Friday, January 5, 2024

Chanticleer Friday: The Ruin Garden

Once I knew I would be visiting Chanticleer Garden there were two parts I was most excited to see, the Teacup Garden, and the Ruin Garden. I find the idea of plants growing amongst the ruins of a built structure quite mysterious and alluring; nature taking over, our man-made world falling apart. Of course the fact the "ruins" at Chanticleer are not actual ruins, but purpose-built gave me pause. Would they have a Disneyland aura? 

"The Ruin stands where Minder House, the residence of Janet and Adolph Rosengarten, Jr., was built in 1925 and remained until 1999 when it was razed to build the Ruin on the old foundation. The Ruin has three rooms: a "Great Hall" with a water table shaped like a large sarcophagus resting on a mosaic "rug" of tile, granite and slate; a "Library" where the books are sculpted of stone; and a "Pool Room,” where marble faces gaze up from the depths. Accenting the spaces are carved stone pieces sculpted by Marcia Donahue, including large stone acorns placed among oak saplings greet visitors entering from the nearby meadow."

"The Ruin’s granite schist walls provide the perfect stage for climbing plants and espaliered trees. These living green walls demonstrate how greenery animates an otherwise forbidding place. Plantings in beds are deliberately restricted to calming silvers and greens from ferns, Hakone grass, and Siberian bugloss. They have sufficient textural contrast to stimulate, yet a restrained range of color to remain harmonious" (source)

I first walked into the Great Hall with it's sarcophagus-shaped water table...

Or maybe I should say the Great Hall with it's plant-adorned mantel piece, because that's what I was most excited to see in "real life" in this part of the ruin. I've seem many iterations of the mantle in photos over the years and this current version—a tillandsia covered branch—did not disappoint. 

I've had this image (below) of a previous version saved in my files for so long I have no idea where I found it, apologies to the photographer that I can't credit the image...

I will share more of my photos of the mantel shortly, but first I must address the tomb in the room. 

I did not like it. Not one bit. It's a beautiful piece, the workmanship first rate and the reflective surface adds another dimension. However it felt completely out of place to me. Too heavy and dark. A black hole—it changed the entire feeling of the space. Maybe that was the intention? To me it was like a black leather sofa plopped down into a living room all done up in florals and pastels. Thankfully once I turned my back on it I found it easy to ignore, so my enjoyment of the Great Hall was not diminished.

That wall and the plants is what really held my eye.

Looking out through the windows was fun.

The tillandsia work was fantastic.

The fact the large T. xerographica were in bloom took the texture up a few notches.

Turning to look in the opposite direction, with my back to the mantel wall.

And now looking over the black hole towards the Library.

I'm skipping over the Library for the moment and moving right to the Pool Room.

I was captivated by this small container on chain display (there were two of these)...

So well done!

I eventually made my way to the corner and the "pool" with the Marcia Donahue carved faces. I wonder what I would have made of this had I not already known what I would see when I looked into the water?

I was prepared to not like this installation at all, but I ended up thinking it was fantastic. 

Not at all awkward or a mismatch. Instead completely fitting and thought provoking.

This is the only phone-photo I worked into the post. It managed a wide-angle shot that helps give an interesting sense of the space. The pool is behind me and looking forward the Library is on the left and the Great Room on the right.

Turned around and facing back towards the Pool Room now.

And the library wall...
 How can you not love a wall with Agave attenuata sticking out of it?

They're stunning.

With the Library wall behind me...

I finally spot some books!

But I was quickly distracted by the plants...

Time to head out to the patio...

The Library visible looking thru the exterior wall...

I wonder if Andrew would be okay with me stuffing an agave in the side of our house? Ya, probably not.

Just a few more photos, looking at the containers on the patio wall out to the Gravel Garden, which will be the subject of next Friday's post.

One more peek at the Library...

