Chanticleer in the Spring

Chanticleer Garden, sculpture

A mysterious stone sculpture wreathed in honeysuckle and nestled in prairie dropseed grass at Chanticleer, near the Ruin Garden.

The time has come to talk about Chanticleer.

Many gardeners among you may already know about Chanticleer Garden. But in addition to being a mecca for garden lovers, it is also a photographer’s dream, regardless of the season. Located in Wayne, Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia, Chanticleer is a lesser-known treasure open to the public from April through October. A special bonus for photographers is that on Friday evenings from May through August, the garden stays open until 8 p.m., allowing you to photograph during the “sweet light” of late afternoon. Tripods are welcome although you need to sign a release that photographs will be used for editorial or personal purposes only.

Formerly an estate belonging to the Rosengarten family, Chanticleer Garden is comprised of 32 acres with a lake, an Asian Wood, a Teacup Garden, a Tennis Court garden, gravel garden, artificial ruins, a cutting garden, and countless other areas to lose oneself in. Scattered throughout the garden are handmade chairs to sit in (repainted yearly), mysterious bits of sculpture, and bridges, water fountains and small structures or artworks custom-designed and crafted on site or especially for the garden.

I first discovered Chanticleer in July 2004 on a visit to Mt. Cuba Center with some friends. Since then, I’ve been back for a number of garden photography workshops as well as on my own. There is always something wonderful to discover that I haven’t seen before, and the garden areas change yearly. Last year, I collected my favorite photos, published a book on it, and sent it to Chris Wood, the Executive Director of the garden, who loved it. What a thrill!

Here are some photos of it in the spring. The first is a favorite from a May 2006 photo workshop. We were allowed onto the grounds at 6:30 a.m., a treat since the garden doesn’t open to the public until 10 a.m. By the time we stopped shooting, around opening time, the light was getting harsh.

This part of the garden has changed so although the “floating lady” is still there, the foreground plantings are not.


Chanticleer Garden

This sight captured my eyes and heart the first time I saw it. Sadly, the plantings around the "lady" have changed so the composition is gone.

The Pond Garden, Chanticleer Garden

The Pond Garden in the spring, with the Pond House in the foreground.

Unlike many other public gardens, plants at Chanticleer are not labeled (although tucked away here and there a visitor can find wooden boxes with plant lists for the area of the garden one is in). However, during one spring photo workshop, Brent Heath was there to help identify bulbs we didn’t recognize.


Nectoscordum, Chanticleer Garden, allium

Nectaroscordum siculum and allium at the Pond Garden

Brent identified these fabulous beauties as Nectaroscordum siculum. I thought they looked perfect with the alliums. Apparently some people think their fragrance is offensive, but I didn’t detect anything. What a great combination!

Other bulbs setting the scene were Camassia, one of the few bulbs I know of that can tolerate (and even enjoys) damp sites.

Chanticleer gardens, Camassia

Camassia in bloom in May near the stream at Chanticleer.

And the poppies! Don’t get me started.

Poppies and iris

Salmon poppies and Iris siberica on the hillside in spring.

Chanticleer Garden, primulas, hostas

Primulas and hostas, also breath-taking, in a sea of equisetum near the Asian Garden at Chanticleer.

The Minder Ruins, above the Gravel Garden, is one of my favorite parts of the garden to photograph. Although these are artificial “ruins,” they are both beautiful and mysterious.

Chanticleer, Minder Ruins

A fringetree in bloom outside the Minder Ruins

Chanticleer Garden, Minder Ruins

A doorway in the Minder Ruins is reflected in the black pool.

I could write forever about this place. And I promise at least two more posts, one about the garden in summer, and the other about it in fall.  But before I close, here is the quintessential spring flower photo, from my very first May photo workshop there. Visit Chanticleer soon, if you can.

Chanticleer Garden, meconopsis, Himalayan blue poppy

Meconopsis (Himalayan blue poppy) in bloom at Chanticleer in the spring.


