a shining star in the county.

Camassia leitchtlinii; photo courtesy Lisa Roper

The Rosengarten’s son passed away in 1990, his will ensuring that the home and grounds were left for the enjoyment of the public as the Chanticleer Foundation.   It is run by an active Board of Directors and the newly developed garden opened to public viewing in 1993.  There are twelve all-season gardeners and groundskeepers maintaining this world-class property.

The Asian restroom; photo courtesy Lisa Roper

If these photos have whet your appetite, then go here for more.  What makes this garden so spectacular is that it has something for everyone; some sections have a modern sensibility, others are wild and natural, still another reflects the simplicity innate in Asian gardens, and don’t get me started about the gorgeous container plantings.  The gardeners here are top-level designers, using plants for the value of their foliage and shape rather than simply their flowers.  

Enough said — plan a visit.

Meadow flower arrangement; photo courtesy Lisa Roper

Greening the *new* Red Apron

Over the last week, the folks at Red Apron (that is, “sophisticated comfort food”) have been working really hard to get their new space ready.  The grand opening was yesterday, May 2nd. 

The good news is they moved across the street from where they had been, next to True Loaf bakery (whose loaves Red Apron carries in the afternoon), on Gladstone Avenue between Kent Street and Bronson.  There’s two hour parking on the street in front and it might take you that long to load up with all the treats you’re sure to be tempted by — in the freezers, on the shelves, displayed on the three large wooden tables, in the cooler and on the counter.

Yummy chocolates, organic oils and vinegars, dry goods for cooking, coffees, teas, jams, honey, chutneys, spice rubs, home-made granola and many other treats beckon…..

The kitchen, where all the magic happens, is exposed for all to see behind a counter stocked with freshly prepared meals, pies and breads.  This is great because you can see (and get to know) the wonderful women and men who are making the incredible food.

Okay, you may have noticed by now that there are planters on many of the surfaces… I had the great pleasure to be asked by the ladies to supply them with some living and breathing plants to help soften the space.

Many of these displays will change with the seasons and add some green flavour to the place.  But the biggest planters are taking pride of place next to a monumental painting by Christopher Griffin.

You gotta go!  And try my favourites:  the shepherd’s pie made with melt-in-your-mouth shredded Fitzroy Beef or the scrummy home-made soups or …. just try them all!


Emergency distraction!

This nasty weather we’re having this weekend has required the following post.  Take a look, imagine yourself there and then take a nap:

This incredible place is called Zama Beach & Lounge and is located on the tiny island of Isla Mujeres off the coast of Quintana Roo, Mexico, just opposite Cancun.  We visited it for the first time a few years ago and then made a return visit the year before last. 


It’s the kind of place that you drive by on a rented scooter or a golf cart while investigating the nooks and crannies of this small island and almost don’t stop because you think it must be a private club or something.  But, ever hopeful of finding that perfect spot on the perfect beach, we parked our scooters across the road and wandered in. 

A waiter approached us and we asked, brushing the hair out of our eyes, “May we come in?” 

“Of course!” he offered and I joyfully led poor Kent to a table for a cold drink and lunch.

We discovered that the only catch to staying and taking advantage of all the amenities here is that you must spend a certain amount at the bar and/or restaurant — I think it was the equivalent to $40 per person.  But this was NOT a problem, since the beach was lovely, the drinks were cold and the food was really good.  I ordered something like a marguerita (above) and a ceviche plate.  Surprise — I think K had a burger.  All was really, really good. 

The second time we visited, there were two lovely women set up with massage tables over to the left in the shade of the palm trees and I took advantage; it was one of the best massages I have had.  I’m sure the location helped. 

There are beautiful open air washrooms and changing rooms, lots of different areas in which to sit, even a small pool if you prefer that to the ocean and no one hurrying you.  The perfect spot to spend a lazy Mexican afternoon on a fairly undiscovered part of Mexico, just a stone’s throw (ferry ride) from Cancun (which you can see across the water and be so relieved to be where you are instead). 

Shhh.  Don’t tell anyone.

Provocative public art: Is that a reptile in your sewer or an artichoke on your fire hydrant?

