Wednesday, August 15, 2012

... of hammered gold and gold enameling ...

An early August visit to Chanticleer

Chanticleer is like an artist's workshop, an atelier of the decorative arts of garden design. When I uploaded the photos for this post, I found myself recalling lines from one of my freshman year favorites, Yeat's Sailing to Byzantium, thus the title ...

... such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enameling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing ...

Chanticleer's horticulturists and garden designers do indeed use golds, yellows and oranges abundantly. You can imagine their working away during the slow winter months crafting new surprises to stimulate our senses, delight us, give us pleasure. It is, after all, "Chanticleer, a pleasure garden."

At Chanticleer, a plant in a pot of water is not just a plant in a pot of water. It's an aesthetic adventure, rendered thus ...

... and the floating images change each day. The creativity seems endless, and it can leave a first-time visitor literally breathless. I had such an experience on my first visit as I walked the garden in a state of emotional overload. It wasn't an entirely pleasant experience.

The fine workmanship, exquisite detail, the reaching for effect, the seeking ever after the new, the not-done-before is like no other garden I've known.

A pomegranate tree with blossom and fruit evokes other geographies, cultures and times. This is in the courtyard behind the smaller of the two residences at Chanticleer, and the garden is called The Teacup Garden. This particular tree, and the courtyard setting, suggest many things to different people I'm sure. But on this day, for me it was an Islamic garden in Spain in the Middle Ages ... but with a difference ... a restless imagination always at work ...

Step through a doorway in a wall and you're in a formal grove of bananas, of all things, lined up in rigid geometry. Bananas in profusion in the environs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania! The Teacup garden planting changes every year, even from spring to summer, so you never know what to expect. This banana plantation certainly came as a surprise, almost like a slap across the face (just to get attention).

Here is the same scene back in April. Quite a transformation ...

Take a look for yourself. I'll keep words to a minimum, just naming the separate gardens, and commenting here and there.

Everything in the garden is decorative, leading to the question:  Can a garden offer too much?

One of many intimate seating areas, this in the transition from The Teacup Garden to The Tennis Court Garden.

Tapestry-like ground covers at the top of the stairway leading into the Tennis Court Garden below ...

... which was rather stunning on this visit ... in hot colors on a very hot and humid day ...

You can see from the number of photos that this is one of my favorite gardens at Chanticleer. It really epitomizes the risks the resident designers are willing--and able--to take. At times, it can look a mess, but this day it was an exercise in brilliance, a tour de force, teeming with unexpected juxtapositions of color, form, texture.

Chanticleer, the garden's eponymous icon, marks the entry to Chanticleer House and terraces.

View of the distant Pond Garden from the Chanticleer House terrace ...

... and of the Serpentine, always planted with a crop plant--this year sorghum.

An explosively decorative shrub ...

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) 'Fenway Park'. At least I think it is. This leaf has a crinkled texture and substance that's different from other Fenway Park cultivars I've seen, so I'm wondering if Chanticleer has acquired a superior cultivar.

... though the main house terrace was surprisingly subdued this summer, it still has a tropical look I've come to expect at Chanticleer.

The main walk ... plenty of color here ... and a stunning golden form of Ficus lyrata in planters ... that striving for effect, to delight you and me ... and, as usual, done successfully ...

The Serpentine up close ...

... a beautiful, large-scale landscape feature whose openness contrasts dramatically with the shade and darkness of the Asian Woods to come next, then the Pond Garden ...

Seed of Paeonia obovata (I believe) at the edge of the Asian Woods.

I don't know this plant, but it's certainly striking.

Lotus in the Pond Garden ...

Azaleas blooming (in August) on the walk through Bell's Woodland, which features plants of the eastern North American forest ...

The Ruin Garden ... where you'd expect a somber mood but instead find imaginative playfulness. Here huge stone acorns under small oaks, even an oak seedling ...

On the right, large stone slabs carved with veins like leaves ...

A decorative floral "mantlepiece" ...

A group of Ilex 'Skypencil' I refer to jokingly as The Holy Family (no, the metaphor doesn't fit) ...

A fountain with marble faces ... I find it rather macabre ...

A fountain of sedum pouring out of a rock column ...

Chanticleer is a garden with a sense of humor. This is an American living room, with sofa and easy chairs of stone, even a stone TV remote decorated with buttons of colored stones ...

