A visit to Chanticleer: Gravel Garden and Ruin

Among all the beautiful, bold, and imaginative gardens at Chanticleer, why do I like the Gravel Garden best? It so resembles the dry gardens of west Austin that I feel a little sheepish to admit that in this lush, Pennsylvania garden I preferred the familiarity of home. But home jazzed up, a strangely lush Hill Country-esque tapestry, with the surprising backdrop of tall eastern hardwoods and conical junipers to remind me I’m actually far from home. Perhaps it was also the novelty of seeing the vernacular of home—yuccas and agaves, wildflowers, stone and gravel, low-growing xeric plants mixed with feathery grasses—in an unlikely place.

Since Pennsylvania does not share the arid climate of central Texas, this garden of drought-tolerant plants, many of which will not tolerate wet feet, is planted on a slope and mulched with gravel.

Here’s what I haven’t managed in my clay-based, flat garden—lavender. They grow it in the Hill Country, however, and this reminded me of the herb farms in Fredericksburg.

Coneflowers and agaves look great together.

Another view of the raised bed.

A stone-slab bench is a natural in a gravel garden.

Mexican feathergrass provides texture and movement.

Magenta winecups add jewel-toned color to a pairing of agave and ‘Angelina’ sedum.

Stone-slab steps lead up the steep slope…

…and through the xeric (drought-tolerant) garden at top.

A gravel-and-stone path curves toward a shady seating area.

This circular lawn marks the end of the Gravel Garden and offers a place to pause before heading into the Ruin, an 8-year-old structure designed to look like the ruins of an old house at the top of the hill.

Here is where the extraordinary creativity and fancy of the staff is focused. Although the Ruin has a solemn feel, that solemnity is slyly tweaked around every corner. Stone “books” lay scattered on the “library” floor, the furniture (a great stone sofa and chair) have been moved “out of doors,” and this shallow black pool, raised up like a table, stands in for a formal dining table, it seemed to me.

At the far end, a fireplace is topped by a living mantelpiece.

A closer look

In another “room”—open, like the rest, to the sky—oak seedlings sprout among giant, sculpted acorns and oak leaves.

Although they are smiling, I found these marble faces “floating” in another pool fairly creepy.

I didn’t get a good shot of the Ruin itself, only some of the interior. Ah well. It’ll give you yet another reason to see it for yourself. As you head down the hill, you may notice one more face sleeping, like Rip Van Winkle, among sedges and vines.

Come back tomorrow for my final Chanticleer images—the Cut Flower and Vegetable Garden. For pics of the Pond Garden, click here.

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

19 Responses

  1. linda says:

    Very beautiful garden. I love all the hardscape, and the interesting and unlikely plant combinations create some great textural and color contrast.

    You said it, Linda. Thanks for commenting. —Pam

  2. […] up—the Gravel Garden. Click here for the Asian Woods & Stream […]

  3. The faces in the pool reminded me of a scene from Dante’s Divine Comedy. It must have been in Purgatory. I’d heard Mexican feather grass was invasive back east. How interesting. It’s one of my favorite grasses.

    This is my favorite garden of the ones you’ve shown, probably because it also resembles Oklahoma.~~dee

    I think it’s interesting that you like this garden best too, which perhaps most resembles your own region. —Pam

  4. Without a doubt, this is my favorite part of the garden! I love all the grasses. It does look like the Texas Hill Country–guess that’s why it appeals to me so me too. Thanks for sharing all of these pictures Pam. I have enjoyed this trip so much!

    So that’s three votes for the Gravel Garden. Thanks for your comment, Linda. —Pam

  5. Kim says:

    I’m enjoying your series on Chanticleer so much. I love the gravel garden, but I don’t have a slope for it. However, seeing your pictures has given me some ideas for my own garden. Thank you for posting your photos.

    I’m so glad that you’re getting some good ideas for your garden from these images. Me too! —Pam

  6. The beauty of this garden is just stunning and it is full of ideas for all of us creatively-challenged gardeners. Thank you for showing it to us.

    My pleasure, Dorothy! Thanks for letting me know that you’re enjoying it. —Pam

  7. Cindy says:

    There are so many things about each of the gardens to love that it’s very difficult to choose a favorite! That living mantel intrigues me … I’ll bet I could do something like that in my courtyard. Hmmmmm.

    Have you tried Goodwin’s Creek lavender? I think it might be happy in Austin’s soil and climate. Here it usually putters along for a while and then it’s gone. Fernleaf lavender does not have the usual sweet lavender fragrance but it grows and blooms for me here where the others won’t.

    Wow, I’d love to see your version of this living mantel, Cindy. Please show us if you make one. I haven’t tried ‘Goodwin’s Creek,’ but I hear it’s the one to try (I think MSS has grown it). Thanks for the tip on that one and the fernleaf lavender. —Pam

  8. Jenny says:

    This is the one for me. A feast for my eyes. I wonder why? Austin has been my first opportunity for a gravel garden and an opportunity to learn how to combine rocks gravel and plants to good effect. There is much to learn from looking at other rock gardens.

