Tag Archives: famous gardens

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

Garden designer profile: Tom Stuart-Smith

The winning garden at the 2010 edition of the Chelsea Flower Show in London was designed by the now famous and in my eyes, god-like Tom Stuart-Smith.  This garden designer has won seven gold medals since 1998 as well as three ‘Best in Show’ titles, making him the winning-est designer at that prestigious show since its inception 87 years ago.

This particular garden, as well as several of his previous winning ones at Chelsea, demonstrate seemingly effortlessly and without any awkward obvious intention, Stuart-Smith’s philosophy:

“We seek to create landscapes that offer a rich and multi-layered experience – places with an emotional depth that derives from the ideas behind their design. Juxtaposition and contrast is a theme that runs through much of our work: between simplicity and complexity; the modern and the romantic; between subtle intervention and decisive statement. Our work has a richness of form and texture which belies the economy of means by which this is achieved.” 

Photo reproduced with kind permission. Copyright Sabina Ruber; http://www.sabinaruber-photographer.com

These Chelsea gardens are perhaps most immediately statements of colour; this 2008 garden (above & below) is a study in blue and white and green, the blue being achieved through the distinctive patina of the zinc boxes, planters and rear wall.  The white is provided by the structurally important flowering perennials (i.e. Rodgersia, Peonia) and the green through the varied and elegant juxtaposition of foliage plants (both grassy and flat-leafed).

Photo reproduced with kind permission. Copyright Sabina Ruber; http://www.sabinaruber-photographer.com

In all Stuart-Smith’s gardens there is an incredibly satisfying dialogue going on between the rigid and the effusive —

You might be tempted to say that these show gardens are all well and fine but what about Stuart-Smith’s real world work?  Many of the gardens he’s designed are highly structured within expansive spaces on traditional English country estates.  These kinds of gardens are hard for us here to accept as part of the North American vernacular.  The rigid contrast between lawn and deeply planted bed, often with ancient walls behind, is traditionally English and are perhaps even ‘on the outs’ these days, even across the pond.
I think it’s in Stuart-Smith’s own garden where he is able to strut his stuff.  Elements that have been a part of his show gardens find their place here (literally) not in part, I’m sure, because he is his most amenable client. 

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

Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate

 Our drive from Hudson, New York, south to Kykuit (pronounced ky-cut and meaning ‘lookout’ in Dutch) was supposed to take about one hour and forty five minutes.  We thought we’d have plenty of time to go and see the estate and then visit another garden in the afternoon.  But as we drove along the Taconic State Parkway and got closer to New York City, we got swept up with the speeding masses and missed the exit (okay, I missed the exit).  It was a white-knuckle drive (with the rest of the big city commuters) along a highway with lanes made twisty and bob-sled-like by construction until I could finally get off and turn around.   

It seemed like forever — but we finally got to the visitor centre in Sleepy Hollow, New York.  We thought that this was where we went to buy our tickets and then we’d drive on to the estate.   I thought we could drive directly up to Kykuit, and park our car around the back.  Wrong!

There is no public parking lot behind this house… surprise!

When you buy your admission ticket you also sign up for a scheduled tour and shuttle bus.  You can choose from various themes:  architecture, gardens, antique car & carriage collection (!), works of art, etc.  We opted for the house and garden tour.

This six-storey house sits on 3400 private acres and was built in 1914 for John D. Rockefeller Sr. and his family.  It has been home to four generations of the Rockefeller family until it was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1979.  Several members of the famous family still live in a number of other homes on the surrounding grounds.  So this estate, Kykuit, is centrally located within the 250 acres that is now open to the public (known as ‘the Park’), but entrance to it is strictly regulated through the organization known as the Historic Hudson Valley.


This is one of the monumental iron gates that protects the entry to the mansion. 

This is what you see when you are looking from the front of the ‘house’; in the distance is New York City.  The fountain that depicts Poseidon, God of the Sea, wasn’t working when we were there; I can only imagine how spectacular it must be when it’s actively flowing!

