Every Saturday, will post about one of the many rambles taken over the years with my “ancient” mother (plus recommendations for a nearby restaurant or two). If it wouldn’t have been fairly easy for her at 90+, it won’t make the cut.
CHANTICLEER ~ ~ ~ Up until two years ago, Mom’s beloved Chanticleer, would not have made the cut. She could handle the path down a steep slope in her younger days, when she was a kid of 85; by the time she left us, at 91, it had been several years since she’d visited. Today, she’d be chomping at the bit to go; the foundation behind the 35-acre gardens sank $1,250,000.00 into a new path system to better handle wheelchairs & walkers, strollers & perambulators.
Around Dad’s birthday (late April) & my wedding anniversary (early September – NOT Labor Day weekend!) were Mom’s favorite times to visit Chanticleer. Early fall visits made her too wistful – its season ends by Halloween. We always came on a Wed or Thurs; it is closed on & Tues, while Mom liked it without the weekend’s crowds.
It was always easy for Mom to entice me into a trip to Chanticleer, tucked out of sight in Wayne, PA – – – it is my favorite garden. Anywhere. I prefer its gentle spirit & a wonderful sense of whimsy to Longwood or Winterthur.
Adolph Rosengarten, Sr. built a summer “cottage” on the property, a country spot to get company founded by his family way back in 1822 – the quinine they produced made the clan a pack of money (it merged with Merck & Co. in 1927). It was completed in 1913 & served as a summer retreat until 1924, when the family decamped from Philadelphia to make it their permanent residence.
The Rosengartens loved their property & developed its sweep of beautiful trees and sweep of lawns. On inheriting the property, Adolph Jr formed a foundation to fund its transformation after his death into a public garden; he helped select the 5,000+ plants & flowers that would create a world-class garden with small town charm, an unexpected sense of creative energy & FUN.
Anyone familiar with Longwood & Winterthur will be struck with the coziness of Chanticleer, which retains what’s described as a “domestic scale” – just right for walks, picnicking, even curling up in a secluded corner with a good book.
There is nothing GRAND about Chanticleer, just simple delight. I almost expect to run into Adolph Sr or Jr coming around a corner – it feels imprinted with family. Small wonder – the foundation’s 9-member Board of Directors features six Rosengarten relatives devotedly overseeing the beautiful grounds.
Something I especially appreciate – that hadn’t registered until it was pointed out to me – is that the plants aren’t labeled, providing visitors an excuse to strike up a conversation with one of the fourteen gardeners & groundskeepers, who always seem at the ready to discuss their botanical wonderland.
You won’t be invited to a wedding at Chanticleer, nor attend a concert – no events. Not even a gift shop. But they did publish a terrific book, The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer, written by head gardener, R. William (BILL) Thomas, with help from his staff of seven gardeners.
As happy as Chanticleer’s Board was to nab their head gardener, who came on board in 2003, it didn’t begin to match the joy he felt in his new position. He was at Longwood for 26 years, but the position of Chanticleer’s head gardener (& Executive Director) was & is “the culmination of my dreams.” Longwood is FABULOUS, but Chanticleer is tagged a “gardener’s garden,” one that home gardeners can relate to & even emulate.
It’s certainly won a bouquet of praise. London’s Financial Times deemed it “planted to perfection,” is one of the 1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die, is one of Tim Richardson’s 25 Great Gardens of America (USA & Canada). Martha Steward proclaimed it “breathtaking” on her blog, a bit over-the-top if you ask me, although I agree 100% with that it is “one of the most romantic, imaginative, and exciting gardens in America.”
A favorite story happened about four years ago – one of the gardeners was thinking about a delivery of sod set to arrive the next day. Because the gardeners work as an ensemble, with Thomas welcoming input from all, he sought out his boss & suggested that instead of blanketing a lawn with sod, they opt for WHEAT, with “4,550 tulip and narcissus bulbs planted in succession.” And a mini meadow was born!
Spontaneity ~ imagination ~ innovation ~ whimsy – – just a few of the words that describe Chanticleer. Tom Fischer, the editor-in-chief of The Art of Gardening... who has visited it over a dozen times, described its unique place – – “I firmly believe it’s the most creative public garden in the country . . . and, really, it’s neat the way they operate, the latitude the gardeners are given to create their own spaces.”
Of course, I know that every millimeter of Chanticleer is carefully planned & meticulously executed, but it still feels like the sort of garden that I could pull off with enough inspiration. The languid, easy-going landscapes just seem … natural. And always welcoming, always inviting me to find some new wonderful spot or flower or feature that I’ve overlooked before, is newly in bloom or recently added.
My Chanticleer – “an overflowing, exuberantly colorful garden that seems to embrace visitors with soft textures and sunny colors” – is a joy to visit, to return & re-embrace year after year. GO!
2017 season: March 29th through October 29th
Open: Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm
Full Parking Lot: Our parking lot holds 120 cars and can fill on weekends. Please car pool and understand once we reach capacity, you will need to wait until the parking staff directs you to an open spot or plan to visit at a non-peak time.
Admission: Adults (13 years and over) – $10.00
Pre-teen children (12 years and under) – Free
Members of Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and local arboreta – $8.00
Radnor Library Cardholders – $5.00
ACCESS Cardholders – $2.00
Garden professionals – Free
RESTAURANTS we love (ok, we like Minella’s)
NUDY’s (Devon location) Mon-Fri 7:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
THE BLACK CAT CAFE Wed – Sun 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Nudy’s & the Black Cat Cafe are both in Devon, both are as to find as Chanticleer, so BE sure you get the address, check a MAP (don’t just rely on GPS), and written directions!
MINELLA’s MAIN LINE DINER, Wayne PA open every day, early to late, full menu
~ For lots of other options, check online ~