We arrived at Chanticleer, a pleasure garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania on Friday, August 12, 2005 at nearly nine o'clock. As we emerged from the van, we were greeted by Mr. Bill Thomas, Executive Director of Chanticleer. He invited us to tour the gardens for about 90 minutes, then to meet him near the Chanticleer Terrace to discuss the gardens and their intricacies.
The grounds of Chanticleer are a wonderfully eclectic mix of art and plants. Starting with the Teacup Garden, a diverse mix of tropical plants gave us just a glimpse into the wonderful blending of plants throughout the garden. It is immediately apparent that there is something different about this landscape; it is the lack of plant labels. As "plant geeks," we are easily swept up in the fury of plant names. However, the lack of black metal "soldiers" in the garden allows the garden to be appreciated as a whole, rather than as one categorized and named plant at a time. This lack of obtrusive signage is evident throughout the garden, forcing us to view the imaginative plant combinations and whimsical design throughout the grounds.
Continuing through the garden, golden swaths of sorghum are seen sweeping through the landscape in the Serpentine Garden. The quiet Asian Woods and Stream Garden reveal colorful Japanese painted ferns and gingers along with green grass and red lobelia flanking each side of a small stream. A fountain frog spits water into a pool with a surprising figure below the murky green surface. Moving towards the Ruin Garden, one sees a sculpted stone couch, complete with "Flintstone era" remote, as just one of the many quirky seating areas throughout the garden. Each invites you to sit and enjoy sights such as the Great Lawn and Dry Garden filled with ornamental grasses and multihued sedums. The large "table" with a reflective, watery top is the centerpiece of the partially collapsed structure in the Ruin Garden, complete with its own surprising features of carved marble faces staring from the depths of a small pool. From here, the abundant lotus in the Water Garden can be seen in full bloom. Across the Orchard and Bulb Lawn lie rows of flowers and vegetables waiting to be put to good use from the Cut-Flower and Vegetable Garden. Moving towards the Tennis Court Garden, wonderful combinations of woody and herbaceous plants fill these former playing grounds just below the Chanticleer house itself surrounded by colorful courtyards filled with bold tropical plants, vividly planted containers, and a sparkling pool.
Chanticleer opened its 35 acres to the public in 1993, following the death of its owner, Adolph Rosengarten Jr. in 1990. Concerned about the future of his home after his death, Mr. Rosengarten set up two charitable trusts to maintain and open the gardens to the public. Sharing its name with a French word for Rooster, Chanticleer has adopted the Rooster as its icon. The name, however, originated from a book by William Makepeace Thackeray entitled, "The Newcomes." The Garden received 25,000 visitors last year and is open 10 AM to 5 PM Wednesday through Sunday, with evening hours on Friday, April through October. Nearly 100% of the garden's 3.5 million dollar annual operating budget is funded by the two endowments. Revenue is also generated by the five dollar admission fee. Only about 50% of the visitors actually pay the admission fee since it is waived for children under 16 as well as professionals and students in horticulture.
While the small admission fee is welcoming, the estate feel of the grounds is what makes Chanticleer an inviting place. This private garden feel is a goal for the staff and director. "This garden should feel like a private garden open to the public," remarked Bill Thomas. This private garden feel is achieved through the abundant color and creative plant combinations. This artistry throughout the garden is achieved by the high qualified, creative horticulturists on staff, each of whom are in charge a specific area in the garden. Giving the gardeners freedom results in widely creative and exciting gardens. A director monitoring the process helps keep each area unified, giving the visitor one cohesive, yet unique experience as they travel through each area of the garden.
It is clear that the staff at Chanticleer is what makes it a special place. Each of the seven section horticulturists is employed full-time and year-round. "You can't have an excellent staff and lay them off in the winter," commented Bill Thomas. The staff composition has seen little change since 1993. Each of the section horticulturists work on major projects during the winter months. Despite this small number of year-round employees, Chanticleer has no volunteers; other employees, such as tour guides and seasonal gardeners, do not work in the winter. The staff is also strengthened by visiting professionals from peer institutions around the country, such as the Denver Botanical Gardens.
Chanticleer's Board also strengthens the gardens, acting primarily in policy decisions. It ensures that the intent of the garden is achieved as spelled out in the will of Mr. Rosengarten. This Board does not often become involved with aesthetics and design decisions. The five-member Board meets three times a year but each member receives a monthly informational letter from Bill Thomas. The Board President communicates regularly with the Executive Director and the Secretary/Treasurer meets monthly with Bill Thomas to review financial information.
Along with creating a beautiful garden for the enjoyment of the public, the will of Mr. Rosengarten indicated the need for education. Guided tours of the grounds and the main house (itself not yet open to the general public), educate the visitor about the history of the grounds. Plant lists placed at the entrances to garden areas, rather than small metal signs, inform visitors of plant names and locations without being overwhelming. To paraphrase Bill Thomas, a philosophy at Chanticleer is you shouldn't know what the plant is unless you ask. These lists and names are augmented by plant records maintained by BG-BASE software. There are also some educational programs done in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society. While this partnership works well, more courses may be offered in the future for amateurs and professionals on topics unlike those being offered at neighboring gardens.
Educational opportunities are also offered to students through informal internships and a fellowship program. The Chanticleer foundation was developed 7 to 8 years ago to help develop leaders in public horticulture. They work on a project in conjunction with the Executive Director. The program is under review and in the future will be more hands-on.
This visit to Chanticleer gardens was certainly a hands-on experience for the Longwood Graduate Fellows. We have acquired first-hand some important lessons from Chanticleer. Design freedom for staff can lead to wonderfully, imaginative gardens but they quickly turn chaotic without an individual considering the entire picture. Chanticleer works closely with many peer public horticulture facilities. From sharing plants with Longwood Gardens, to inviting staff from Denver Botanic Gardens to observe and work with them. From partnering with the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society to offer beneficial educational programs, to overwintering tender tropical plants at the Scott Arboretum, Chanticleer benefits greatly through collaboration. This enables Chanticleer to achieve its mission as one of the most beautiful gardens in the world for enjoyment and education.