Read This: Chanticleer, a Pleasure Garden


I stumbled upon Chanticleer Garden by happy accident while on a driving trip down the East Coast during the summer of 2008. It was, and still is, the most engaging, playful, and beautiful garden I’ve seen. (Click here for the first of my six posts about Chanticleer.)


Photo courtesy of Rob Cardillo

Author Adrian Higgins and photographer Rob Cardillo were also visiting Chanticleer that year in the course of researching and taking images for their new book, Chanticleer, A Pleasure Garden (2011). They’ve captured many of the features and details that enthralled me, so reading their book has been like revisiting the garden with a great tour guide. However, Chanticleer is not merely a coffee-table memento for those who’ve visited. It will interest anyone curious to know what this self-described “pleasure garden” is all about—its history as well as its seasonal changes—and it offers a glimpse of how the theatrical art of the place is achieved.


Photo courtesy of Rob Cardillo

Cardillo’s photographs provide plenty of eye candy and will make you long to see the garden for yourself. But it’s Higgins’s intimate knowledge of the place and evocative descriptions that bring Chanticleer to life. He walks you through the various gardens, painting pictures with words of the changes wrought by the seasons and the gardeners:

In four slender, tapering, chalky terra-cotta pots on the overlook one spring, Benarcik combined effusive plantings of a magenta pink cultivar of English daisy (Bellis perennis) called ‘Galaxy Rose’ as a filler, with a deep-purple-leafed beet green named ‘Bull’s Blood’, above which floated the classic tulip ‘Prinses Irene’, which is orange-flamed magenta. Above that rose a deep purple tulip, ‘Paul Scherer’. These are all strong and brooding hues, especially for the arboreal chill of April, but it is the very out-of-season passion of their color saturation and pairing that leaped at you and grabbed you by the shoulders, and demanded to know, “Have you ever seen anything like this in a pot in April?”


Photo courtesy of Rob Cardillo

If, like me, you’ve fallen in love with this magical garden, and have visited or plan to visit, you’ll love getting the story behind each of the gardens and will pore over Cardillo’s photos with delight and anticipation.


Photo courtesy of Rob Cardillo

As Higgins writes, “Chanticleer isn’t about flowers….it’s about plants, plants on their stage. It’s music, it’s ballet, it’s cinema. It’s the garden as an art form, and in the twenty years of active garden making here, Chanticleer has developed an international reputation…as one of the most theatrical gardens in the United States.”

Chanticleer Garden is drama and comedy performed on a 35-acre stage. Chanticleer the book is an adoring fan letter. Read it—or better yet, visit—and you’ll be a fan too.

Disclosure: This book was sent to me for review by the University of Pennsylvania Press. My review, like everything in Digging, is my own honest opinion.

All material © 2006-2011 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

8 Responses

  1. linda scott says:

    Positively ethereal!

    Yes! But also clever, tongue-in-cheek, and playful. It’s a magical place to explore. —Pam

  2. David C. says:

    Very pleasant and peaceful; thanks, thoughtful design + a well-placed agave! And I see some P/Digg-inspirations in a few pics…

    You are right, David. I was definitely inspired by their starburst paths when I was coming up with design ideas for my stock-tank surround. —Pam

  3. Frances says:

    A masterpiece, for sure, Pam. Rob’s photos are amazing, as is this garden, on my bucket list.

    Frances, aren’t you within a long day’s drive of Chanticleer? Go this summer. You won’t regret it. —Pam

  4. Denise says:

    Just seconds ago I clicked in an Amazon book order and now wished I’d included this one! I love how the features shown escape a specific historic style but still seem immortal and timeless, what we should probably call now the ‘Chanticleer style.’ Even the adirondacks have a zig-zag to them! I’ll have to save for this one. Wonderful review, Pam.

    Thanks, Denise. I’m glad you noticed the chairs. Hand-crafted seating is integral to the garden design at Chanticleer and part of its charm. The author noted that these red Adirondacks are painted to match the berries of the crabapples in fall. —Pam

  5. One of my favorite places on earth! Can’t wait to see the new book.

    You’ll really enjoy it if you know and love the garden, CIMS. —Pam

  6. Laura Munoz says:

    All I can say is “Wow!” Laura

  7. Cat says:

    Absolutely love the second photograph…can just imagine sitting there and absorbing all that lusciousness. Mmmm, what a daydream.
    And love the third for its inspiration…beautiful!

  8. I had the pleasure of visiting Chanticleer earlier in the spring, and had a lovely tour by Carolyn of Carolyn’s Shade Garden. It was all you’ve shared and more. I still haven’t written a post about it because I’m afraid I won’t do it justice…but I took lots of photos so will post something eventually. It’s nice to know about this new book, too.

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