My girlfriend Pat, whom I met when we were studying to become Master Gardeners ten years ago, is one of my best friends. She is relocating out of state after many years of living the Jersey life. To extend our fun and bank a bunch of new memories, we decided to visit as many “local” N.J. gardens as possible together before she leaves. The High Line in New York City was our first stop. And the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey was our second stop. Not wanting our fun times and memory making to end, we hopped on a bus (ask me about our swoon-worthy bus driver) and traveled four hours round trip to Wayne, Pennsylvania and the private estate turned public garden called Chanticleer Garden. The former country retreat of a Philly-based pharma exec, the garden opened to the public in 1993.
Chanticleer Garden is a rare sort of public garden, part look-y see and part educational. With over 5,000 plants on 35 viewable acres and 13 gardeners and groundskeepers on staff, I saw many, many plant possibilities for my own garden (which is already pretty planted out, but I figure there’s always room for just one more plant, right?). And with the approachable and knowledgeable staff working right in front of us, it was super easy to ask questions.
At Chanticleer you can find a variety of plants that would solve almost any horticultural challenge you might find in your own garden. Super wet section of your garden? Take a look at the bog garden plants. Want to make a huge impression on your friends? Check out the seasonal plants, tropicals and sub-tropicals featured in the Teacup and Terrace Gardens. I fell in love (over and over) with the succulents situated “just so” in both gardens! In fact, Pat had a hard time prying me out of the Teacup Garden.
Chanticleer Garden is that rare place: no vending machines, no trash cans (carry in/carry out), no noisy hordes. You can hear the birds singing and small animals rustling through the gardens as you walk the pathways. The day we visited at least a half dozen artists were working to capture the essence of the light, shadow, texture and blooms of Chanticleer. It was enlightening to watch them paint and compare their painted views of the garden with my reality of the garden.
After a prearranged docent-led tour, Pat and I wandered from the top gardens (Teacup and Terrace) down the hill to the tennis court garden, where huge globe alliums floated above the foliage; they looked like purple tennis balls. We ate our brown bag lunches on an old metal glider tucked under an arbor with a terrific view of the former tennis court.
Two of my favorite gardens at Chanticleer are the Asian Woods and Bell’s Woodland. To get to them you walk along the softest garden path EVER. It’s made of shredded tires. I literally bounced along the path with nary a pain in my knees or feet, stopping here and there to peep at Jack-in-the-Pulpit and other hard-to-find native woodland plants. We watched small fish cavort in a chilly fast running stream and koi swim lazily across the pond. If you visit Chanticleer Garden make sure you walk down the hill and take a good look at the gorgeous Japanese-style tea house (Pssst… it’s a rest room in disguise).
Chanticleer is a great place to visit if you want inspiration to create your own gardens. Or you simply want to meander along perfectly placed pathways and look at well-maintained gardens.