One of the most unusual and romantic public gardens I have seen, Chanticleer, was the destination of our recent field trip. This former estate in a residential area of Wayne, Pennsylvania, features seven distinct gardens, each designed, planted and kept up by an individual horticulturist/gardener. Because of this diversity, visiting Chanticleer provides the impression of being larger than its thirty-five acres.
My dear friend, Bonnie, and I made careful preparations for this trip, working around the oppressive heat. The first cooler day, off we headed with map in hand, new memory card in the camera and garden hats at the ready. First of all, we ran into a real snafu as there were multiple road projects and closed streets on the official route downloaded from Chanticleer’s website. It was a comedy of errors as we asked local folks for directions and were given different convoluted paths, “Turn left at the duck pond, don’t go over the bridge. I don’t remember the name of the road.” “It’s on the other Church Road, not this Church Road.” After an hour and a half, we were relieved to finally find our destination and start our garden adventure.
As we prepared to enter the garden, I discovered the new memory card inserted into the camera the night before was not compatible with my camera. There would be no picture-taking on this trip! This amateur photographer learned a valuable lesson: always test your camera out before leaving the house! But, undaunted, we set off to discover the treasures that lay before us.
In the Tea Cup Garden, a centerpiece beautiful fountain is surrounded by lush tropicals. Tucked behind one of the estate houses, it is a courtyard garden with a sense of enclosure and serenity. Every available space is planted: lush flowerbeds, trellised vines up the walls and more pots than any of us would want to have to water daily! The effect is just magical.
On the other side of the path, we descended a large stone staircase into the Tennis Court Garden. Even though it has a more formal design, the plantings in this garden evoke a more meadow-like atmosphere.
Following the paved path, we next came upon the main Chanticleer estate house and terrace gardens.
Large pillars sporting the signature Chanticleer rooster mark the entrance to another courtyard, this one covered in small gravel stones, all carefully raked into swirled designs. The covered veranda is a spot Bonnie and I both wanted to detach and bring home with us. Shady, with comfortable seats and filled with exotic plants, it was the perfect room for any gardener. But we couldn’t lounge too long; we had a lot more to see! The terraces and pool area were beautifully landscaped and softened by more potted and hanging arrangements than we could count.
Next on the garden path was bamboo planted in pots with an art installation of ceramic bamboo. As the path wound around, we found the Apple House: a former root cellar, now completely painted inside with a woodland mural.
The Serpentine Garden is devoted to agricultural crops and how they can also lend beauty to a landscape. (In several gardens we found edible plants incorporated into the garden design.) Large swirls of sorghum were planted in mass beds that you passed through en route to the shady, woodland gardens ahead.
The Asian Woods Garden had a more natural, understated feel. We were surprised to find restrooms housed in an Asian- inspired tea house structure that looked perfect in this setting. Edged by a small stoney creek, the Asian Woods winds around behind the Pond Garden. Two lovely small bridges span the creek and bring you out to the next wonder: a huge grouping of lotus on the pond.
Planted in meadow flowers as well as more exotic plants, this pond teems with life. Dragonflies, butterflies and huge Koi fish were going about their business, all accompanied by warbling birdsong. Looking like a natural pond, we were surprised to find a tiny, rustic pump house and that all the water gardens were man made!
Climbing a small rise through a terraced and gravelly Mediterranean-style garden, past stone patios with pergolas covered in trumpet vine, we next discovered the Ruin and Gravel Gardens.
Located here are those iconic stone seats and sofa so often seen in pictures of Chanticleer. The sofa even sports a stone remote! The ruins, built to depict a house fallen into disrepair, house a water table, fireplaces, stone books and artfully dismantled “rooms.”
Next along the path was the Cut-Flower and Vegetable Gardens, highlighted with planted, natural arches and edged by an asparagus bed.
Artful details are abundant here. Tree branches are used as trellises and even the spent asparagus stems have been cut to form a wave-like pattern. If you thought a vegetable garden was only utilitarian, visit this one to see how beautiful a working garden can be!
Throughout the gardens, there are inviting green lawns, stone patios and many kinds of seating made by the Chanticleer staff. You are welcome to sit and take in the vistas. This is a sensory garden to experience, not just to be viewed from a careful distance.
We had now gone full circle through Chanticleer and were smart enough to ask the docents for better directions to find our way home. I also asked for their recommended way of coming in to the gardens through all the construction and returned the next day to take all the pictures you now see!
See more of the Chanticleer picture tour on Inspiring Gardens: Chanticleer.