A visit to Chanticleer: Teacup & Tennis Court Gardens

If you haven’t been to Chanticleer, you must go. Hop on a plane or jump in the car and go. Now. Dubbed “a pleasure garden” in its brochure, it lives up to the billing. From the moment we arrived, just after lunchtime on a quiet Sunday in early July, to the time we left, regretfully, in late afternoon, we were enraptured, delighted, surprised, and awed. My husband and I wandered through one garden space after another, transfixed for long moments by a tree-framed vista or a whimsical display, led on by the winding paths that invited exploration, stopping to appreciate the views in beautiful seating areas throughout the garden.

My kids, breaking the rules on staying with parents, I’m afraid, threw themselves into the garden with abandon, making a map of the place in their heads and giving the gardens and paths inventive yet descriptive names, checking in with us from time to time to breathlessly tell us about some wonder that lay ahead, and disappearing again with gleeful exuberance. Chanticleer turned out to be one of their favorite destinations on our three-week road trip—and mine.

Join me for a tour of this 35-acre Philadelphia-area garden—described as “one of the most interesting and edgy public gardens in America” by the Washington Post—starting with this post and continuing with several more.

“Chanticleer” means “rooster,” of course, and the crower’s likeness appears throughout the garden. According to the brochure, Chanticleer the estate belonged to Adolph and Christine Rosengarten, who built their summer home here in 1913. In the 1930s they built two more homes nearby for their children as wedding gifts. Yes, they were quite well-to-do. In 1990 their heir, Adolph, Jr., died and left the estate to be maintained for the public by the Chanticleer Foundation. Since then, the lawn- and tree-dominated property has been transformed by the staff into the dynamic garden it is today.

You enter through a courtyard garden called the Teacup Garden, where tropicals and subtropicals hold sway. Surrounding the teacup-like fountain, silvery palms and agaves reminded me of Austin. If you look carefully at the edging, you’ll notice low, arching, willowy branches outlining this bed—and this edging is actually alive, and sprouting new, green growth.

They’re doing some sharp gardening here too.

I like this color echo between the huge agave and the tiny tufts of blue fescue (and the palm in the background).

Cactus and succulent containers always interest me because they’re the only plants I’ll use in pots in Austin. Anything else just requires too much water in the summer. And check out that neat variegated Opuntia by the bench.

This tile mosaic offers flowers year-round, but masses of annual flowers are not what Chanticleer is all about. As their brochure explains, “the garden is a study of textures and forms, where foliage trumps flowers, the gardeners lead the design, and even the drinking fountains are sculptural.” Yes, yes, and yes—I love it.

We spotted this rabbit in a clover-studded lawn, enjoying a nibble.

The estate’s tennis court has been transformed into the Tennis Court Garden, a formally structured but informally planted garden filled with burgundy foliage, red and yellow flowers, and chartreuse perennials.

Exciting combinations, yes?

And a closer look.

These yellow beauties were buzzing with bees. Update: This is Hypericum frondosum ‘Sunburst’ (thanks for the ID, Frances).

I loved these nodding, pink flowers, backed by silvery lamb’s ears, cascading down a raised bed along the stairs.

Aren’t they lovely? Can anyone ID these for me? Update: This is ‘Kent Beauty’ oregano. (Thanks, Kim, Ewa, Chris, and Les.)

Red clematis

I couldn’t get enough of the allium seedheads, like brown fireworks exploding in the garden.

A closeup

Here their color is echoed by the brown container.

To continue this tour of Chanticleer, click here for a paradise of hydrangea blossoms and the Chanticleer House Garden.

All material © 2006-2008 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

29 Responses

  1. Your post makes me want to go now.

    And you should, Mother Nature. From where I live, you’re already halfway there in Tennessee. —Pam

  2. Les says:

    I dragged my family and brother to Chanticleer knowing I would love it and wondering how long they would tolerate it. I think everyone was surprised when I was the one who had to remind them that we had other things to do and had to leave. My favorite spot by far was the Ruins garden, but I also enjoyed the steppe garden and everything else. I think your mystery plant is Kent’s Beauty Oregano.

