BOOK REVIEW: Chanticleer’s The Art of Gardening


I FEEL DISLOYAL saying this, but I have a favorite public garden, and it’s not the Brooklyn Botanic Garden — as much as the BBG is a local treasure and a restorative for my spirit in all seasons. It’s Chanticleer in Wayne, PA, just outside Philly, a garden that exists for no reason beyond unabashed pleasure.

Chanticleer, which opened to the public in 1993 on 35 acres formerly owned by the Rosengarten family, heirs to the Merck pharmaceutical fortune, it’s probably the ‘artiest’ garden I know, dynamic and contemporary, framed by great trees.


It’s one delight after another, around a 1920s Mediterranean-style house: the Teacup Garden, above, around a fountain; exuberant perennial beds on the flat, sunny space once occupied by a tennis court; an Asian woodland; a sun-soaked garden around a brick folly known as the ‘Ruin,’ and all manner of other beds and borders, bleeding into native woodland at the property’s edges.


Chanticleer has evolved over the years and with the seasons, lovingly tended by a team of 15 gardeners who are not purely horticulturalists, but creative artists working with color and texture and shape, as a painter works with paints and a sculptor with stone.

The garden is stuffed with ideas for the borrowing. Now many of them have been incorporated into a big, luscious book, The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer (Timber Press, $35)


The book is a group effort by Chanticleer’s executive director, R. William Thomas, and its team of 15 gardeners, who have each written essays on their various specialties, from color schemes for container planting to using ribbons of grasses as a unifying element, planting in a native woodland and under mature trees, and designing meadows where once was lawn, as well as pruning and planting basics and plant suggestions galore.

What I love most, after the stunning photos by Rob Cardillo, which include many of Chanticleer in the months from November through March when it is closed to the public, is the encouraging “throw caution to the winds” tone. “We experiment in public view,” writes one gardener, and so should we, even if our experiments are not always successful.


The book is a tonic to Northeast gardeners like myself who need something to sustain them during the nearly half-year when outdoor garden work is normally impossible, and until Chanticleer opens for the 2016 season.

Read about one of my springtime visits to Chanticleer here: Sheer Pleasure: Chanticleer

Raking Leaves is a A Fool’s Errand


THAT PHRASE POPPED INTO MY HEAD TODAY as I raked leaves. It’s an impossible task, because every night’s breezes bring a fresh layer. Yesterday I observed my next-door neighbor raking, raking, raking, making huge piles for the town pick-up. Today, I glanced into his yard and saw that they’d been replenished. But I happen to know he rakes for fun, so it’s OK.


Daffodil bulbs ready to go in the ground at Bridge Gardens

Besides raking, I’ve been busy with other fall landscaping chores, inspired partly by a two-hour workshop I attended on Saturday at Bridge Gardens in Bridgehampton called “Putting Your Garden to Bed for the Winter.” At least half the discussion was about which hydrangeas bloom on old wood and which on new. I can’t have hydrangeas at all because of my deer friends, so I tuned out.

Below, transplanting clumps of hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ at Bridge Gardens

I was reminded of how important it is to keep watering, especially after such a dry season as we’ve had. I’ve been moving hoses around from individual tree to tree so they get soaked in the root zone (particularly some of the big evergreens that look parched), pulling up spent annuals, planting three new aronia (chokeberries) as part of my ‘tapestry hedge’ in front, and moving other things from places where they’re not thriving to places where I hope they will.

Below, annual Japanese fountain grass, perennial geranium ‘Roxanne,’ and Saturday students at Bridge Gardens


Just as I was coming to the end of today’s to-do list, the UPS truck pulled up with my bulb order from Scheeper’s. It’s not a big order — just 10 ‘Gladiator’ alliums, 10 gorgeous lilies I couldn’t resist, even though they need sun and deer like them (I’m going to plant them by the front deck and keep a spritz bottle of Deer-Off handy), and 100 Spanish bluebells for a wooded area in the backyard middle distance that I haven’t gotten around to doing anything with.

How Bridge Gardens deals with deer, below


I’m feeling a bit of urgency, as I’m moving into my Brooklyn pied-a-terre next Monday. I won’t be around much in November, and I want to leave my East Hampton place in good shape — well-watered, nicely mulched, cozily tucked in for winter.

