It was early pm a hot Sunday in June when my husband and I drove through through quiet neighbourhoods outside Philadelphia, and in through the gates of Chanticleer. We were the second car there, the first being a staff member. Yes, I was just a little bit excited! I’d also read that their parking lot only fits 120 cars, so I didn’t want to drive all the way there and then not get in. I needn’t have worried.
Chanticleer is the former estate of a wealthy family, the Rosengartens, which has been turned into a “pleasure garden” and opened to the public. It is, in many ways, a botanical garden. But they do things a bit differently than other gardens, which become evident in lots of small ways.
The various areas of the garden are each stewarded by one of seven full time horticulturalists, assisted by seasonal helpers. Those horticulturalists make each area their own, and seem to try to outdo each other in creating a magical experience for visitors. The gardens are only open to the public from April through October. In the off season, staff work on projects for the garden–everything from creating original metalwork sculptures to throwing clay pots to designing and building original wooden furniture. The result is a garden rich in unique details, with a more personal feel than most other public gardens I’ve visited (Whistling Gardens is another one that exemplifies this spirit).
I’ve learned that the number of photos I take at a garden or other destination is a good indication of how much I enjoyed my time there. At Chanticleer, I drained the fully charged battery on my camera in just two hours…
I’m not going to show you even 10% of the pictures from my visit, as it would make for too long of a post. Instead, here are some things that caught my eye as I visited Chanticleer:
Some of the areas are planted very formally, others in a more casual style. I loved the bright purple of the massed purple flowers in this bed.Getting closer, I realized the purple flowers weres violas! I’ve never seen them used in such a formal way before, and loved the effect. (Sidenote: if you’ ve ever wondered what the difference is between pansies and violas, check out this article.)
There are hundreds of pots of plants at Chanticleer. I loved this combination because there were so many textures and shapes and shades of green, all from foliage (leaves).
I spent a lot of time in the fenced in vegetable garden. It has most of the usual food plants you’d expect, including some exotic varieties of fairly common plants. This plant caught my eye immediately–it’s variegated horseradish–because I have one and it’s never, ever, looked this good in my garden. Mine always reverts to being almost solid green. This one was a showstopper.
A place to rinse off freshly picked vegetables in the vegetable garden–creatively put together but immensely practical. I want one!
I thought it interesting that potatoes were being grown in raised beds edged with woven fencing.
Unlike many botanical gardens, there are no name tags on individual plants at Chanticleer. Instead, within each garden area there is a box with a plant list that visitors can borrow while they are there. Chanticleer has an amazing collection of plants–I could’ve written a long post just on the plants alone–so appreciated being able to look up names of ones that I didn’t recognize or of particularly striking varieties. Each plant list box is unique, and is meant to match the area it’s in. This one was my favourite, largely because of the hand clasping the latch. So clever!
This little structure used to be where the estate owners stored fruit. It doesn’t look like much from outside (if I hadn’t read the book on Chanticleer before I went I’m not sure that I would’ve bothered stopping to take a look). But inside, Chanticleer staff have painted it to look like a magical forest world inside of a hollowed out tree, with charming chipmunks busy stashing their treasures. I expect this is a favourite place for young visitors, but I enjoyed it so much I was in no rush to leave.
I caught one of the full time residents of Chanticleer in silhouette while hanging out on a rose.
A fireplace mantle created from succulents, in the ruin garden was so interesting. The ruin garden is a “house” without a roof (and missing a few walls) where Chanticleer’s gardeners have brought to life floral and stone interpretations of the various rooms. I’d need to show you at least 20 pictures to start to explain it properly so I’ll just stop and say it’s magical; you need to see it for yourself.
Metalwork details like this banister of oak leaves are all over the garden.
Unlike most gardens open to the public, there are no cafes or restaurants at Chanticleer. However, there are several lovely areas with picnic tables where visitors are encouraged to enjoy their own picnics.
One of the delightful things about Chanticleer is continuing to stumble upon clever bits of humour as you travel through the garden. When you first come into this area you take a look, think “no that can’t be what I think it is”, look closer, and then smile when you realize yes, this is a life size Flintstones style stone couch and set of chairs! All of the details are there, including a stone tv remote with coloured stone buttons, perched on the arm of the couch. So fun!
Those are a few of the images that struck me during my first visit to Chanticleer. I’ve seen photos of the garden in other seasons, and know that I will need to return in the coming years to see the magic unfold. I’m very much looking forward to returning!
If you can get yourself to Philadelphia I highly recommend making this garden part of your plans. I also suggest that you spend some time with The Art of Chanticleer book before you go so that you don’t miss the hidden-in-plain-sight gems and have a fuller understanding of what you’re seeing.
I left Chanticleer inspired by the creativity, passion and skill of the gardeners who steward this patch of land. It’s a very special place.
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