    Thank you for sharing.

    The Ruins garden was wonderful—and very whimsical too with all those carved books on the ground. I’ll have a few pics of it up soon. And thanks for the oregano ID. —Pam

  3. Beautiful photographs, as always, Pam. You could be their official photographer, or any gardens official photographer.

    Now I want to go, too! A future garden bloggers meet up place? Thanks for providing this tour for us!

    Carol, you’d love it. Wouldn’t it be fun to meet here one day? In the spring, they promise rivers of bulbs in the orchard. I’d love to see it. —Pam

  4. Chris says:

    That plant is Kent Beauty oregano. I just discovered it on my trip to Washington. (and don’t get me started on the gardens I saw there) It is supposed to grow in Texas if you keep it well-drained so I have ordered some plants. I’m going to try it in a container and then see from there. I’ll let you know.

    Chris, if you’re going to tantalize us with the gardens of the Pacific Northwest, you may need to start a blog to show them to us. ;-) Thanks for the oregano ID. I’m thrilled that you’re going to trial it for us Texans. Keep me posted. —Pam

  5. Ewa says:

    what a lovely place is this. I am amazed of that yellow ‘hairy’ flower. Also the pink ‘charmant’ growing with lamb’s ears caught my eye too – is it oregano? oh my, what an oregano. I wonder if I can grow it here.
    I believe you have tons of pictures of amazing places from your vacation.
    Have a look at my blog, I just tagged you ;)

    I’m wondering the same thing about the oregano, Ewa. Thanks for the ID. And I’ll be visiting your blog in just a little while. —Pam

  6. This has got to be the most beautiful garden in the world! How lucky for you to get to visit–and thanks for taking us with you via pictures! I love that your kids liked it!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the pics, Linda. Stop by tomorrow (and the next day) for more. —Pam

  7. Kim says:

    Echoing what was said above… definitely an ornamental oregano, probably Kent’s Beauty. You should check out o. libanoticum and ‘Amethyst Falls’ ornamental oregano on High Country Gardens’ website, too: http://www.highcountrygardens.com/catalog/search/products/?query=oregano&x=0&y=0
    I like all of them. And they all are nice in containers, where they can spill over the sides… I can’t imagine that they would require much more water than your succulents, given how tough oreganos are.

    I enjoyed the color echo between those agaves and fescues, too… but I really loved the way it looks like sweet peas are spilling over into the agaves. I think I liked that because you usually see the agaves all alone as punctuation marks, not mixed in via sweet pea vines and such. (Does that make sense? I feel like I’m not explaining this very well!)

    Thanks for the oregano ID and other suggestions, Kim. I will definitely check them out. I figured this plant was pretty drought tolerant as it was planted with lamb’s ears on an exposed slope. However, I’ve killed lamb’s ears several times (they just kind of shriveled up in the heat), and I’d be so sad to kill that oregano. I’ll have to try it anyway.

    I know exactly what you mean about how agaves are usually stand-alone focal points. In their natural habitat, of course, that’s how desert plants grow—alone. But like you, I love seeing agaves mixed into garden beds with other plants, and this garden does it beautifully. The sweet peas clambering through those spiny arms are a surprising touch. —Pam

  8. Susannah says:

    I have discovered ornamental oreganos lately– Natural Gardener has Kent Beauty and Dittany of Crete, which both form those bell-like series of bracts. I have them in a pot, I wonder if they would do well in the ground here. They would look gorgeous in a rock garden. Love the Chanticleer photos!

    Thanks for the tip, Susannah! I will have to stop by Natural Gardener to pick up ‘Kent Beauty’, violating my own rule of not buying or planting in mid-summer. But I’ve got to have that one. What conditions do they like here in Austin? —Pam

  9. cindee says:

    Thank You for the tour. I will probably never get to go so it is wonderful to see it this way(-: It looks like you had a great time there!!!!!

    I did have a great time, Cindee. Never say never—I hope you get to visit the Philadelphia region one day, and I hope to go back. There are several other great estate gardens there besides Chanticleer, including Winterthur and Longview. I’d like to see them all. —Pam

  10. Lori says:

    Oh, wow, wow, wow. This place looks amazing. Your pictures are stunning. And I love the agave underplanted with blue fescue– it looks like it’s emerging from the ground in a puff of smoke!

