Today, I’m featuring the fabulous gardens of Chanticleer and Nemours – neither of which was on my list of gardens to visit but sometimes you’ve just got to follow the advice of others!
The Chanticleer estate dates from the early 20th century, when land along the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad was developed for summer homes to escape the heat of Philadelphia. Adolph Rosengarten, Sr., and his wife Christine chose the Wayne-St. Davids area to build their country retreat. The family’s pharmaceutical firm would become part of Merck & Company in the 1920s.
The Rosengartens hired architect and former classmate Charles L. Borie to design the house, which was completed in 1913. Landscape architect Thomas Sears designed the terraces as extensions of the house. A 1924 addition converted the summer home into a year-round residence and the family moved here permanently.
Mr. Rosengarten’s humor is evident in naming his home after the estate “Chanticlere” in Thackeray’s 1855 novel The Newcomes. The fictional Chanticlere was “mortgaged up to the very castle windows” but “still the show of the county.” Playing on the word, which is synonymous with “rooster,” the Rosengartens used rooster motifs throughout the estate.
Adolph and Christine gave their two children homes as wedding presents. They purchased a neighbouring property for son Adolph, Jr. and his bride Janet Newlin in 1933. It is now the site of the Ruin. Daughter Emily’s house, located at today’s visitor entrance, was built for her in 1935. It is presently used for offices and classrooms.
Adolph, Jr., bought his sister’s portion of the estate following her death in the 1980s. He didn’t move into the main house, but used it for entertaining and kept it as it was when the family lived there. The house is open for tours by reservation. Adolph, Jr., left the entire property for the enjoyment and education of the public following his death in 1990. A nine member Board of Directors, six of whom are Rosengarten relatives, oversees The Chanticleer Foundation.
The garden has evolved greatly since the death of the owner in 1990. As the home of the Rosengartens, Chanticleer was beautiful and green with impressive trees and lawns. Most of the floral and garden development has occurred since 1990, designed by Chanticleer staff and consultants.
The Teacup Garden and Chanticleer Terraces feature seasonal plants and bold-textured tropical and subtropical plants. These areas change greatly from year to year. Non-hardy plants overwinter in greenhouses and basements.
The Tennis Court, Ruin, Gravel Garden and Pond Garden focus on hardy perennials, both woody and herbaceous. The Tennis Court builds on the idea of foliar display introduced in the Teacup. The Ruin is a folly, built on the foundation of Adolph Rosengarten, Jr.’s home. It is meant to look as if the house fell into disrepair. The Gravel Garden is hot and dry, a touch of the Mediterranean in Pennsylvania. The Pond area is exuberantly floriferous.
Asian Woods and Bell’s Woodland are shady areas. The former features natives of China, Korea, and Japan; the latter, plants of eastern North America. The Serpentine celebrates the beauty of agricultural crops. The cutting and vegetable gardens produce flowers for our arrangements and food for our tables. Surplus goes to a shelter. The parking lot is our “low maintenance” area, with hardy plants that are neither irrigated nor fertilized. Staff build furniture, fences, gates, bridges, and drinking fountains during the winter in converted garages.
Located on the grounds of the renowned Alfred I. du Pont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, Nemours, the former 300 acre du Pont estate – yes, another du Pont – is named after the du Pont ancestral home in north central France and was inspired by Marie Antoinette’s Petite Trianon in Versailles.
The story of its owner Alfred I. du Pont is rather interesting. Having lost both parents at an early age, Alfred grew up working in the family gun powder mills and became a great benefactor of the common labourer. This fourth generation gunpowder maker started as an apprentice powderman in 1884 at the age of 20, hauling loads of wood and charcoal alongside the regular crews. He did well and advanced swiftly through the ranks. He made partner at the age of 25 and eventually bought the company with cousins Pierre and Coleman du Pont in 1902.
The mansion was built for Alfred’s second wife, Alicia. He hired Carrere and Hastings, a prestigious New York architectural firm, to design the mansion in the late-18th-century French style that Alicia adored, and was built between 1909 and 1910 by Smyth and Son of Wilmington, Delaware.
The mansion has over 100 rooms and is furnished with fine period antiques, rare oriental rugs, tapestries and paintings dating back as far as 15th century. While looking to the past and his ancestors for inspiration, Alfred also ensured that his new home was thoroughly modern by incorporating the latest technology, including many of his own inventions.
The estate has the most developed and largest jardin à la française (French formal garden) style landscape park and collection of individual gardens in North America. The design is patterned after the gardens of Versailles surrounding the Petit Trianon at the Château de Versailles. Their central axis extends 500 metres (1/3 mile) from the mansion facade, paralleling the main avenue leading to the house. The grounds are beautifully landscaped with plantings, fountains, pools, a carillon tower, statuary and a pavilion surrounded by natural woodlands.
The named features include:
Alfred’s greatest legacy however is the Nemours Hospital and outpatient clinics spanning five states specialising in children’s care controlled by the Nemours Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation created by the philanthropist in 1936, dedicated to improving the health of infants, children, teens and young adults.