WHY GO: While Longwood Gardens and QVC are the most visited attractions in Southern Chester County PA (covered in this post) other, smaller, lesser known gems – a 35-acre “pleasure garden” favored by Martha Stewart and Brits; two tiny “Brigadoon”-like hamlets with world-renowned cred; the place where an iconic campy horror movie was filmed; a still operating tavern trashed by the Red Coats – can be found in the more remote Northern Chester County PA and are worthy of more than a passing glance. Here, the Getaway Mavens discover Yellow Springs (aka Chester Springs), St. Peter’s Village, Chanticleer Gardens, and more. You want offbeat? You got it!
VISIT: Chanticleer Garden. “Every gardener is like Oscar Hammerstein’s Optimist, for the very act of planting is based on hope for a glorious future.” – Adolph Rosengarten, Jr., benefactor, who left this property to the Chanticleer Foundation upon his death.
At 35 acres, and with 60,000 visitors a year, Chanticleer, opened to the public in 1993, is smaller and more intimate than nearby Longwood Gardens (1.5 million visitors per year). But this former private estate of the aptly named Rosengarten family is a genuine “find” in the rural landscape of rolling hills, farms, and country homes. Interestingly, people from England (and Martha Stewart, who comes on occasion) have discovered Chanticleer, comparing this small “Pleasure Garden” favorably to Longwood.
The grounds are embellished with hand-crafted and uniquely designed functional sculptures – benches, water fountains (constructed to send excess water back into the flower beds), whimsical Plant List boxes, and even a pedestrian bridge shaped like a fallen tree – fashioned with great care by five titled gardeners who each have complete authority over a designated section of the garden.
Given extensive creative latitude, these horticulturalists have free reign to translate their unique visions into botanical and sculptural art. Visitors are encouraged to bring a book, pack a picnic, relax on the inviting Overlook Terrace of the Main House, or just wander among the cheerful flowerbeds and shade trees.
The main Rosengarten home – sometimes open for tours – is approached via a circular graveled driveway. “Every day, the staff rakes the gravel in a different pattern,” says Chanticleer Director, Bill Thomas. “We never know how it will look.” Thomas loves his job, and his sense of humor is readily apparent. Pointing to a copse of hand-made ceramic bamboo – each stalk topped with an orange comb, he quips, “This bamboo has been genetically crossed with rooster genes.”
In Spring, the Magnolia and Cherry Trees burst into various shades of pink, and 250,000 yellow daffodils sprout from the earth. It’s a spectacular time to come, but every season from April through October has its charms, with “luxuriant foliage and exotic flowers” at every turn.
A new Elevated Walkway, paved with springy shredded tires and pervious material, snakes downhill, making it easy to get to the meadow, an area blitzed through with bulbs that bloom in the Fall.
The Asian Garden, with plantings from China and Japan, is farthest from the Visitor’s entrance. When gardeners realized the need for a restroom here (for themselves and guests), they built the “Japanese Pee House” in the image of a…. well, you know.
Besides the Main House, two other homes, built for the Rosengarten’s children, were located on the property. Once now serves as the Visitor’s entrance, and other was demolished and replaced by “ruins” on its former footprint. Here, the walls come alive with flowing plants reflected in small pools of water. Captivating.
There are more surprises amid the creeks and footpaths: sticks of Ostrich Fern form an organic “fence” that protects vulnerable spring flowers, and shredded tires have been dyed to look like wood chips in the Native Plant Garden. Best of all, these gardens help the community. The small vegetable garden is harvested three times a week in season. Two thirds of the gleaning goes to staff members – the last third to a local homeless shelter. Open April – Oct. Wed-Sun, $10, kids 12 and under free.