Ending the season at Chanticleer


Autumn is a glorious season in the garden. I took this photo in the gravel garden at Chanticleer last weekend. I like complexity (not chaos; there is a difference). This teeters on the edge, but I think the striking forms of the Yucca rostrata and Agaves and trailing blue-gray ground cover make a strong, legible statement against the tapestry of clashing autumn colors. The golden early morning light makes it work. The contrast is shocking, but evocative of sense of place, in this case, Chanticleer, where you learn to expect the unexpected.


I’d admired Rob Cardillo‘s photography for years. Several months ago, when I saw he would give a workshop at Chanticleer, I signed up immediately. Then as the time approached, I was busy beyond anything I had anticipated and asking myself why I had overcommitted. But the draw of a weekend of close work with Rob, and three days at Chanticleer, including early morning hours when the garden is closed to the public, provided the kick I needed.

Bringing the words of the English mystic, Julian of Norwich, down from the celestial to a more terrestrial level,

‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

And it was.


I arrived early Friday afternoon to take a walk around the garden, which I hadn’t seen this year. I’d spent six weeks visiting gardens in the UK this past summer, so was curious how I’d perceive Chanticleer in that light. It still ranks at the top of gardens in America and easily matches my experience of the best of the UK gardens, though it’s different, very American in a way I haven’t been able to define.

I wasn’t concerned that we’d had a pretty hard frost the night before; I love frosted gardens and found the tall, black, stooled Paulownia spires and drying grasses a real delight. The intensity of colors thrown out by the dying plants makes for a particularly poignant time in the garden. There are so many surprises.


Once we met for a little socializing, dinner, and Rob’s kick-off presentation, I knew I’d have no regrets. This workshop was to offer me far more than I’d ever anticipated.


Rob, with the help of Lisa Roper, the Chanticleer horticulturist in charge of the ruin and gravel gardens, and Chanticleer’s de facto photographer, had us out at dawn Saturday morning ‘chasing the light’, and they stuck with us, offering help and advice throughout both days.


Rob gave us a number of pointers. One was to “shoot through windows.” Chanticleer offers lots of windows, especially around the Ruin. Here …

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… looking out through a pergola from the hilltop gravel garden across the lawn to the main house, invisible behind the golden Larix, and here …


… looking out through one of the windows in the Ruin. And below …


… the entrance to the Ruin from the sporobolus meadow.

I couldn’t resist taking a shot in the Asian Woods. This doesn’t look particularly Asian, but it’s certainly autumnal, not un-Asian.


I think no one could resist this shot. Mine is certainly not the best.


I learned a lot in two days of fairly intense in-the-field photography, classroom critiques, and sitting in a darkened room as Rob projected our images on a large screen, processing them one by one, showing us the many different manifestations light can take when it encounters computer software.

And having just spent a weekend at the garden, I can’t help suggesting you buy Chanticleer’s new book, The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer, written by R. William Thomas, Chanticleer’s executive director, and its gardeners, with photographs by Rob Cardillo. (I’ll be writing a review soon.)


If you can attend this workshop next fall, do. If you can’t, visit Chanticleer–but next season–it’s closing for winter after Sunday, November 1.

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39 thoughts on “Ending the season at Chanticleer

  1. I just finished a post on my recent visit to Chanticleer, and it is funny you brought up British gardening. I was trying to think if I could safely say that Chanticleer is the best garden I have every visited, and I had to leave the question unanswered. In my limited travels, I had always thought that Hidecote was the best garden I have ever seen, but now I will say it was the best in Britain, Chanticleer will be the best in the States, and there will be no overall number one. I guess I just need to travel more.

    1. Les, I wouldn’t choose HIdcote as my favorite, but choosing favorites among all those great gardens is very difficult. If pressed, I’d still say mine is Rousham, without a doubt.

  2. Your photographs are like tapestries – those colours are beautiful and the contrast of the cool blueish stonework of the ruin framing the bright autumnal light is sublime !

  3. Between you and Less there is a lot of love going out to Chanticleer today. I’ve not been so I’m soaking up every beautiful image. I do hope to get there myself one day.