The Vegetable and Cut Flower Garden ...

... leading to an enclosed Potager ...


  1. One of my favorite gardens ever. It has both humor and heart laced with endless imaginative possibilities . . .

    I enjoyed your photos.

    1. I'm glad I live so close. We were fortunate to land in the Tennis Court Garden while the tall lilies were in bloom.

  2. James,
    I don't normally fast forward through your posts but I had to this time ;c)
    I'm making the mecca-like trip to Chanticleer this weekend, after wanting to go for a very, very long time. It's eight hours driving from where I am so its a long haul, but we are two very ardent garden lovers so I know it will be worth it.
    I will look again at your post when I get back and compare your photos to my own! I'm sure yours will be superior.

  3. Ailsa,

    I do hope the garden is prepared in its finest for you. Have a safe journey.

  4. Thank you for this! I'm going to have to look at it again and again this week. The bananas are wonderful. I may have to print out some of the photos for my gardener. He looks at me funny when I ask for bananas. Here in Rwanda, it's like saying you're planting out a flower bed in beans.

  5. Good luck convincing your gardener. He probably thinks Americans are crazy.

  6. Pomegranite, courtyard and maybe water... Like the gardens of ancient Persia, assuming there is geometry.

    I like the bananas in that setting. Perhaps it's because they're organised.

    There's no fear of 'mixing' it up with the planting.

    92 photos James.... Is this a record?

  7. So you counted? And they aren't that good, having been taken in the bright light of midday. In defense, Rob, I can only say that I love being able to see other gardens I can't visit in person, and the more photos, the better idea I can get of a garden's spatial arrangement. I also loved the Tennis Court Garden on this visit, so I believe there are well over twenty photos of that garden alone!

  8. James,

    That was a greta post! Certainly not too long in my book. I love Chanticleer as much as you do. That plant in the Asian Woods is Boehmeria platanifolia. Maybe you could find a home for it in your city shade garden. It is a wonderful textural plant. I got mine from Ed Bowen at Opus Nursery. He called a false nettle. It has been very hardy here in NH. I think Plants Delights has it if you are trying to find it.

    1. Thanks for the plant ID, Michael. Actually, I originally heard about Ed's nursery from your blog. Nice guy. A year or two ago he sent me the Sanguisorba tenuifolia Alba I'd been searching for. I'd love to get to his nursery some day.

    2. He is a great guy and consummate plantsman. He has what he calls a micro-nursery. It isn't in a retail location but it is chock-full of choice plants. Unfortunately for me, many aren't quite hardy here in NH. I think they would all work for you.

  9. James,
    I'm back from our marathon garden visit trip, having seen Chanticleer on Saturday and Longwood Gardens on Sunday. It will take weeks for me to recover. I have astonished myself by taking close to 1000 pictures and my camera phone was on fire in my pocket by the time it was all over!
    I'll make a post about it all soon and would love for you to see it through my eyes as I have now seen it through yours.

    1. Ailsa,
      That was really a quick trip. You must be exhausted. I can't wait to find out how you saw Chanticleer. Did we see different gardens? Rob says I posted 92 photos--asked if it wasn't a record. Of course not.

      Those cameras do get hot!

  10. On some future cold dark winter day, I am going to sneak in to Chanticleer just to see what they keep for themsleves.

  11. Curious that they don't open a few days in winter. The garden seems quite well endowed financially, so that must not be the reason. I seem to recall some family members are still resident at certain times of the year, but that may be a defective memory.

  12. Lovely garden...thanks for the virtual tour!

    1. Thanks, Scott. I took your advice. The polarizing filter helps, but it's still impossible to make good photos in mid-day.

  13. A sharp or cold eye might dismiss 'Chanticleer' as "all too much", James, but for me its liberating exuberance points to what's possible. It points to the future. It's a garden full of hope.

  14. I am so sad I didn't visit Chanticleer while in the US - now I'm again too far to make the trip for a while, at least. Somehow, I think I prefer the quiet decay and dilapidation of many European gardens, both young and old (maybe a result of the economic situation of today). We all age, and I love gardens that reflect that. No steroids here, thanks. Chaticleer seems to offer great inspiration for many gardeners, though. Wonderful post again, James - thank you.

    1. Liisa, I think the Ruin will look much better after another 100 years. It still looks a little too shiny and new. And Chanticleer very well might be described as a garden on steroids. Another good point. I



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