    That’s a good description, Lori. It does look like an explosion, now that you mention it. —Pam

  11. Jenny says:

    Wow Pam. What a wonderful posting. I want to go there right now and I want those plants too.

    Add it to your travel list, Jenny. In this case, the destination may be even better than the journey. —Pam

  12. Cindy says:

    That does it, I’m adding Chanticleer to my list of places I must visit! I’m looking forward to the next stops on the Digging tour!

    Thanks, Cindy. Look for more Chanticleer tomorrow and the next day. —Pam

  13. Libby says:

    So do the agaves and other succulents winter over in this climate? Surely they don’t remove them for the winter….I’ve never heard of this garden, thanks for the tip. I didn’t see an answer to the ID on the pink fluttery flowers. Not that we could grow them here (grumble, grumble)…

    I didn’t run across any gardeners to ask, Libby, but I wondered the same thing. My guess is that all these tender plants are dug up and stored over the winter. The garden closes between November and March (so different from our southern gardens, which never close, right?).

    The pink flowers have been ID’d as ‘Kent Beauty’ oregano, and Susannah commented that she’s seen it for sale at Natural Gardener, so hey, hey! —Pam

  14. susan harris says:

    What the heck is the “yellow beauty covered with bees”? Looks like a very weird daffodil.
    I love Chanticleer, too, and intend to go back soon. I once took myself on a whirlwind road trip (all by myself) to Wave Hill, Longwood, Chanticleer and one more near West Point I think called Stonecrop (?) The freeway systems were a BEAR but the gardens were all worth it, especially Wave Hill and Chanticleer. Heck, it’s only a 2-hour drive away from me and to Texans that’s nothing, right?

    A two-hour drive is indeed nothing to a Texan. My god, Susan, I’d have to visit Chanticleer at least once a month. Your garden road trip sounds like my idea of a vacation.

    I don’t know what the yellow flower is. I’m hoping someone will ID it for me.It’s Hypericum frondosum ‘Sunburst’ (thanks, Frances). —Pam

  15. Gail says:

    What a wonderful garden tour… nice that you and your husband could tour knowing your kids were fine and having their own adventure. I like those allium seed head, too. Gail

    Yes, it was a very pleasant day for us all. Thanks, Gail. —Pam

  16. Frances says:

    Hi Pam, first off, the yellow flower is hypericum frondosom of ‘Sunburst’. I just bought one this weekend at a local perennial nursery and looking it up on google found a post by Carol at May Dreams from 2006 about it! Surprised she didn’t mention it in her comment. ;-> I can’t wait to see the rest of your tour of this garden. You must have taken thousands of photos. These are great, you have chosen very Texas looking ones, but that garden must have some more eastern looking plantings as well. Thanks for choosing for us and walking us through. Someday we will go, we have family in PA.

    Doh! Of course it’s a St. John’s wort. I suspected it but didn’t take the time to look for it online, so thank you, Frances, for the specific ID. How funny that Carol had already posted about this beauty. I haven’t seen this variety in Austin, but regular old St. John’s wort grows well here, so maybe this would too.

    I didn’t take quite that many photos, but I did take enough for 3 or 4 posts. I’m showing them in the order in which I saw the garden, and the Texas-y Teacup Garden just happened to come first. The Tennis Court Garden didn’t look like Texas to my eyes. In fact, I didn’t know many of the plants I saw there. Tomorrow I’ll show the lush hydrangea garden and longer vistas, all of which look very eastern to me. Enjoy! —Pam

  17. Layanee says:

    On my recent PA jaunt, Chanticleer was originally on the list but unfortunately could not accommodate our group. I am happy to see your photographs and will schedule another trip. I have heard it is an exceptional place and your photos concur! Thanks for that tour!

