Chanticleer Gardens—the Book and the Garden

By Susan Wilhelm, Certified Master Gardener

“To create a garden is to search for a better world.  Every gardener is like Oscar Hammerstein’s Optimist, for the very act of planting is based on hope for a glorious future.”

Adolph Rosengarten Jr., founder of Chanticleer Garden

The Art of Gardening—Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer by R. William Thomas

The Art of Gardening—Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer by R. William Thomas and others, is the next best thing to actually visiting Chanticleer Garden (Chanticleer), an amazing public garden in Wayne, PA. Filled with fabulous photographs and detailed descriptions, the book is both inspirational and practical.

The Art of Gardening was written collaboratively by Chanticleer’s executive director and head gardener, R. William Thomas, and the horticulturists responsible for each of Chanticleer’s seven distinct gardens. The introduction starts with an informative discussion of what Chanticleer is—a pleasure garden of plants and art, a demonstration garden, and a museum, and what it is not—an event location or arboretum. Next is an overview of Chanticleer’s history, starting with Adolph Rosengarten Sr.’s purchase of seven acres in 1912, and going on to describe the property’s subsequent evolution from a private estate to a public garden under the stewardship of Adolph Rosengarten Jr. and his wife Janet.

Vertical planting of succulents at Chanticleer Gardens

Vertical planting of succulents at Chanticleer Gardens
Photo © 2017 Susan Wilhelm

The book has two main sections: “Design” and “Plants.”  “Design” describes Chanticleer’s overall design philosophy, addressing site conditions and microclimates, the integration of structures with the garden, garden rooms, and unifying themes. Shorter texts by individual horticulturists describe more specific design considerations such as the use of color in particular plantings, the role of transition spaces, and the use of grasses as a unifying element.  The design section ends with several pages devoted to the garden’s sculptures and garden furniture, which are made by Chanticleer horticulturalists during the off season.

The second section, and the largest portion of the book, is devoted to the plants of Chanticleer. It covers trees, shrubs, vines and climbers, flowering bulbs, perennials, annuals, and grasses. As in “Design,” the main text is interspersed with shorter pieces by individual horticulturalists that highlight particular plants or plantings. Latin and common plant names are provided, with many close-up photos to aid readers who might want to try one or more in their own gardens. Fortunately for readers in our area, Chanticleer is located in Heat Zone 7, the same as Northern Virginia.

The book is written in a chatty style that presents information much like a conversation one might have with a Master Gardener. For example, the tree descriptions include information on drainage requirements and a discussion of ninebark mentions it is useful for erosion control. A section on annual grasses describes planting a “hedge” of winter rye surrounded by tulips and using the winter rye as green manure after the tulips finish blooming. The Chanticleer horticulturists also describe what plants did not work in a specific garden and why.

The Art of Gardening is available at the Alexandria Public Library as an e-book and the Arlington Public Library in hardcover. It can be purchased from its publisher, Timber Press, and national book retailers. The list price is $34.95.

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