The recent news that an Egyptian cobra is on the loose somewhere in the Bronx made me think of this:

From the "Life underground" series of sculptures, installed in the New York City subway. Image from: http://www.tomostudio.com

These provocative and fun sculptures are the work of Tom Otterness, who is clearly a product of the same wonderfully warped imaginary world as Far Side cartoon creator,  Gary Larson.

 When you travel in New York City, you’ll find Otterness’ sculptures everywhere.

This is one of his art pieces in Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City overlooking the Hudson River.  It shows a cat stalking a bird who is eyeing a worm — that appears to be shielding a very small person.

This piece reminds me of Gulliver’s Travels…

Don’t ask me!

What I think makes these sculptures so compelling is their ability to personalize such a vast and impersonal landscape.  New York City is the biggest city in North America but through these whimsical and strange creatures, visitors and New Yorkers alike are instantly perplexed, amused and ultimately thrown off guard.

And if you think that New York is unique, look at what’s just happened along Wellington Street in Ottawa’s Westboro neighbourhood …

Photo: Eric Darwin

 These marble fire hydrants are the work of Ryan Lotecki and Marcus Kucey-Jones, who laboured for two years in their warehouse studio outside Almonte creating these weird sculptures.  Read more about this provocative public art in our own backyard here.

What do you do when it’s snowy & grey outside?

Okay, so yesterday it snowed (a lot) and today it’s still grey :c(

Before when it was sunny and you could see larger and larger patches of grass, I thought we had turned the corner to spring, but now, WITH THIS SNOW, I need to see some sun and feel some heat again. 

Here are some wonderful moments from our trips down south over the last several years as well as some secret places that I thought I’d share (shh!  don’t tell anybody else…) 

So here you go — and make notes to visit these heavenly spots yourself.

This image is wonky because we’re on a small motorized fishing boat that ferries people back and forth from the St-Martin mainland to this small island, called Isle Pinel.  This spot is a nature sanctuary:  electricity is supplied with generators and there are no roads, cars or motorbikes (the island is not big enough!). 

Image: http://www.sint-maarten.net


You can see the ‘ferry’ fishing boat docked at the island.  You can also see the gently sloping sand into the impossibly blue water. 

Go in the morning when you’ll be able to spend the entire day.  But avoid weekends; the crowds are just too large then! 



This is the view from one of the palapa-covered picnic tables right on the beach at the Karibuni beach bar restaurant.   If you order fresh lobster (don’t get the idea it will be cheap, even though they’re kept fresh in a wire crate off the side of the dock), you’ll be offered a choice of large or larger :c)  But don’t ask for half; you’ll have to share!  And if you’re squeamish, ask them NOT to bring it LIVE to your table for you to confirm its a-o-k.

Yes, I know it’s raining here but better that than snow! 

This is a restaurant up in the tree tops, also in St-Martin; the chef creating the wonderful meals is a woman from Toronto (anyone who knows me knows that food is an essential part of a holiday!).  This area is the lounge section where you can sit and look out at the surrounding views.  The spot is on one of the most elevated areas of the island called Pic Paradis (or Paradise Peak), so it’s quite tropical looking in contrast to the arid landscape you see everywhere else.  This worthwhile destination is called Loterie Farm; read about it and its history here.


St-Martin (or Sint-Maarten) is in the French West Indies, even though the island itself is divided into two definitive national halves:  the north is French, with spectacular restaurants, cafes, bakeries that always carry baguettes and exquisite pastries, older or smaller ’boutique’ hotels and a European attitude — and the south is Dutch, with casinos, golf courses, American-style restaurants and a number of large chain hotels.  It is also the side where more cruise ships dock and crowds gather.  I favour the French side.

The island is quite small and somewhat hilly, with much of that land relatively dry and heavily grazed mainly by goats.   As a result there is not a lot of lush and tropical vegetation to experience.

But if tropical rainforest is what you’re looking for, then Costa Rica or Jamaica might be your destination of choice, neither of which I’ve been to yet … or the Flower Forest in Barbados (which I featured earlier…) 

 But let’s get back to St-Martin.

Although many of the restaurants in the sleepy town of Grand Case have gourmet (aka expensive) French cuisine, others are right on the sand and offer less sophisticated fare.  I chose it because I could have a beautifully prepared salad and fish, while my travelling companion, Kent, could have a burger!