    That’s four votes for the Gravel Garden. You’ve made an incredibly beautiful gravel garden yourself, Jenny, and I think they could learn as much from yours as you could from theirs. —Pam

  9. Nancy Bond says:

    Beautiful! I love the splashes of color amid all that “neutrality” in the stones, walls, grasses, etc. Gorgeous.

    It is lovely, isn’t it? It reminds me of a Hill Country garden in May. At this time of year, the Hill Country is mostly shades of green and brown, and we await the colorful wildflowers of next spring. —Pam

  10. Barbara says:

    Pam, your photographs are always so enticing! I, too, love this garden. It gives me some ideas for rejuvenating the bed that runs along my driveway. It gets very dry in this hot Alabama sun. Thanks for taking us along on this wonderful trip.

    Hi, Barbara. I bet it does get hot and dry along an Alabama driveway. I’m glad you can use some ideas here in your own space. —Pam

  11. Gail says:

    Pam, I fear I am ruined for all other gardens! The entire of Chanticleer is wonderful…although, this may be my favorite section! I love ruins; even the fanciful! I do believe that the coneflower they have planted is Tennessee Coneflower (E Tennesseensis) either species or ‘Rocky Top’…no other echinacea has the upturned petals or sun salutation orientation. They are very happy in gravel.

    Five votes for the Gravel Garden. Thanks, Gail. And I believe you’re right about the Tennessee coneflower. It appears on the plant list for this garden, and I thought I’d recognized it from your blog. —Pam

  12. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Every garden you show makes me think it is my favorite. ha.. It just goes to show that
    any well done garden is appreciated. I am with you about the faces being creepy in the
    water. That reminds me of too many scary movies I have seen. I do like the faces reclining in the grass. That living mantel is a keeper too.

    I imagine May Dreams Carol will be creeped out by those submerged faces too. ;-) The mantel, however, is gorgeous. —Pam

  13. This is my favorite garden, too… while not in Austin (or Oklahoma) it feels a lot like my dry sandy garden to me! (Except that my Mexican feathergrass never gets that big and lush, darn it.)

    My favorite part was for sure the mantel. The fiber optic grass and other succulents just totally set up everything wonderfully for those dark aeonium. So cool.

    Have you ever tried the Spanish lavenders down there? (Maybe that’s what you all mean by “fernleaf,” now that I think about it.) ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ isn’t cold hardy for me up here, but neither are the Spanish lavenders–or the ones with the creamy variegated edges–and that’s what made me think of it.

    Six votes for the Gravel Garden. Thanks, Kim. I’m not familiar with lavender, and frankly you don’t see it here in Austin much, but I know that some of the Austin bloggers try to grow it. I need to learn more. —Pam

  14. […] a look back at the Ruin and Gravel Garden, click here. Thanks for joining me on my virtual tour of […]

  15. Layanee says:

    More great images, Pam. The marble faces are creepy. Your top photo looks like an optical illusion. The mantel is quite interesting isn’t it. I never would have though of that combination but it looks great. I love Mexican feather grass. I haven’t had luck with it here but it is beautiful.

    I love the mantel idea as well as the planting there. So fun! I’m sorry that the feathergrass hasn’t worked for you, but I’m sure you have other grasses to make up for it. —Pam

  16. Ewa says:

    Oh Pam,
    thank you so much for all your work to put these pictures together – it is such a feast for eyes :)

    It was fun work, Ewa. I’m glad you enjoyed it. —Pam

  17. Niels says:

    What an interesting garden! I wonder what the name is of that almost ball-shaped plant in some of the pictures. 2 are seen in the first picture – top part of picture.

    Those are some sort of yucca, Niels. They are very common in Austin, but I can tell you it was a surprise to see them in this Pennsylvania garden. Isn’t their shape and shimmering beauty incredible? —Pam

  18. My goodness, how big is that garden? I think I should plan a week’s vacation to go out and see it? Maybe we could all “spring fling” there some summer weekend?

    It’s 35 acres, Carol, and we saw nearly every inch of it, though I certainly didn’t photograph every inch. One day would suffice to see it, but one visit isn’t nearly enough to satisfy. How long of a road trip would that be for you? —Pam

  19. Jean says:

    The dry garden was also my favorite. Guess you can’t take the hill country outta the girl! Your photos look so great. I was really struggling with mine because we arrived there at 2pm in blasting sunshine!

    We arrived in the afternoon too, Jean, but it was mostly overcast that day. It is so hard to take good garden pictures when it’s sunny. Too bad, but I’m sure you have some beautiful images in your head. What an amazing garden! —Pam