Eight years ago, on a family road trip through Pennsylvania, I visited Chanticleer on a lark (I was planning to see Longwood Gardens but changed my mind at the last minute), and my understanding of what a garden could be changed forever. Not merely because the garden was beautiful. Beauty is on the surface. Chanticleer enchants because it reaches out to you through humor, creativity, the slow reveal of secret spaces, and even moments of darkness. Each space seems to tell a story.
Since that 2008 visit I’ve seen a few private gardens that transported me in this way (Bella Madrona and Bedrock Gardens come to mind), but Chanticleer remains the most vivid and wonderful public garden I’ve seen.
Earlier this month, on a Philadelphia-area garden-touring trip, my friend Diana/Sharing Nature’s Garden and I saved Chanticleer for last, following visits to Winterthur and Longwood Gardens. We held off partly because I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, but mostly because the garden stays open late on summer Fridays, until 8:00 p.m., and I was eager to take advantage of soft evening light for photos.
But enough of all that. I know you’re here for the virtual tour, so let’s start at the entry. Chanticleer eschews the non-plant attractions of many public gardens, like a visitor’s center, gift shop, and cafe. It’s all about the plant combos and unfolding drama of the garden.
You enter on a small patio, where these tree-form yuccas make a surprising (for this area) backdrop to a bench…
…and you get your first look at the creative, organic designs of stair railings, water fountains, benches, and plant-list boxes throughout the gardens.
We entered the garden proper through the Teacup Garden, a sunny courtyard behind a house that once belonged to the Rosengarten family (the garden’s founders) but is now used for offices and classrooms. The entrance itself is understated, an open doorway in a stucco wall.
Two courtyards unfold before you. The first is quite small, enclosed by white walls and stuffed with containers filled with brick-red and hot-pink flowers.
In the middle of the space, a charcoal pot-turned-water-garden holds a floating bouquet of flowers and leaves.
Pink clematis. Golden euphorbia. I don’t know what the rest is, but so beautifully arranged!
The living clematis twines up a post nearby.
The hot color scheme echoes throughout the Teacup Garden in potted combos, cooled with contrasting silver foliage.
Colorful foliage, like that of a pink bromeliad, picks up the color scheme too.
A tile plaque greets you at the doorway to the second, larger courtyard…
…where the teacup fountain holds a reflective green pool that spills over the sides into a low basin. Surrounding it are plants in a golden, silver, purple, and olive-green color scheme…
…including the surprising punctuation of 4 small olive trees. Watch this excellent short video to hear horticulturist Dan Benarcik explain his design decisions for this space, which he changes every year. Eight years ago when I visited, it was dominated by silver agaves and palms.
Allium-bookended steps lead up…
…to a shaggy lawn where an old washtub (?) displays a brugmansia and bromeliad that continue the hot color scheme.
The meadowy lawn extends to the right, with a mown path down the center. Dark tropical planters draw the eye along the path to a flowering dogwood and a pair of orange Adirondacks.
Turning back to the house, though, let’s tour the rest of the Teacup Garden.
Vines clamber up the home, adding a sense of romance and age as potted plants crowd around doorways.
I love this combo, with orange flowers picking up the orange hues of the sedge and the terracotta.
Unique pot stands elevate a grouping of bronze dyckia.
Notice the tall chairs on the covered porch behind this container grouping?
They’re echoed on the other side of the courtyard. While these were made by Landcraft Environments, LTD, much of the garden’s furniture, bridges, railings, and other decorative yet practical objects are made by Chanticleer staff on winter break from the gardens.
From the sunny patio with the teacup fountain, you step down into a verdant shade garden, where the colors change to green and chartreuse, accented with bronze pots.
More beautiful metalwork — a stair rail resembling living plants.
A quiet bench offers shady seclusion.
Sago palm trunks were just sprouting new leaves after hibernating in the greenhouses all winter. Golden sedge and ferns brighten the ground layer.
Even the smallest details offer a fun surprise, like this tiny Japanese maple seedling tucked in a fringe of greenery.
Leaving the Teacup Garden, you pass under an enormous old shade tree, at whose feet a pretty mix of shade-lovers grows.
Let’s take that curving path…
…but first, a last look back at the house and that big old tree — one of many beautiful trees in the garden.
Up Next: The Chanticleer House Garden. For a look back at the Meadow Garden and fantasy treehouses at Longwood Garden, click here.
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