With just the one exception I thought the Ruin garden pulled off the illusion quite well, I loved it! Here's how it fits into the whole...
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All material © 2009-2024 by Loree L Bohl. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. I love the ruin garden - how I wish I had the space for a free-standing wall like that! I understand your dislike of the tomb. It doesn't bother me as much but I do think its polished look seems out of place with the rest of the garden; however, that may have been the point of the design. Still, the pool with the faces feels more of a fit within the overall design.

    1. I have another photo I've saved of a block wall with agaves planted in it, I think that one was in Spain? We need those walls in our garden!

  2. I love it so much! I agree with you about the tomb. It does change the look and feel of it. I do love the corner pool with the water coming down the rocks. Not crazy about the faces in the water though, that is a bit creepy.

    1. I didn't like the faces in the first photos I saw of them, but in real life they were fantastic! Have you visited Chanticleer Phillip?

  3. Great shots, Loree! What a special place, huh? Unique and lovely, and I understand your thoughts on the tomb. Thanks for sharing the memories.

  4. I really enjoyed all your photos and your feelings about the ruin garden. I shall be quite harsh. My comment would be it doesn't look quite ruined enough to look real. Maybe it's not meant to be but too much perfection in the plantings. Plants tucked here and there in the walls that are more of a showpiece. The mantels are lovely-but there again. Shout me down if you will. Maybe I have seen too many ruin gardens in my time.

    1. You're always welcome to be harsh and share your thoughts here, and yes... I agree that it's a very unruined ruin. I would love to see more "real" ruin gardens.

  5. atidewatergardener.blogspot.comJanuary 05, 2024

    Arguably, one of my favorite garden spaces ever, even with the sarcophagus.

    1. Hi Les! I would love to be able to go back and watch it through the different seasons.

  6. This has to be my most favorite garden that I have ever seen. You could take a small section and it would encompass days and days to see every detail it has tucked away in it. The water features, the stone work, the unusual and beautiful arrangement of such gorgeous and interesting plants .. I am speechless , and that is saying ? or not saying ? something ... I am so glad to have seen your post of this stunning garden. My dream garden !

    1. Indeed, one could spend days at Chanticleer soaking up all the details. I am glad you enjoyed this!

  7. I am confused a little. Did you say in the Kick-Off that Chanticleer is in PA?

    1. It is! In Wayne, PA. It's closed in the winter months, the agaves and such into winter storage.

    2. Oh, my goodness! They must have to move so many plants. I wonder what the storage space is and how big the staff is to move all the plants twice a year. Such an amazing hug garden area!

  8. At some point, years ago, I must have read a post featuring Chanticleer's Ruin Garden. The small container on chain as well as the Agave attenuata in the wall were as vivid in my memory as if I took those photos myself. I'm still in love with this perfect ruin garden. Making pocket-planting in the wall, like the tillandsia, is done so well!
    Sticking an agave to the side of your house probably wouldn't have quite the same effect anyway, but if you had a narrow stone pillar...

    1. You read Pam's blog Digging, yes? I bet that's where you saw those photos. She's visited a few times and done great posts on the garden.

  9. Oh, I'm so struck by the agaves as well. And that fantastic wall. Also, the chains were so good, there must be some way to replicate that - since we can't plant foxtail agaves in our walls.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your lovely photos.

  11. My favorite ruined castle (real) had clumps of Centranthus rubra, Kenilworth Ivy (can never remember its botanical name) and ferns growing out of the walls randomly. This is just a bit too tidy, but beautiful. Re the rusty planters on chain, every time I see one of your pickaxe planters I imagine several hanging similarly with chains through the ends connecting them one above another like a pickaxe planter ladder... Although I think you'd have to find a metal shop that could drill the holes through the ends, grueling otherwise.

  12. I love a good ruin garden. Agreed that the dark sarcophagus is totally out of place in terms of materials and tone. It would be like interspersing plastic pink flamingos throughout the ruins, two aesthetics clashing. What I love, and am amazed about in this garden, is how well they have all of those tropical plants covering the walls. They are so naturally placed and don't look mounted, yet I know they have to bring ALL of that in every winter. What a lot of work they have put into this. Definitely one of my favorite gardens you have shown from Chanticleer.


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