Anything barbequed is also an option at the so-called ‘lolos’ that cluster around the centre of town in Grand Case.  Oil drums have been cut in half and elevated on spindly legs to act as make-shift grills for a wide variety of fare:  spareribs, burgers, steak, lobster, fish of the day … Add some corn on the cob, fried plantain, rice and beans, and a slew of other side dishes and you’ve got dinner or a generous lunch for a very reasonable price. 

What could be better than this?  Of course, this is how these hotels snag you.  You book a room that is affordable, with a questionable view, and when you arrive, they tell you that you’ve been upgraded to an ocean-view one bedroom suite!  With a balcony overlooking the ocean!  Yoo hoo!  And there’s a bottle of wine in your room for free…

Excuse me while I go to my happy place again…….



This is the serene view of Matsushima Bay,
which is off the eastern coast of Japan just a few miles north of Sendai
(a city many of us had never heard of before March 11th). 
Matsushima Bay, Japan
If you were to visit, you might have stopped here to have tea:
Kanrantei tea house overlooking Matsushima Bay, Japan

 Then you might have taken this short walk along a towering cedar lined road towards Zuiganji Temple, whose origins date back to the 9th century …

The temple hall would have been closed for renovations, but you could have visited its Zen kitchen, where all the meals were prepared, and lingered to appreciate its beautiful architecture.

 You could have wandered off along another pathway to experience the caves in the hillside where the monks would go to pray…

If you were going to visit Japan and wanted to know where the most beautiful and interesting sites were, you may have visited the website here, which is where I found these tantalizing pictures.

Instead, too many images of destruction have been seared into our minds since the earthquake and tsunami struck.

Remember the beauty of Japan and its people and give whatever you can.

 For the Canadian Red Cross, click here.

For Care Canada, click here.

You can also donate to WorldVets here.  They are on the ground in Japan helping to save lost, abandoned and relinquished pets.


Tuscan paradise


Courtesy: http://www.francesmayesbooks.com

This is the oft-visited home of Frances Mayes, the ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ author, called Bramasole.  Mayes has a dedicated website and blog here, under the Random House (Broadway Books) banner where more photos of her home, neighbourhood and travels can be seen.

This is a view of the walled garden that you can only experience if you’re invited onto the grounds of the house.  More often than not, pilgrims visit the Tuscan landmark and must be satisfied with a shot from down below…

…like this one taken by a visitor who almost left empty-handed until a local pointed them in the right direction.

The flowering plants that thrive at Bramasole are sun-lovers like roses and lavender.   The dry heat on this sunny hillside promotes excellent growth and allows for free drainage so plants’ roots don’t sit in puddles and rot.

But Bramasole’s garden is not really representative of the Tuscan garden tradition; hers is a much more romantic interpretation with effusive flowers tumbling over walls and windowboxes.  Italian Renaissance gardens tend to be much more formal and structured, often with a strong axis provided by evergreen sentinels (verticals) and water courses (horizontals).  Like this one at the 17th century estate called Villa Gamberaia.

I love both of them.

Villa Gamberaia, Tuscany, Italy; http://www.gardens-of-tuscany.net

  The liquid and the solid… nowhere else in my recollection have these been composed with such elegant refinement of taste on so human a scale.(…) The whole conception of a garden to live with and in on intimate terms, responsive to loving care and constant culture, has been realized and expanded. It leaves an enduring impression of serenity, dignity and cheerful repose.
Harold Acton, Tuscan Villas. (London 1973). 

Image courtesy: http://www.gardens-of-tuscany.net
Image courtesy: http://www.gardens-of-tuscany.net

 I’m afraid if I went to Tuscany, I’d never come back!

But that’s if I lived in one of these villas.  Or was hired on as the gardener….


If you’d like to read more about Italian gardens in book form, there is a review here at the Thinkin Gardens website of two new tomes.  They are:

Great Gardens of Italy, by Monty Don & Derry Moore. Publisher Quadrille Press,  £25; 224 pages

Italy’s Private Gardens, by Helena Attlee. Publisher Frances Lincoln, £35; 208 pages