This is the rear of the house, with the lush ivy precisely clipped around the arched windows.  And look at those rhododendrons!

This is the view you would see everyday from the rear of the house.  The clipped hedge at the right is purple beech and the loose planting in the foreground is a long row of roses, a bit too early for bloom.  You can also see several of the monumental sculptures that are situated throughout the grounds.  These were collected by Nelson Rockefeller and given to the estate.  And yes, that is a (nine hole) golf course!


The contract to design the grounds was originally awarded to Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect who created Central Park in Manhattan.  But in 1906 he was amazingly dismissed in favour of the virtually unknown William Bosworth.  Bosworth had worked for Olmstead and then met one of the architects that worked on Kykuit while studying at the Ecoles des Beaux-Art in France.  After he completed work at Kykuit, Bosworth went on to supervise restoration work at the palaces of Versailles and Fontainebleau, among other projects in France.  These gardens are considered the best of Bosworth’s work in America.

Sections of the highly structured garden are Italianate in style; our guide informed us that this sunken area used to have a pool until it was later filled in and covered with lawn.

There are garden areas that, although they are incredibly well manicured, seem natural and to a very human scale.

And then there are views that are nothing less than spectacular…

…and this!

There are sculptures throughout the grounds that seem entirely appropriate, like this toadstool table and chairs…

And this bronze nude on a stone wall with a swath of astilbe creating a swaying wave below her …


And look at the sculptural quality of this ancient euonymus looking as though its being propped up by this beautiful stone wall.

And then there is just pure beauty — having nothing to do with what money can buy.


Margaret Roach’s Upstate New York Garden

If you’ve been a Martha Stewart Living magazine reader like I have for years or if you’re an active gardening blog reader, then chances are you’ll know the name Margaret Roach.  She worked for MSL for 15 years, first as Gardening Editor and then as Editorial Director.  Today she oversees a very readable and comprehensive gardening blog called A Way to Garden.  Her country garden in Copake Falls, New York, had been her retreat while she worked in Manhattan and it was often featured in the magazine.  When she retired from the magazine in December of 2007, she embraced this home and surrounding land with both arms. 

My friend Patti and I visited her beautiful garden during the Garden Conservancy’s Open House Days two years ago and I thought you’d like to see what we saw during these snowy days.

Walking up the driveway past the garage we’re first greeted by this exhuberant display of flowering violas, pansies and osteospermums, as well as a phormium (New Zealand flax) that would have been overwintered indoors (or in a frost-free spot).  The table to the left is where Margaret’s local plant provider, Loomis Creek Nursery, is selling plants (I see from the website that it’s for sale — eek!  Who wants to own a stunning nursery?).  I’ll give details on our visit to this  nursery in a later post. 

This cluster of pots and ‘stuff’ shows off Margaret’s collection of tender plants (Begonia rex and Clivia), a beautiful Chinese trough pot acting as a water feature and the so-called ‘Wavehill’ chair in chartreuse mimics the golden Hinoki falsecypress peaking in from the right.

You can see from the potted displays that beautiful terracotta pots are common here.  I remember reading that Margaret is a firm believer in continuity when it comes to pots — they must all relate to one another, that way they don’t end up looking like a hodge-podge.  

You can also see that she has excellent colour sense, as evident by the paint treatments on both the house and shed.

Her plantings and planting beds were impeccable; everything was so tidy and well designed.  Margaret would be the first to say how, when she started her garden, she was a novice.  Through her association with the magazine she was lucky to be able to meet and forge friendships with some of the most experienced and influential gardeners in the country, who helped develop her skills with plants and design.  P.S.  The big clay bowl on her porch is usually lined with a blanket making it one of the favourite resting places for her cat!

Margaret once wrote that she considered removing this rhododendron!  Can you imagine?  We’d die in Ottawa for one that grew to be that size.

Everywhere you look you see beautifully designed combinations with big, healthy plants (that’s thanks to her gargantuan compost pile!)

The generous pile is in an area not very visible from the garden, but conveniently right behind the vegetable plot!

