The interns went on our last field trip of the summer to Meadowbrook Farm in Abington Township, PA. We received very thorough tours of the gardens and greenhouses by Meadowbrook’s experienced staff, including John Story and Tom Reber.
We began the tour with some rare plant specimens that were being grown directly in the ground inside the gift shop. Among them were the biggest staghorn ferns I’ve ever seen and a vanilla plant. John Story, the general manager, then took us into several greenhouses full of cacti, succulents, and ferns. I learned plants I never knew existed, including many in the Asclepiadaceae family (milkweed family), which included Ceropegia and Stapelia species. These things look like aliens when they’re blooming (check out the first and last photos)! It was also pointed out that some of the specimens were so valuable that they weren’t for sale. This is mostly a factor of how slow they are to propagate, meaning it could take up to five years before the plant can be sold. But for the sweat dripping down my face and stinging my eyes, I could have stayed in those greenhouses with all those amazing plants all day.
But, there were gardens to see and so the tour continued outside. The estate was formerly owned by J. Liddon Pennock, Jr, who then left it to PHS (Pennsylvania Horticultural Society) when he died. Meadowbrook is currently going through a major transition, and they’re planning on developing a master plan for the site in the next year or two. The estate is a combination of well groomed garden rooms and large expanses of wildness and weeds. It’ll be interesting to see how the master plan blends the current preservation goals with innovative solutions for the garden’s future.
Another great time to visit the garden is coming up as they’re having their annual Fall Open House on Saturday, October 15 from 8 am - 6 p. It’ll be another chance to check out the seasonal planting displays they’re probably busy installing now, and to get back to those exotic plants in the nursery.
Back in June, the Scott Arboretum organized a great garden tour of private gardens in the Kennett Square area of Pennsylvania, and I apparently forgot to write about that day. One of the gardens on the tour really stood out, and luckily I was able to return with the Chanticleer interns a few weeks ago on one of our monthly field trips.
The garden is part of a larger private estate that encompasses 200 acres along the Brandywine River in Chadds Ford. The landscape is amazing: a driveway meanders through a sycamore allee and a grass meadow before it culminates at the house. From where the house is situated at the top of the hill, there are 360 degree views of the surrounding hills and valley below.
In addition, there is a sunken, brick-enclosed potager that the homeowners commissioned the late Rosemary Verey to design. Nestled into the hillside, the potager garden is a very intimate space that connects to what lies beyond with occasional views outward. Though the garden is quite young (work began in 1996), it feels rich with history and tradition. Old lead cisterns dating back to the 1700’s sit in each corner of the garden, further invoking a sense of age. During our tour, the homeowner let us in on a little secret: only one of the five cisterns is authentic, while the other four are modern day copies.
The interns went to Wilmington today for a wonderfully bizarre tour of gardens. The gardens were in varying stages of maintenance and care, ranging from highly manicured to abandoned. Though drastically different aesthetically, historically, and financially, they all provided amazing experiences that, together, helped inform one another. Our outgoing intern Erin organized the day, and Chanticleer gardener Dan Benarcik “chaperoned.” The day started at a private residence, then took us to Gibraltar, Goodstay, and the Copeland Sculpture Garden. I’ll be posting a separate entry for the private garden soon!
This abandoned mansion dating from 1844 looks like something out of Gray Gardens. You can barely distinguish the house from the tangle of trees and vines growing around and from it. At first it does look like just that - a tangled mess. But, as we walked through the landscape, the structure of the place took shape. The large shade trees distinguished themselves from the new suckers. A hedge of wisteria peaked out from a thicket of wineberries and poison ivy. Dried plant remnants signified the profusion of spring ephemerals and bulbs. As we moved through the grounds, the wilderness became more tamed, and the garden’s original design intent became clear.
Marian Coffin, one of the country’s first and most accomplished female landscape architects, designed the estate’s formal gardens between 1916 and 1923. The description below, from the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s website (http://tclf.org/landscapes/gibraltar) explains the garden well:
Gibraltar is an Italianate Beaux-Arts landscape consisting of a series of garden rooms paralleling the mansion, each with a specific character. The combination of strong geometry softened by the profuse planting more characteristic of an informal English landscape, as well as the ornamentation by numerous statues, urns, fountains, and exquisite architectural elements such as hand-forged iron gates and railings, make this 2-acre Wilmington garden an important example of the Country Place Era. A curving marble staircase descends 33 feet from the upper terrace of the residence, through the Flagstone, Evergreen, and Pool terraces below to the color wheel-inspired Flower Garden. Iron gates introduce the walk from the Flower Garden through the 200-foot long Bald Cypress allée to the Italianate garden pavilion. The entry drive is flanked by two generous lawns planted with mature hardwoods, pines and flowering shrubs in an English park-like planting style.
