Chanticleer: A pleasure garden 30 minutes from PhiladelphiaGARDENS & PARKS, MIND&HEART — By Cathie Nichols on July 7, 2016 at 17:30
Text & photos © Catherine Nichols
HEADING OFF INTO THE SUNSET on Route 76 after leaving the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia in the rear-view mirror, I never imagined I would go back. I closed the door on Philly and thought I had thrown the key so far into the weeds that I would never see it again. I felt that the Main Line had nothing left to offer me except tears, frustration, and no happiness.
With a flip of a quarter, a destination was selected, and my girlfriend and I aimed her car and all of our belongings toward California, seeking a better life—one in which every day was filled with relentless sun, salty ocean breezes, and sandy toes.
Perhaps the me who left as a 20-something felt there wasn’t anything special about the Main Line but the me who is now well north of her twenties feels as if Philadelphia has endless opportunities for anyone, regardless of age. I retrieved the key I threw away so many years ago and got on the plane to head back to the only place I’ve ever considered home.
With limited time and a long wish list of people and places to see, I made it a point to visit some places I had never visited before and didn’t know existed. Everyone’s been to the Art Museum (Rocky, anyone?), the Liberty Bell, and Valley Forge Park, but I wanted to go somewhere new.
One of the destinations I chose to put on the itinerary was Chanticleer Gardens in Wayne, PA. At some point in my young life, I lived in Wayne, but not this Wayne. This Wayne has grand estates and a beauty that is natural and draws one in. All I wanted to do was get out of the car and run through the acres of fields and jump over the low stone walls.
I saw the gardens of Chanticleer in late October when the fall foliage is everywhere. Chanticleer has expert gardeners on staff so, even though it was fall, there was still plenty in bloom. Turns out, I just made the cut-off before the gardens closed for the winter. The new 2016 season began March 30th.
Finding Chanticleer can be a minor challenge. Be sure to pay attention to the signs for the public entrance. The parking lot is of good size but I was visiting when the season was ending. Keep parking in mind when deciding not only what time of year to go but also what time of day works best for you.
The entrance to the gardens is deceptive in that it is not well marked, or maybe I was too tired from the time zone difference. When I approached a woman sitting at a table, it seemed unclear whether I was to give her money or consult her whenever I had questions about the grounds or the plants.
The woman at the table who took my admission fee was patient and kind. She gave me an overview of the gardens, what to look for, and which paths were the best bets late in October. She was chatty, knowledgeable, and made me feel welcome.
The day was gorgeous. Although it was a bit chillier than I’m used to back home in California, the sun was warm and the sky was the kind of cloudless blue that can only be described as postcard perfect.
With my map of the grounds, I wandered on the path through the acres of green. I stood on the porch of the Chanticleer house looking at the most beautiful tree. Reds, yellows, burnt oranges, and even some brown came together to create the perfect bouquet.
Everywhere I looked there was something new to experience. Not only new plants but unique placements of flowers in their beds. Whether an original sculpture, a table setting on the patio, or an expertly crafted handrail, one’s eyes cannot take it all in during just one visit.
And then there are the ruins to explore, a greenhouse pretty enough to paint, and various benches and seats neatly placed throughout, allowing visitors to take in little bits of beauty in pieces.
Waterfalls gently spilled their contents on the rocks below, creating quiet trickling sounds. A little creek named Bell’s Run meanders through the land and there’s a path right next to it. While I was there, it was covered in discarded yellow, red, and brown leaves from the nearby trees and so picturesque it stopped my heart.
Strolling through Chanticleer is a lesson in quiet, peace and stillness. Perhaps in the busy season it’s not as calm but, for my visit, very few people disturbed my reflection and absorption. I looked at anything I wanted for as long as I wanted without any prompting to move on from other tourists.
As I plan another trip to Philadelphia this October, I will definitely put Chanticleer at the top of the list to see again. I know I missed some of the highlights because, although I had the map, I didn’t want to feel tied to getting things done and checking things off a list. I wanted to see and experience the gardens at my own leisurely pace.
I’ll be honest here. I didn’t wear walking shoes, I wore boots with a heel. Never again. My feet were numb for weeks after my visit to Chanticleer. I underestimated just how big a garden on the Main Line can be!
With a photographic record saved in the Cloud, I frequently revisit Chanticleer at my home in California through my online albums and at the Chanticleer website, which is full of information about plants, the family who owned the mansion, and the estate’s history.
And while I left the City of Brotherly Love without a backward glance so many years ago, it has welcomed me back into its arms to help make my future.
Originally from the East Coast, Catherine Nichols has spent the last 29 years in San Diego, and stays in the area because of its extraordinary beauty and a lovely lack of humidity. Accused by her three children of looking at too many rocks while visiting Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and the deserts of Nevada, she continues to marvel at the ever-changing southwest landscape. With trips to Washington DC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Portland, and Europe planned, Catherine plans to reawaken her desire to see the world, and leave no stone unturned. Catherine writes in her blog at iBloggoneit.com and tweets as @bloggoneit.