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17 Comments on “Chanticleer in the Spring”

  1. Jean Says:

    Oh my goodness! Another garden to add to my must-see list. Beautiful images.

  2. Edith Hope Says:

    Dear Melissa, Another tour of another very lovely and, for me, previously unknown garden. I am always interested to see pieces of sculpture used successfully, as here, in a garden.

    You mention that there are no plant labels to be seen. In some ways this is a good thing as it prevents a public garden from taking on the appearance of a municipal park.

    • Melissa Says:

      Edith, I quite agree with you. Plus, from a photographer’s point of view, it’s difficult to get “clean” shots of plant vignettes if there are labels. The viewer’s eye is always pulled to the writing, or the white background of the label, rather than the real subject of the photo. I think some of the trees at Chanticleer have metal tags affixed to their larger branches, but otherwise for identification one relies on the lists or on the extremely knowledgeable and helpful garden staff.

  3. Melissa, what a gorgeous garden, (and gorgeous photographs, of course). I love the sculpture in the garden (as you knew I would).
    Those ruins are very cool, already wondering where I could put them(if I had a few million to spare), lol.

    • Melissa Says:

      Deborah – knew you would love the sculpture(s)! There are some spooky-looking “faces” in one of the pools in the Minder Ruins Garden that can be a little off-putting but everything else is fabulous. I just added a link in the text to some of the other artwork in the garden so check it out if you get the chance.

  4. Lovely post, I love those sculptures aswell. I love it when sculptures and plants are combined.

    • Melissa Says:

      You are so right. And in the Gravel Garden there are large boulders planted among seasonal perennials that soften and complement them. In the spring, tons of columbines and poppies predominate. Later in the year, the grasses and rock-garden types of perennials take over. All of them work wonderfully with the boulders. And in the Minder Ruins, the “floors”, which are all stone of different kinds, are interplanted with a wide variety of plants.

  5. GloriaBonde Says:

    Breath taking! Thank you for a beautiful tour

  6. You have captured such magic here that I now long even more to visit! Beautiful photography! Are you now leading a photography workshop here? Love the floating lady … too bad they would allow that composition to be lost… of course a garden is always changing but somethings can be maintained. I particularly love the Minder Ruins photos here! Lovely post and tour! :>) Carol

  7. 33barefootlane Says:

    Your lovely pictures will encourage everyone to visit – some in person, and like me, some in their dreams. 🙂

    • Melissa Says:

      Well, here’s hoping you can manage a visit in person one day – it’s definitely worth it. I feel lucky to live as close as I do (a three-hour drive).

  8. John Says:

    Wow. What a great blue poppy photo to close with. I share your enthusiasm for Chanticleer. I even have a draft posting from our visit there last year. I think I will just refer people to your writeup when the need arises. Thanks for the link to the photo workshops. I see now that is how you got some of those photos in your book. In any case we need to plan to go back again. How about those locusts at the entrance? Talk about an intense lime-green…

    • Melissa Says:

      You should really try to go to one of the workshops. You have to submit a portfolio but I’m sure you wouldn’t have any problem getting in. It’s such a magical place, and yes, except for the summer photos in the book, almost all of the images came from the workshops I attended. NBCC is going there in May, on a weekend that conflicts with the Garden Conservancy tours here, unfortunately.

  9. Pam/Digging Says:

    I’ve been to Chanticleer in July and am mad with envy that you live only three hours away and can enjoy those magic-light hours whenever you want. Thanks for spreading the word about this playful, incredible garden. I can’t wait to see it again one day.

  10. Grumpy Gardener Says:

    I carefully considered growing Meconopsis poppies in Birmingham. Then I drank a beer.

    • Melissa Says:

      Excellent option. I can’t grow it here either. Apparently the folks at Chanticleer get help from someone at Longwood who has a particularly ‘blue’ thumb when it comes to Meconopsis. Thanks for visiting my blog – I’m honored.

  11. Kate Says:

    I love the look of stone ruins covered in greenery and flowers. It’s so whimsical. Thanks for sharing!

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