The variegated shrub in the mid-ground on the left is a variegated Japanese kerria (Kerra japonica ‘Picta’); it is a suckering shrub with a delicate presence and fairly loud yellow flowers in the early summer.  It’s considered Zone 5 and has been available sporadically at nurseries here in Ottawa.  I grew it several years ago in my protected garden but eventually removed it (before I realized how hard it would be to find it again!) when it got too enthusiastic…

Here is a view of her pond, inhabited by her beloved ‘frog boys’ …

Sorry for the quality of the close-up — do you see him?

Margaret over-winters at least two Japanese maples in pots in her garage; they come out in the spring when they re-sprout their tender leaves and one spends the season on this dry-laid stone wall terrace.

Margaret has several of these stylized Adirondack chairs (known as the ‘Wavehill chair’) around the property.  They can be purchased as kits from the Wavehill Garden gift shop

If you are able to at all, do make plans this summer to visit her garden (and others in the vicinity) during Open Garden days.  You’ll need to send away for their directory, costing $21.95;  this is where you’ll find all the gardens’ names and locations as well as their dates of opening.  Then, when you visit a garden, its only $5.00 admission!

Our trip to upstate New York was filled with more gems.  I’ll post later about our stay in the town of Hudson, our visit to Loomis Creek nursery and our harrowing trek to Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate overlooking the Hudson River. 

The Conservatory Garden, NYC

At the risk of appearing NYC-centric, I thought that winter would be the best time to do a virtual visit of another amazing garden in that city. 

It might be hard to imagine anything growing in this environment….



Surely we can do better than this (above)?


That’s better. 

This is one of the many city parks in the middle of Manhattan that is classically planted and impeccably maintained. 

And the fountain!  Gorgeous.

But this isn’t our destination.  Let me take you to the northern tip of Central Park, to an entrance just off 5th Avenue at 106th Street.  This is where you will find the Conservatory Garden.

You’ll see this impressive lawn when you enter the enormous iron gates just off busy 5th Avenue.  Turn left, walk along the tightly clipped hedge toward the fountain and as you look left, you will see …

…this incredible allee of crabapple trees, with dancing branches, underplanted with ivy that grows up their trunks.  Keep walking past and you’ll enter the garden where beds are filled with colour.




Am I right or what? Is this garden not gorgeous?

 This fountain sculpture was made in the 1930s as a tribute to Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden. 

The design of this garden was the work of Lynden Miller and was completed in 1987, a dedicated five year process.  Miller was a painter and part-time gardener at the time but through this work, as well as other public garden spaces within and outside of the city, found her real calling. 

The Central Park Conservancy employs 5 gardeners to oversee the grounds and gardens, with the additional help of 25 volunteers.  About 100,000 annuals and perennials are planted each year!

Here’s a walk around, with a long, lingering look at the bird action on the fountain!

From centralpark101 (Lonnie, from the Bronx) 

 And here is Lynden Miller herself talking about her horticultural creations to the College of the Atlantic (especially interesting are her ‘before’ pictures in Central Park!):

 If you go, visit in the mid to late summer to see the annuals and tender perennials at their peak.  If you’re interested in the question of public parks, their benefits and how they should be approached, read Miller’s book which you can find here.

Wavehill: My New York City revelation

Years ago I visited the gardens at Wavehill in the Bronx, New York City.  It was one of those gardens that literally stopped me in my tracks and made me forget to breathe for a moment.  Let me take you there.


This is the view you initially see when you enter the gate and look across the lawn, toward the majestic pergola that provides a spot to admire the Palisades across the Hudson River.  Wavehill is a must-see destination for all garden lovers visiting New York City.  Although it is accessible via subway and bus from downtown Manhattan (give yourself over an hour), the main house was built in 1843 as a country getaway and went through several owners and improvements up until its final deeding to the City of New York in 1960. 

This impressive pergola not only stops the eye because of the spectacular wisteria that drapes it, but also because of the lush and creative display of pots that sit underneath.  

