By Susan Wilhelm, Certified Master Gardener
Chanticleer Garden, located in Wayne, Pennsylvania, about a three-hour drive from northern Virginia, is a wonderful destination for gardeners and non-gardeners alike. With its stately buildings, broad lawns, and wide vistas, Chanticleer Garden (Chanticleer) retains the feel of the private estate it once was, while serving as a demonstration garden with more than 5,000 plants.
Philadelphia businessman Adolph G. Rosengarten Sr. purchased Chanticleer’s original seven acres in 1912 as a summer retreat for his family. The Rosengartens moved to Chanticleer permanently in 1924. Adolph G. Rosengarten Jr. and his wife Janet, both highly respected gardeners, took over the property in 1969. The property is currently managed by the Chanticleer Foundation, which Mr. Rosengarten Jr. established in 1976 to “operate the property as a beautiful public garden, maintain the Chanticleer House as a museum, and educate amateur gardeners.”
Now encompassing 47 acres, 35 of which are open to the public, Chanticleer consists of a series of garden rooms situated along a looping walkway that begins and ends at the garden entrance. The first of these gardens are the Teacup Garden, the Chanticleer Terraces, and the Tennis Court Garden. The Teacup Garden, named after the teacup-shaped fountain that is its focal point, and the Chanticleer Terraces are interesting not only for their many container plantings but also for their edible landscaping. In mid-August last summer, one sidewalk was edged with a hedge of cabbages. Elsewhere, sage was used as a ground cover, and dill leaned into the sidewalk, releasing its scent as people walked by. Additionally, the warmer micro-climate enables the planting of tropical plants that would otherwise not grow in a garden in Plant Hardiness Zone 7.
An elevated walkway winds through trees, perennials, and grasses, and connects the Chanticleer Terraces to the path leading through the rest of the garden. The walkway provides a splendid view of the Serpentine Garden, a series of long, curving beds planted seasonally―generally with a single agricultural crop, such as kale or winter rye. Next is the bulb meadow where naturalized bulbs bloom from spring until mid-October.
The Asian Woods are woodland gardens filled with East Asian plants shaded by large native trees. Depending on the time of year, visitors may see many different plants in bloom, such as Japanese irises, woodland peonies, and Korean chrysanthemums. The public bathroom in the Asian Woods resembles a Japanese teahouse. It is worth a visit in its own right.
Other gardens include the Pond Garden, a series of ponds planted with water lilies and lotuses surrounded by perennials, grasses, and bulbs, and Bell’s Woodland, which features native plants, including native wetland plants, in a shady, wooded setting. A unique feature along the path in Bell’s Woodland is a metal bridge crossing Bell’s Run creek. Crafted on-site by Chanticleer gardeners, the bridge resembles a fallen hollow tree. Miniature plants tucked into narrow crevices at the ends of the bridge mimic lichens or mosses on a true fallen tree trunk.
A slight detour off the path between the Pond Garden and Bell’s Woodland leads to the Ruin Garden. The Ruin Garden is a “folly” or mock-ruin on the site of Minder House, Adolph G. Rosengarten Jr.’s home. Vines and espaliered trees cover the Ruin walls. Stone books in the “library” and a raised reflecting-pool table in the “dining room” hint at the purposes served by each of the Ruin’s three rooms.
Interested in xeriscaping? The Gravel Garden is filled with grasses, asters, pinks, butterfly weed, and yuccas that survive with little or no supplemental watering. The Parking Lot Garden is also planted with drought-tolerant shrubs and groundcovers. Are cut flowers your passion? The large Cut-Flower Garden provides all the flowers for the bouquets in Chanticleer House and its side porch. What about vegetables? The Vegetable Garden demonstrates the significant amount of vegetables that can be grown in a small place.
Plants at Chanticleer are not labelled, but there are hand-made boxes in each of the principle garden rooms with plants lists indicating the bed where each plant is located. An on-line plant list also tells where the plants were obtained. The sheer number of plants can make the lists challenging to use. However, Chanticleer staff are friendly and willing to answer questions.
Art is an important part of Chanticleer. During the off-season, gardeners create the seating, sculptures, hand rails, and bridges that appear throughout the garden. For example, dogwood flowers bloom on the hand rail in the Teacup Garden and a “sofa and stuffed armchairs” made of stone provide resting points that overlook the gravel garden. There is even a stone remote control on one chair arm!
Chanticleer’s gardens are constantly changing and evolving. In addition to seasonal changes as different plants bloom, some areas, such as the Teacup Garden and parts of the Ruins, are re-planted twice yearly. Other gardens evolve over time as Chanticleer gardeners try new plants or redesign existing planting areas.
Chanticleer Garden opens for the 2018 season on March 28, 2018. The Chanticleer Garden website has information about planning a trip, including tours, nearby hotels, and restaurants. The website also has photos of plants in bloom by season so you can see what is growing even if you cannot get there.