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Chanticleer Gardens

A gardener's garden located near Philadelphia

By Martha Swiss ©2012
Penn State Master Gardener

Master Gardeners Advice

One of the ways gardeners learn to be better gardeners is by visiting other gardens. No matter how grand or modest, there is always something to learn from seeing other gardens. Public gardens are great places to get new ideas for your garden, and are intended to be places of beauty, respite, and inspiration. We are lucky in Pennsylvania to be graced with one of the finest: Chanticleer, located near Wayne, a suburb of Philadelphia.

Chanticleer is a jewel among the many estate and public gardens in the U.S. Beginner and experienced gardeners alike will find inspiration and practical knowledge at Chanticleer, and non-gardeners will enjoy the experience as well because this garden uniquely blends horticulture, artistry, and emotion on a level that is rarely found. Aptly billed as a “pleasure garden,” Chanticleer sits on 48 rolling acres and is smaller than some other public gardens.

It is the gift of Adolf Rosengarten Jr., whose family was in the pharmaceutical business. Rosengarten, who loved trees, made provisions before his death in 1990 to maintain the estate as a public garden. It is the large majestic trees at Chanticleer that give this relatively young garden a feeling of permanence and age.

“Our vision for Chanticleer is to be one of the most beautiful gardens in the world while maintaining the feel of a private garden,” says executive director William Thomas. “We want each person to feel like a special guest of the Rosengartens.”

“Chanticleer is about pleasure and beauty, but that doesn’t mean it’s not educational,” Thomas adds. “We are an excellent environment in which to study plants, combinations, containers, garden design, use of structure and furniture within designs, and plant culture. Our staff welcomes questions and discussions. Guests often comment that the scale of Chanticleer relates well to their own gardens and therefore makes it easier to come away with ideas.”

 

It is those one-on-one conversations with the horticulture staff that can be especially insightful. “The staff takes responsibility for an area of the garden where they handle accession, installation, maintenance,” says horticulturist Dan Benarcik. “They develop a connection with the garden and its rhythms, and in time fully understand its light, shade, and soil as well as nutrient needs. You have to work in a garden for a few years to understand these cycles. They become experts on these gardens.”

stone chair
Stone Chair

Even experienced gardeners who have visited Chanticleer before eagerly visit again and again. “Chanticleer is my favorite garden because every time you go, you see something different.” says Stephanie Cohen, a Philadelphia-area garden writer and lecturer. Her sentiment is shared by many gardening professionals and enthusiasts who always find new plants, unusual cultivars, and interesting designs and combinations of plants to get their creative juices flowing.

Chanticleer is closed now until April, but if you are interested in gardening or just love visiting beautiful places, put Chanticleer at the top of your list for gardens to visit in 2013. Here is a sneak peak at a few of the wonderful spaces you’ll experience.


Tropical Teacup Garden

Tucked behind one of the estate houses, which now serves as an administrative building, the tropical teacup garden is named for the central fountain. It is a kaleidoscope of plantings that change throughout the season and sets the tone for the creative and interesting experience ahead. During the growing season you might find unusual container plantings of herbs and vegetables on the patio and masses of colorful flowers and foliage around the teacup fountain. There is a cool shady grotto and seating areas surrounded by lush tropicals.

fireplace table


Tennis Court Garden

You approach this garden from above, down a wide flight of stone steps that have narrow planters along their length (these planters can be viewed close-up and are filled with changing palettes of plants). The large triangular space, which was once used for tennis, is divided into five geometric spaces, but the formality ends there. Each of the beds is filled with an amazing display of plants whose color, texture, and form play off one another and change through the seasons. The garden is bounded on the other side by a large arbor draped with climbing roses and other vines, and a big glider underneath where you feel you could sit for hours.


Chanticleer House

The terraces around Chanticleer House are a sophisticated and serene oasis. It’s easy to imagine well-dressed party-goers from long ago, spilling out from the house into these spaces, or being a weekend guest enjoying the tranquility of the covered patio. Tropical plantings are lush and combinations of flowers and foliage are bold and interesting. Hand-made rocking chairs, a work of art in themselves, invite you to sit in the shade of a huge linden tree and enjoy the commanding view of the gardens beyond.


The Ruins

This moody space is one that sets Chanticleer apart, for few public gardens dare to boldly evoke feelings of mystery and decay. The garden is framed by the footprint of a former estate house. A stone “ruin” is a reminder of places past, whether you think of the previous structure or ruins that are more common in Europe. Various “furnishings” within the ruin hint at the former home, and plantings throughout take the place of ornament. In this space, plants are skillfully used to portray the passage of time.

Chanticleer ruins


Asian Woods

The Asian Woods are situated at the farthest corner of the property, so make sure you save time and energy to visit this area. It is shady and richly planted with tall American trees and Asian shrubs and perennials. You tend to stroll slowly in this garden since the paths are narrow and there are so many plants to look at below and above as you walk. A stream that borders Chanticleer is a constant companion winding through the garden. There are several small secluded seating areas and a beautiful hand-made bridge.


Planning your visit

Plan to spend no less than a half day at Chanticleer--a full day to really see it all and take time to sit in all the wonderful handmade chairs and benches scattered throughout the garden. There is no place to buy food or drinks but you are encouraged to bring your own and picnic at one of the several designated picnic areas. More details are at www.chanticleergarden.org, phone: 610-687-4163.


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