Gibraltar is located on a rocky ledge on one of the highest points in Wilmington, and on clear winter days, it supposedly has a great view of downtown. The mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places, and like many historic buildings, lacks the funding necessary for its preservation. Both the house and gardens are currently controlled by Preservation Delaware, Inc., but it seems like it’ll need a miracle to restore them to their original grandeur, or anything like it.
2. Goodstay Gardens
My first thought upon entering this historic formal garden was “Holy boxwood!” Built around 1740, the garden passed through du Pont hands in the early 1920’s, and was then donated to the University of Delaware in the 1960’s. The du Ponts transformed the space into a Tudor-style kitchen garden and knot garden. In its heyday, the “knots” were replanted five times per year by a staff of 4 gardeners and 4 assistants. The garden is now being restored by a group of volunteers called Friends of Goodstay Garden.
3. Fusco’s Water Ice
What’s a trip to Wilmington without a stop at Fusco’s Water Ice in Little Italy? It was hot and towards the end of the day, when Dan Benarcik suggested we all get some water ice at Fusco’s: “Their water ice will change your life.” And, it did; our lives were different from before. And, we were refreshed.
Our final stop of the day was the Copeland Sculpture Garden at the Delaware Art Museum. We entered the garden through “Orifice II”, a sound sculpture by area artist Joe Moss. After hearing ourselves curiously echo, we followed the walking path to a sunken pit in the woods, which looked like a gladiator stadium. Looking more closely, we could make out the outline of concentric circles, which became more clear when we hiked down to the opening. What had formerly been the Fusco Reservoir was now a sunken labyrinth. Some people made it into the center, another text-messaged, and the rest of us watched. It was a strange and amazing day.
In case you wanted to know any more about Wilmington, here are a couple extra factoids:
The motto is: A Place to Be Somebody
The nicknames are: Corporate Capital of the World and Chemical Capital of the World
This week was the exhausting APGA (American Public Gardens Association) conference in Philly. Chanticleer hosted an amazing party on Wednesday night, which was later coined “Chantastic” by the attendees, and we all worked really hard getting ready for it and cleaning up afterward. So, after a lot of sweating and not a lot of sleep, it was a treat to attend a garden party hosted by someone else. That someone being Andrew Bunting, the curator of the Scott Arboretum. I went with the two other Chanticleer interns and my dinky old camera. My photos don’t do his garden justice, but they offer a hint of the magic.
It was a really hot week, and the humidity was typical of a the July nights I grew up with in DC, except it was June and not DC. So, you get the picture - it was hot and muggy. Upon arriving at the entrance garden, the heat just seemed to melt away. Cool blues and greens washed over me as I made my way to the front door. Amsonia billowed and spilled out over the bluestone entrance patio; big bluestem grass stood feathery in front of a smokebush; and Rudbeckia maxima picked up the glaucous blue of the Amsonia’s new growth in the distance. The front door color and trim around the windows beautifully complimented the hues in the garden and created a soothing backdrop to better see the garden’s dynamic textures, shapes, and subtleties of color.
The back yard was a different world entirely. Off the back of the house stood a summer house, nestled into the garden and appearing like a sort of historic stable with ruinous and crumbling stone walls around it. A collection of agaves clustered together in a gravel seating area off one of the bays of the summer house. I walked back deeper into the garden to a blue picket fence surrounding a quaint vegetable garden and guarded by a bespectacled sculptural monkey. Rounding back to a property line I never found, I came upon a pond, and just beyond it a window looking out on a scene that looked familiar. And then I surprised myself, because it was not a window but a mirror, and I was the familiar figure in the scene.
The garden was full of surprises and wonder, and we encountered one last surprise as we were leaving. It was a Taxus hedge that appeared to close off the garden. But, as we drew nearer, it became two shrubs, offset to appear as one, and we walked through it to depart.
I’ve imagined gardens in my dreams before, and I think this was one of them.