The gardens at Wavehill demonstrated several things to me:  first, the power of views.  It doesn’t matter where you stand, there is always a path, a bench, a set of stairs, an entrance or a cluster of pots that beckons.  Secondly, every inch of space is taken up with plants that have been chosen for their ornamental value and carefully placed to make the most of a relationship with their neighbours; attention is paid to colour, texture and shape in a way that I had rarely seen before.  This attention to detail was largely a reflection of its head gardener, the amazing Marco Polo Stufano, who moved on to other adventures in the autumn of 2001, after having shaped the once derelict grounds for over 34 years into an internationally respected garden.  

The third lesson was structure.  Although the plantings in the gardens here are all very effusive and lush, with plants jostling and tumbling over eachother, the framework of the gardens is visually strong and static.  Rustic fencing, stone walls, pots and planters, arbours and visually emphatic pathways (whether rigid or wandering) — all of these act to ground the ever-shifting nature of plants.

I do think that the timing of a visit to Wavehill is important.  If you can, plan your journey here for the late summer or better still, early autumn, when the tender plantings have had a chance to mature through the season and the colours are beginning to shift.  Indeed, Stufano’s favourite season here was fall.

If you turn right at the entrance rather than walking ahead to the pergola, you enter the main flower garden, where the axis is marked by a selection of pots, usually planted with temperate specimens taken from the greenhouse beyond.  This display changes from year to year.

There is also a cluster of pots around the entrance to the greenhouse that includes this incredible standard peach-coloured Brugmansia, underplanted with Setcreasea purpurea.

This garden is marked by its variety; unusual flowering shrubs, well-placed evergreens, annuals both familiar and exotic used for their foliage colour and all-season blooms as well as vines and roses for vertical interest.  Walking slowly through this fairly compact space, you can’t help but notice the large number of bees, butterflies and birds enjoying the garden too.

The sunny terrace is home to a permanent collection of alpine troughs with plantings both large and small; exquisite miniature worlds carefully tended in each planter.

The wild garden is to be enjoyed as an intimate experience, looking left and right at your feet as you walk in order to see every specimen, and as a lookout for a more expansive view.  But don’t be fooled:  this garden is every bit as crafted as the more formal flower garden.  I recall seeing Stufano giving Martha Stewart a tour years ago on her television program and seeing him point to a mature fastigiate evergreen, acting as sentinel, that was now well out of scale with the rest of the garden and say, “This will have to come down.”  Clearly no room for sentimentality.

The garden that is the pond, with giant water plants and adjacent ornamental grasses, is spectacular.  The water here is black and inky, allowing the pots to remain invisible under the water’s surface.  This is due to an additive being mixed into the water.  It doesn’t appear to have any detrimental effect to the plants.

I think its time for a return pilgrimage.

Where did my inspiration come from?

Years ago, I stood in the Japanese strolling garden at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, and realized that I wanted to pursue horticulture. 

My background had been in the visual arts so perhaps it was not so surprising that I would shift to another form of visual expression.  But garden design is so much more than that because it is a living and shifting art.  Plus it is linked to the natural world in a mysterious way. 

Since it was so long ago I have no images to share with you but the effect was immediate.  Unlike the rest of Butchart Garden, where colour and manicured shape is celebrated, the Japanese garden appeared entirely natural.  Of course I know now it was not; the expansive moss carpet, the impeccably pruned trees, the carefully placed stepping stones and the views — all of these were unquestionably contrived yet still seemed effortless. 

As a result, the visitor becomes instantly relaxed.  In those early days, I wasn’t aware of the vision, planning, hard work and regular maintenance this garden required.  But, of course, that’s surely the point.  I was smitten.


This picture is perhaps the best approximation of my experience then.  It was taken some years later at the UBC Botanic Garden in Vancouver, but shows the dichotomy between nature and design.  How far does one overlap the other?  And what ends up being serendipity? 

From then on, I knew I wanted to be around environments like these and the plants that belonged in them.  I wanted to make gardens, especially if they could end up looking like this one!