(Photos by Ashby Leavell)
On August 20th, the First-year Fellows arrived at Chanticleer in Wayne, PA, by 9:45am. By 11:45am, it was one of my favorite gardens. Ever.
What was it about this place that put it a cut above many beautiful gardens in my mind? It might have been the highly detailed vignettes blended into wide-open views of lawn and woods, the intimacy and yet the expansiveness of it. It might have been the tasteful combination of well-crafted furniture and artwork with solid horticultural knowledge. It might have been the philosophy of the place: “To make each visitor feel like a personal guest of the Rosengartens’,” in the words of Executive Director Bill Thomas.
Open to the public since 1993, the Chanticleer estate was left in trust by Adolph Rosengarten Jr. Without many restrictions on the development of the gardens, Chanticleer’s identity as a pleasure garden could be expressed in continually evolving ways: in exuberant tropical plantings around the house, creative container arrangements, unexpected paving designs, and idyllic seating areas with brightly painted Adirondack chairs. No signs and few plants labels detract from the private garden feel; trashcans are nowhere to be found.
The garden itself unfolds gradually. We were given ample time at the beginning and end of our visit simply to wander and discover. At first look, you see a basically pretty landscape, colorful and thriving even toward the end of a tough summer. Trees cast deep shadows over sloping lawns, and perennials and shrubs fill out planting beds.
Look longer, and stroll further in, and you begin to see why Chanticleer is so especially beloved of garden lovers. Feathery sweeps of meadow grasses direct you up to a vine-covered “ruin,” inhabited by succulents planted in wall pockets, a reflecting “pool” table, and slate “books.” The naturalistic Asian Woods are nonetheless dotted with the signs of human creativity: a rough stone holding a floating flower arrangement, hand-crafted bridge railings, an iron trellis guiding a vine up a tree trunk. Leaning over a bridge to stare into the stream flowing beneath, you’re likely to see something like a leaf-shaped boulder in the water.
Chanticleer’s unique beauty is a tribute to the skill and creativity of its multi-talented staff members. The seventeen full-time, year-round employees include seven horticulturists who spend the off-season (November to March) practicing various wood-, stone-, and metal-working crafts, the results of which are put to good use throughout the garden. In addition, the horticulturists have a fair amount of autonomy to design their respective garden areas, drawing on inspiration gathered from traveling abroad, and sometimes helped along by serendipity.
Not for nothing is Chanticleer included in many “Best of” garden lists, including Tim Richardson’s Great Gardens of America. On beautiful days, we were told, getting the last guests out after closing time is a challenge. We were certainly reluctant to leave it behind ourselves, even knowing that we’d all be returning for another visit, and soon.