One of several unusual types of elephant ear at Bridge Gardens, below


Sheer Pleasure: Chanticleer

IMG_3189The Tea Cup Garden in the entry courtyard combines flowers and vegs

IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO SAY which is the most spectacular aspect of Chanticleer: The sun-soaked garden built around the romantic stone ruins of an old house?  The spirited and unusual borders set in a former tennis court? The coolly exotic Asian woods? The terraces surrounding the 1913 French Provincial-style house, filled with imaginatively planted containers and oversized hanging baskets? At this time of year, all 35 acres seem to be experiencing their finest hour.


The Tennis Court Garden

My friend Nancy and I have embarked on a three-day trip to the Philadelphia area, where there are some 30 historic gardens and arboreta, intent on cramming as many horticultural visuals into our heads as possible. Today we visited Chanticleer in Wayne, PA,  a few miles west of Center City. The estate was home to the Merck pharmaceutical clan until 1990, when Adolph Rosengarten, Jr., died and endowed his family’s property for the education and enjoyment of the public.


Tennis Court Garden again

Those in charge — a team of a dozen very talented gardeners and groundskeepers — have done the job brilliantly. Chanticleer’s tag line is “A Pleasure Garden,” and indeed it is: sensual, romantic, and altogether inspiring.


Speedwell and poppies on the Great Lawn

The use of color stands out: chartreuse/yellow is juxtaposed with purple/maroon in infinite combinations. The containers and hanging baskets are outstanding, some including lettuce, parsley, and red chard as ornamentals.


The Pond Garden

As always, I looked and swooned and made note of ideas I could implement in some small way, like using ajuga (which I have plenty of) as edging, or putting ferns (have lots of those too)  in hanging baskets.


Tall primroses amid tufted grasses

Hopefully, the bigger picture is implanting itself in my brain, too — the way things are layered and composed and contrasted.

Chanticleer is some wonderful way to get a garden education.


Inventive paving mixes cobblestones with asphalt

Philly’s Secret Gardens

This is adapted from my article in the April 2009 issue of Garden Design magazine.


THE GREENING of Philadelphia goes back to 1683, when founder William Penn modeled its four park-like squares (still there!) on those of Europe’s “green countrie townes.” The whole Greater Philadelphia region is a temperate-zone Eden, with fabled public gardens like Longwood and Chanticleer. But you don’t have to stray far from the brick and cobblestone streets of Center City, abloom in April with pear and cherry blossoms, to grasp the city’s three-century-old garden obsession and see how it’s playing out in the hip Philly of today.


  • Step into the 18th century on the corner of 4th and Walnut, where a Colonial-style formal garden is artfully re-created next door to Dolley Madison’s former abode. It’s a tidy little gem, with boxwood parterres, a miniature orchard, and a handsome vine-covered pergola.
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  • Drive 15 minutes south of the city to stroll the riverfront grounds of Bartram’s Garden, home of early botanist John Bartram. All elements of an authentic Colonial garden are there, including a kitchen garden near the eccentric 1728 house, below. Heirloom daffs and rare ‘broken’ tulips, scattered among silverbell trees, horse chestnuts, and bottlebrush buckeyes, bloom in profusion this month, along with native flame azaleas.


  • Then check in to the 15-room Revolutionary-era Morris House Hotel, where breakfast is served in a tangerine-colored library and afternoon tea in front of a fireplace (that’s the courtyard, below).
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  • West of the Schuylkill River, hundreds of cherry trees make Fairmount Park a fantasia of pink from mid-March through early April (the painting below is from the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia website, which has a map of the best viewing spots).


  • Take tea among cloud-pruned evergreens, a koi-filled pond, perfectly placed boulders, and concrete pagodas at Shofuso,below, the Japanese house and garden built in 1957 to evoke the late 16th/early 17th century.


    • From March 30-April 18, see organic sculpture take shape at the 92-acre Morris Arboretum, where pdoughertyhutrenowned artist Patrick Dougherty, working with locally gathered sticks and no pre-conceptions, will weave a large-scale, site-specific creation likely to resemble a whimsical fairy-tale dwelling (see an example of his work at right).



    • The city’s rep for vanguard culture is growing. Tour the hydroponic growing houses at Greensgrow, an urban farm and nursery in the up-and-coming Kensington section, and pick up some unusual container plants and hard-to-find heirloom vegetable starters.


    • In the uber-hip Northern Liberties neighborhood, choose from hundreds of gorgeous cement urns and planters made from antique molds, below, arrayed under enormous skylights at City Planter.


    • Indulge in chocolate-chip pancakes at the Morning Glory Diner in Bella Vista, just south of Center City, and be wowed by the eye-popping window boxes( 215 413 3999).