    Oh, Layanee, I’m sorry you didn’t get to see Chanticleer on that trip. But you did see some beautiful gardens, and I’ve admired your photos of them on your blog. —Pam

  18. […] Follow the path with me tomorrow for pics from the Asian Woods and Pond Garden. Click here for images of the Teacup and Tennis Court Gardens. […]

  19. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Pam this place is a gigantic WOW. Thanks so much for giving us this tour and giving us the bug to go see this marvelous garden. I like the grass paths in the one photo. Red clematis is interesting too. Well, just all of it is interesting.

    Yes, it’s definitely a wower of a garden. I’m glad you’re enjoying the virtual tour. —Pam

  20. Hi Pam,

    I should have read this one before I asked about the kids. You must have great kids. Mine are not so tolerant. Do you know the name of the purple flower? If not, I believe it’s Bear’s Breeches, Acanthus mollis (I don’t know how to put that in italics.)~~Dee

    My kids are pretty good about touring gardens with me. Maybe they’re older than yours. I didn’t know the bear’s breeches, so thanks for the ID. It’s a beautiful plant. Will it grow in Oklahoma? —Pam

  21. Kim says:

    Dee, you’re right, that is an acanthus. Whether it’s a. mollis or a. hungaricus or whatever, I’m not sure. Lovely, thistle-y foliage on those, in any case.

    As far as the agaves go, I’m not sure what zone Chanticleer is in, but I know that there are some agaves that are cold hardy in zones 5 & 6, like agave havardiana. They suggest that you plant them in the spring, though, to give them plenty of time to settle in for your best chance to overwinter them. What we usually have trouble with here is having them rot out in the wintertime.

    You are right, Kim, that there are agaves that will survive that far north. I’m not sure whether all of those can remain in the ground, but maybe the big ones do. They were planted in a raised bed, which will help with drainage in the winter. —Pam

  22. Nicole says:

    Just absolutely gorgeous photos, Pam. Great foliage combo inspiration.

    I’m glad you enjoyed them, Nicole. —Pam

  23. […] their personal gardens in Austin, Texas, and Fort Collins, Colorado (along with a fair number from Chanticleer in Pennsylvania), will particularly delight those who garden in the West. Garden publications so […]

  24. […] July We took off on a 4,600-mile driving trip up to Maine, down the Eastern Seaboard to Washington, D.C., and back to Texas. Along the way, Layanee of Ledge and Gardens invited me to call in on her radio show, “Garden Guys,” where I had an enjoyable chat with her and her co-hosts and managed to stumble over and forget my own URL. (Ha! This is the risk of Going For It: making a fool of oneself. But it was a fun experience I wouldn’t have missed.) To my delight, the highlight of the entire trip for the kids (and myself) was our tour of Chanticleer Garden. […]

  25. babook says:

    i love your post of garden with your garden design they are perfect and big engineering : ) Them INSPIREN TO ME .

    They are inspiring to me too, Babook. Thanks for visiting. —Pam

  26. Jean says:

    Hi Pam, well with your encouragement we decided to make a little bit of a detour to visit Chanticleer on our way up to Maine. What a fabulous place that was, just like you said! I plan to post about it soon. It’s interesting to see how different some parts were from when you were there just last year. For example, the Teacup Garden didn’t have those lovely blue-green palms but rather lettuces and some very tall palm trees (frankly, not as appealing to me as what you saw). Anyway, watch for my post to come soon and thanks for helping me make up my mind to visit it!

    Oh, I am so glad to hear that you went, Jean, and that you loved it too. And I am envious of you for getting to see it! It’s interesting that they changed the design of the Teacup Garden so much. I wonder what else has changed since last summer. I’ll be looking for your post. —Pam

  27. […] where we saw Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, and a detour to the incredible garden Chanticleer. A few days later we arrived in Washington, D.C., where we took an evening stroll (which turned […]

  28. […] other succulents are cultivated in gardens as far removed from the desert as Pennsylvania’s Chanticleer, gardeners living in the dry climates from which those plants originate have gotten short shrift […]

  29. […] wort (Hypericum frondosum ‘Sunburst’). I first saw this cultivar of St. John’s wort at Chanticleer Garden a couple of years ago and fell in love. When Austin nursery Gardens was going out of business last […]