Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Pleasure Garden: Chanticleer

What makes this place so tantalizing?

Chanticleer, outside Philadephia, calls itself a 'pleasure garden.'  It is the former estate of Adolph Rosengarten, whose pharmaceutical company eventually merged with Merck, the now giant drug company.  It was originally a weekend retreat, then a permanent residence for two generations of the family.  Rosengarten's son worked with the first director of Chanticleer to estblish it as a public garden and, thankfully, it is well endowed.

The garden is a bit of fantasy, a bit of whimsy; traditional gardening is here, but often with a twist.

And, there are no plant labels, which both delights and enrages me.  (Plant lists are available in artfully designed boxes tucked here and there in the garden, and on their website )

Look at the textures of the Seussian succulents against the ruin above, a folly itself.  Chanticleer is a fairy tale that takes you back to childhood's mysterious wood or enchanted forest.

The gravel garden, below, with chairs like stone thrones look out over the scene below. It's a lovely vantage point.

Gravel garden in October 
Below is a view from this past May, looking up the hill toward the ruin.  The stone chairs are just out of sight to the left of the Yucca rostrata near the top of the hill. It's a bit romantic and unruly in charming way.

We should all consider a gravel garden; it is a chance to stretch the plant palette (think Agaves, yuccas, cactus, succulents, steppe plants, bulbs) and, as I have discovered, many plants I am  already growing (or trying to) thrive in a well-draining, leaner soil.  With 60 some inches of rain by September (in most of the Mid-Atlantic), 20 inches above average annual rainfall, it's time to move beyond a garden end to end in soil rich in organic matter. Carve out your gravel garden and experiment.

In Spring the garden comes alive with bulbs.   With the ruin as a backdrop and a brooding sky above you get a Wuthering Heights kind of feel.

Originally, the plan was to create a ruin from an existing house on the property, but when that wasn't structurally feasible, the then director, a Brit, decided to raise the house and create a 'new' ruin.  It seemed out of place at first, but now, softened by plants, seems less severe.

There are little miracles throughout the garden --vignettes that stop you in your tracks, to notice the striking  plant combinations, innovative use of materials and methods that can transform.

I love these twisted willow trees; they seem to yearn to 'reach out and touch somebody,' whether for a caress or to strangle, I'm not sure.  As this area often displays plants tied to agriculture or a practical function, the oft woven, bent, coiled, and generally pliant willow fits right in.  But how often do we display their twistiness while whips are still attached to the tree?

Gardeners are, of course, behind all this horticultural theater.  They are encouraged to experiment, have opportunities to travel or study a new skill, and they 'own' their respective territory -- that is they are assigned to an area and are responsible for its care, maintenance and design for several years until they trade off again.  There's a bit of competition between gardeners --I have heard several of the horticulturists give talks about their work at the garden -- but it only seems to spark more creativity.

I think it's the second year for this meadow of hot-colored annuals (foreground).  It 'reads' more meadow in person than in the photo, but maybe it's time to move on to something else, a more defined planting, perhaps.  

Chanticleer's layout maintains some of the traditions of an early 20th century estate garden, such as this cutting garden above and the vegetable garden near by.   The most formal areas remain close to the houses (Rosengarten built a house on the property for each of his children though one has been raised,)  and the garden grows wilder as you get farther away from them.

'Wave Hill' chairs based on a Gerrit Rietveld design 
Aside from the beautifully grown plants, there is also wonderful craftsmanship in the chairs, ironwork, fencing, cut flower displays and other artwork.  I think most of the chairs are made at Chanticleer, certainly Dan Bernacik, one of the horticulturists,  has kept the 'Wave Hill' chair alive with his workshops and they are well represented throughout the garden.  I suspect he has made some of the other chairs as well. 
Note the lovely ironwork below the pots
Dahlias float in the big bowl 

There are many places to sit at Chanticleer, visitors seem encouraged to linger.  During warmer months the garden is open late on Fridays when people are allowed to picnic in the garden.  It has become a popular evening.  You can spread a blanket on the lawn or sit tucked away in some sheltered nook in the woodland.   This is a garden people want to spend time in and they do.  

The garden is a satisfying balance of  small intimate moments and larger landscape views, revealing topography and tying the garden to the landscape at large.  

An old coal cart re-purposed as a planter? 

One of the most attractive ramps I've seen, making the garden accessible to wheelchair users. 

You don't have to be a gardener to enjoy this place or want to return.  It has just enough magic to keep people coming back whether they know what the plants are or not.  And, thankfully, because it is a living breathing garden it is never the same.  

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