It would seem impossible that a garden designed by committee would be considered a “standard bearer of excellence in horticulture worldwide” (Dan Hinkley at www.pacifichorticulture.org ) but it seems such is the case for Chanticleer Gardens, on the outskirts of Wayne, Pennsylvania, as they are extraordinarily successful and deeply loved by the American gardening community.
The gardens, developed on what had been a small family farm, extend to approximately 50 acres and were begun early in the 20th century by Adolph Rosengarden who inherited them from his parents though he credits his wife “whose indefatigable interest and impeccable taste not only furthered the enterprise, but also saved me from some horrible follies.” Together they established the Chanticleer Foundation “for education of people from the city on how to landscape and keep places beautiful and attractive.” The charter for the foundation was written in 1976 and opened to the public in 1993.
It is this charter which makes Chanticleer so very different from other gardens. The primary aim is education and that is interpreted in a most generous and broad manner so that every effort is made to make gardening interesting, attractive, beautiful, enjoyable and so not only entice visitors to garden themselves but also inspire and show them how to do so well.
William Thomas is the garden director and his approach to his position and the gardeners who work at Chanticller seems to be that there are general guidelines under which all must work but the competence of each gardener is respected and each is given independence and autonomy to develop and maintain a garden which will fulfill the aims of the Chanticleer charter. Thus, Chanticleer is, in fact, a collection of seven wonderful individual gardens and runs contrary to our experience of large gardens where gardeners are generally little more than functionaries to an overall plan.
The book has also been created in the same manner. The garden director, R. William Thomas, introduces the reader to the gardens, its history and raison d’etre, and each of the gardeners then contributes a chapter on their own garden, its design, hard landscape, furniture, maintenance and plants – and plants dominate in all accounts of the garden. The photographs of Rob Cardillo are quite excellent and illustrate the book wonderfully so that visually the book is as inspiring and as educational as the gardens themselves.
As with a garden designed and maintained by a committee I believed such an approach to writing a book could not succeed but, as the garden is an outstanding success, so is the book. Rob Cardillo
[The Art of Gardening, William Thomas and The Chanticleer Gardeners, Timber Press, Portland, 2015, HB, 338 pages, £25 ISBN: 978-1-60469-544-1]