  4. Bill, your photos have given me a whole new view of Chanticleer. As many times as I have visited there, your photos show a “wild” side to the garden, perfect at this time of year!

    1. Lisa Roper, who gardens the garden with the yuccas, tells me they are hardy at Chanticleer. I’m wondering if I might give one a try in my zone 6 garden. I have just the place for perhaps three.

  5. What evocative images you’ve captured. I can only imagine how much fun the workshop with Rob must have been. Enjoyed visiting with him at GWA in LA. Now I’m wondering about the feasibility of a workshop visit, since I’ve yet to make it to Chanticleer.

  6. Chanticleer is my favorite garden. Flowing and full of delightful surprises. Your ability to share thoughts and images of your garden experiences wherever you are is a constant source of inspiration. We just finished adding paved trails and overlooks to the Prairie Garden Trust so enhancing the “windows” is high on our minds. Thanks for the latest views!

  7. I visited Chanticleer about 5 or 6 years ago and loved it. Next spring I will be visiting England for its gardens so I will be able to compare. I did buy the new Chanticleer book, and have thoroughly enjoyed every little bit of it. Now I will be rereading it. I cannot get enough of Chanticleer and Rob Cardillo’s photos.

  8. I’m eager to visit Chanticleer again. Your images and the new book have made me even more so. My only visit was more than ten years ago, too rushed — part of a tour of many Pennsylvania gardens.

    Then it struck me as a bit more theatrical than I like, but I admire the thought and care that goes into its many parts. And the sections of Chanticleer I haven’t experienced are the ones I now think I’d enjoy most, the Asian and Bell’s woodlands. Your photo of the Asian Woods is the one I keep coming back to in this eye-popping selection.

    1. No doubt about it, Nell, Chanticleer is a theatrical garden. But aren’t all gardens theatrical, in their own ways? I think of the Tea Cup garden and the garden behind the main house as most theatrical, almost Victorian with a 21st century twist.

  9. After looking through the many excellent photos that Les (A Tidewater Gardener) took around the same time as yours, I realized I hadn’t seen an image of this year’s Serpentine planting in either group. So I took a look at the Chanticleer web site and now am really puzzled.

    Wasn’t the Serpentine always an annual planting, one that would change with each year? Now it’s made of young junipers; were they always there, with the “crop” strips alongside? Maybe I just saw it when the evergreens were so small they didn’t register except as ground pattern. …. Nope. Now I’ve looked at the book (Art of Gardening), and it shows four different plantings, no sign of anything woody. What gives? They’re not very attractive now, and I have a hard time imagining they’ll look better as they grow…

    1. It’s still there, but it wasn’t a subject that attracted my attention this year. As I recall, it is a kale planting this year. My favorite planting in the Serpentine has always been the bronze sorghum.

  10. Very beautiful photos. I am looking forward to your lecture here in Indianapolis. Please let me know when you post more photos. Thanks.

  11. James, What a wonderful post and a garden I have yet to visit, but its on my list for 2016. I will check out the book as well. Your photos are wonderful and I guess we always have something to learn.
    Best Don

  12. I’m glad to stumble across this post a bit late, but lovely to look at on a chilly, rainy night in Austin. I’ve not yet had the good fortune to visit British gardens, but among all those I’ve seen in the U.S., Chanticleer is tops on my list. I’ve seen it once, in July, and would love to visit again in other seasons. And I LOVE Rob’s beautiful photos of the garden.

  13. Hey james.. loved your selections of photographs in this post.. here you tried to show every part of the garden that looks eye catching.. I am working on landscaping design projects so now i think this post helping me to get some more interesting ideas for garden areas..

    1. Thanks, Amelia. You may want to get the new book on Chanticleer–The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer. The book is packed with photographs of Chanticleer as well as text by the director and the garden’s several full-time horticulturists. I recommend it.

  14. What is it about Chanticleer that makes it so appealing to so many? I enjoyed my one visit enormously but am having trouble determining what makes the garden work as well as it does, for so many different people.

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