Where would you rather be after 5:00 on a summer Friday? Week after week, I’d be picnicking at Chanticleer.
Located in Wayne, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, Chanticleer was the summer home of the Rosengarten family, whose pharmaceutical business became part of Merck, the New Jersey-headquartered health care company. Sited on a sloping hillside, the home provides a beautiful, pastoral view of the Piedmont region of Pennsylvania.
The Rosengartens named their home after “Chanticlere,” the estate in William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1855 novel, The Newcomes, that was “the show of the county.” Since the name was synonymous with the French word for “rooster,” the Rosengartens incorporated rooster motifs throughout the property.
Built in 1913, the home became the Rosengartens’ year-round residence in 1924, when they added a new formal dining room, a breakfast room, and a swimming-pool terrace on the site of the family’s World War I Victory Garden. Mrs. Rosengarten would host “Weed and Reads” for local children, inviting them to learn how to tend the gardens in the morning, give summer book reports in the afternoon, and swim in the pool after hours.
Opened to the public in 1993, this magnificent 35-acre pleasure garden includes tropical plants, perennials, agricultural crops, vegetable plants, flowers for cutting, water gardens and ponds.
Shady woodlands feature plants of eastern North America, such as trilliums and deep-purple checkered snake’s-head fritillaries.
Manchurian pipevine (Aristolochia manshuriensis) climbs up trees in the Asian Woods, easily spotted by its distinctive flowers shaped like meerschaum pipes.
Cypripedium japonicum, an orchid widespread in Japan, but rare in the United States, blooms for just three weeks each spring. A single pink ladyslipper flower rises above skirt-like leaves like an unfolding Japanese fan.
Restrooms in the Asian Woods resemble a Japanese teahouse, complete with bamboo fencing, traditional shōji screens for walls, and decorative Asian-inspired glazed ceramic tiles.
The terraces surrounding Chanticleer House are much like they were when the Rosengartens lived there. Plantings are completely redesigned twice a year, first in the spring and again in the summer. The spring display included dozens of tulips, both geometrically planted in boxwood-edged beds and randomly filling central beds in a sunken garden installed on the terrace on the west side of the home.
The garden itself is divided into several garden “rooms.” For example, the windows of the sun porch on the western side of the house were removed and the space was transformed into an open-air room. Changing displays of plants in containers sit on the windowsills. Flowers float in a pot next to the fireplace.
At the Pond Arbor, a ceiling of wisterias and weeping flowering cherries shelters a slate terrace and a row of high-backed wooden chairs made of black locust planks. Wide window-like openings provide a vista of the ponds below.
When the two Rosengarten children were married, their parents gave them homes on the property as wedding gifts. Daughter Emily’s home, now housing administrative offices and located near the visitor entrance, was built in 1935. The Teacup Garden is filled with seasonal plants, including a Japanese banana tree that has survived more than 20 winters outdoors with little or no protection. Its spring expression included “Honeybird” narcissus, “Crown Jewel” tulips, frittilaria, and Black Seeded Simpson lettuce….
Son Adolph, Jr.’s home, built in 1933, was torn down in 1999 and is now the site of a spectacular ruin garden featuring a folly, built to look as though it was the ruin of the original home. Marcia Donahue of Oakland, California created three rooms in the house: a great hall, with a fountain that rests on a mosaic rug of tile, granite and slate; a library of carved stone books; and a pool room where marble faces look up from the bottom of another fountain. The central feature of the “dining room” is a stone table that doubles as a reflecting pool. A comfortable stone sofa and chair, complete with a remote control, are made of native Wissahickon schist and Pennsylvanian black granite, covered with climbing hydrangea.
Chanticleer employs seven horticulturists, each responsible for the design, planting and maintenance of an area. Fourteen gardeners and groundskeepers assist them. During the winter, staff design and build accessories for the garden, such as furniture created from wood cut on the property, fences, gates, bridges, and even drinking fountains.
Boxes for plant lists, which visitors can take for implementing Chanticleer-inspired plantings at home. Seasonal plant lists can also be downloaded here. One plant list box is more clever than the next.
A metal hand clasps a latch in a plant box in the Asian Woods. Inside, find a representation of the Cypripedium japonicum orchid across the pathway.
Hand-crafted wrought-iron railings are among Chanticleer’s most charming features. One with ferns, snails and spiderwebs is on the terrace with the sunken garden. Another connecting the Teacup Garden with the Lower Courtyard includes dogwood flowers. It complements a neighboring dogwood tree and dogwood flowers on a fountain the Rosengartens brought back from Florence, Italy in the 1920s.
The interior of the small shed where the Rosengartens stored apples features The (Chip)munks’ Hood, a hand-painted mural of a hollowed-out tree with chipmunks storing acorns; monkshood is planted nearby.
Unique features abound at Chanticleer. A raked gravel Zen garden is the main feature of the courtyard in the back of the house. A Shaker-inspired rain bench that can be flipped over to provide dry seating is placed beside an espaliered rosemary willow. Woven cut willow stems are used as fencing; since willows root when they are stuck in the ground, they are pruned regularly to keep the fences’ distinctive shape. In the spring, pieces of orange-stemmed coral bark willow (Salix alba “Britzensis”) are stuck vertically in containers to contrast with purple wallflowers. Hoops made from wrapped willow branches outline the flower beds. Arches in the vegetable garden are formed in the shape of carrots.
For more on Chanticleer, read Chanticleer: A Pleasure Garden, by Adrian Higgins; The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer, by R. William Thomas; and Gardens of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, by William M. Klein, Jr.