(written by Laurie Metzger, photographs by Chunying Ling)
It was a sunny, sometimes cloudy– typically capricious Autumn day in Eastern PA when we made a visit to Chanticleer. A seeming anomaly in a region dominated by DuPont estates turned public gardens, Chanticleer is the estate of the Rosengarten family, of pharmaceutical fame. Named after an estate in Thackeray’s novel The Newcomes, Chanticleer was originally the family’s summer home. They spent a pretty penny readying the house to become their full time residence. The name consequently came from a line in from the novel, “mortgaged to the very castle windows but still the show of the county.” In addition the family played on the fact that Chanticleer is the name of the Rooster from the Nun’s Priest Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Over time, the rooster became a kind of mascot for the estate.
Chanticleer’s website explains that “everything is carefully orchestrated…” in the garden. This truly describes the enchanting impression that Chanticleer left with us. I would add to it, “thoughtfully, with love and appreciation.” The ambiance at Chanticleer is like being in the presence of a person who celebrates each tiny detail of life’s rhythm, the vast variety of beauty in plants, and the special qualities that make people individuals. The stories of the landscape, of the family, and of each structure, inspires awe wrapped in a feeling of affection. Creativity abounds. Beautiful patterns are revealed in furniture, banisters and container gardens. No pattern is repeated yet everything fits. In this way, Chanticleer is like walking in a tangible dream.
The garden design seamlessly mixes old and new. This allows guests to imagine they had walked into another time, but still feel right at home. Chanticleer aims to be ‘a pleasure garden.’ Forgoing plant labels for plant lists hidden in beautiful boxes, each one is creatively constructed by one of Chanticleer’s staff. One gets the feeling that the Horticultural staff members are like elves, displaying their secret talent for detail as metal artisans, master wood workers and florists all over the 37 acre garden.
The first frost was predicted for the evening of our visit, so the staff was hard at the more practical work of covering, moving and preserving the plants in the outdoor tropical displays. We were gifted with a special tour by Chanticleer’s director, Bill Thomas. He wove the story of Chanticleer, revealing a philosophy of generous freedom and trust in his staff. In addition, working at Chanticleer sounds delectably creative and full of opportunities to grow. Each member of the staff is encouraged to “take their time,” knowing they are a part of “the important garden experience.” Chanticleer believes in doing a job well to start because it will last longer in the end.
The garden shed mimics a carriage house and has always stood that way. The vegetable garden is filled with charming cultivars, especially the hardy Kiwi—a juicy snack for an observant, hungry passer by. A restroom facility was recently built in the Asian Woods (the point furthest from the entrance.) Designed to look like a Japanese Tea house it’s humorously and unofficially called the “Pee House.” Featuring stonework and artwork by staff and friends, this project gives opportunity to artist, horticulturist and facilities manager alike.
Chanticleer is lovely from start to finish, magnificent, splendid, special and not unlike Chaucer’s description of the Rooster…
…There was not his equal in all the land. His voice was merrier than the merry organ that plays in church, and his crowing from his resting place was more trustworthy than a clock. His comb was redder than fine coral and turreted like a castle wall, his bill was black and shone like a jet, and his legs and toes were like azure. His nails were whiter than the lily and his feathers were like burnished gold.
-The Nun’s Priest Tale, Canterbury Tales