BOOK REVIEW: Chanticleer’s The Art of Gardening

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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

Growing Food in the Shade

9781604694178lA RECENT THREE-HOUR WORKSHOP at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, taught by renowned urban forager Leda Meredith, was a revelation. Among the startling things I learned is that one can actually eat some of the weeds I’ve been battling for years in my East Hampton garden. But “edible” is a subjective term. When I returned to find agepodium podagraria (goutweed) and garlic mustard in full spring resurrection, I immediately tried munching on them, and quickly spit them out.

Meredith, author of the new book Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries(Timber Press) admits you can’t grow vegetables (except mushrooms) in deep shade, but she provided ideas for making the most of what sun you’ve got in hopes of getting a few tomatoes and cukes: use ‘cheats’ like foil-covered reflectors to increase light, and plant in lightweight containers you can move to follow the sun, though that seems like it could become a full-time job.

Useful rules of thumb: if we eat the seed-bearing part of a plant (e.g. cukes, green beans), it needs more light. If we eat roots or leaves (green leafy vegs, carrots, some herbs), you can get away with less. The most aromatic herbs (basil, oregano, thyme) are Mediterranean in origin and need abundant sunight. The likes of coriander and parsley, not so much.

Meredith, a former professional dancer who now leads foraging expeditions, teaches workshops, and blogs about food preservation, local eating, and foraging, reminded us that you can eat the leaves of beets and carrots, and eat wild edibles like field garlic, ramps (wild leeks), fiddleheads and May apples (I actually have the last two in my East Hampton garden as well).

But most of her presentation focused on things that are not going to supplant Greenmarket produce in my diet: hog peanut, a twining ornamental; wild angelica, hopniss, American spikenard, wild ginger, pink purslane, and even a narrow-leaved hosta (lancifolia), to name a few. “Saute the hosta like spinach,” she told us. You can eat the early chutes of Solomon’s Seal, and the leaves and flowers of violas and pansies, too.

All very interesting, and kudos to Meredith for pioneering the use of these plants as edibles. It’s good to know about things that won’t poison you if disaster strikes, or Whole Foods is closed.