Aside from Parc Monceau in Paris, and Sissinghurst, and Gravetye, and Wave Hill – oh so many favorites, but Chanticleer is at the top of my list. Located in Wayne, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia. The Adolph Rosengarten family made their fortune with the pharmecutical company, Merck. The 35 public acres opened in 1993. The Rosengarten’s named their home Chanticleer after William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel, The Newcomes. If you have a chance to visit, by all means spend the day. Imaginative, dynamic and bold – this garden is not to be missed.
For the mid-winter blahs, a dash of facial almond oil that’s been infused with calendula petals and rosemary. will soothe dry skin and lift your sprits. To make, I sit the jar in sunlight for several months and then use the concoction until the next season when a fresh batch is made. This can also be made with rose petals and lots of other flower essences as long as you know the source is organic. I grow my own so no worries there
Once, while watching a yoga CD, the instruction got lost by my attention being drawn to a giant yucca in the background. A garage sized yucca. Almost blue in color. Where was this? It turned out to be the blue garden at Lotusland, a 37 acre paradise in Santa Barbara, California (Montecito to be exact) and the dream of Ganna Walska, who spent forty years creating it until her death in 1984. It was a place I had to see.
Gardens, those that we create by hand, by our own sweat, inspiration and time, are expressions of love. Both love of the plants themselves, but also the personalities that combined, form a story, whether it’s seasonal (the two week wonders) or structural (like a japanese garden’s Niwaki pruning) or the mass meadows of Piet Oudolf’s “New Perennial” movement.
Ganna Walska’s world, originally of unfulfilled operatic ambition, though ardently pursued for decades, truly blossomed when she purchased the estate in 1941, encouraged by her sixth and final husband who envisioned a Tibetan monk retreat center. Never mind that he was a rogue and used the wealthy Walska’s money to line his own pockets, when they divorced (after suing and counter-suing each other) she threw herself into a relationship with the land.
Her previous marriages, starting with a Russian count before the Revolution, (she was born in 1887) fortuitously enhanced her financial well-being. As a result, she used her resources (finally selling her exquisite jewelry – at one point she had carte blanche at Paris’ Cartier atelier) to purchase large quantities, fully grown specimens, and expensive varieties for instant effect. Her cycad collection is world class and micro-chipped to prevent theft. With the guidance (although she was very difficult to guide) of excellent plantsmen, she created a collection of stunning “rooms,” distinct and dramatic.
Of the 3000 varieties of plants collected worldwide, they are not labeled, as “Madame” (as she is still referred to), wanted a pleasure garden, considering plant labels as distracting from the distinctly theatrical sets she created.
Deemed “enemy of the average” by the New York Times, over the top rather than average is very much at play in the use of giant clams for tiered fountains, abalone shells lining a pond, “grotesque” statues in her outdoor stage and the impact of mass plantings. When one arrives at the rose garden, it seems rather staid and straight-laced compared with the exuberance of everything else.
Brian Adams has written a fine, well researched biography, Ganna, Diva of Lotusland, that provides insight into an ambitious Polish girl determined to live a life dedicated to art.
While she never became the international operatic superstar to which she aspired, after her first fifty years spent in high society, the last decades established her legacy and legend through nature’s inspiration.
My take away: Whatever the scale or purse strings, create the garden of your dreams. Think long term. Enjoy the art of it.
Visiting Lotusland is by reservation only.
A new rock musical will premiere at the New York City’s Public Theatre on 14 February 2017. “In the Fire” is set twenty years after Joan of Arc was burned at the stake as a heretic. Her mother is determined to clear her name. My novel “Playing with Fire” is still looking for a publisher. Hope springs eternal.
I can’t wait to see this show.
Here are a few links:
It’s the little Caribbean island you’ve never heard of because Dominica is relatively untouched by tourism. At 250 square miles, with elevations that reach 4700 feet, it is a tropic rainforest with 300 rivers, crystal clear pools, snorkeling, winding roads along the coastline with breathtaking views and a national hiking trail that spans the island. Unique and friendly (English is the national language) it’s easy to navigate via local vans (once you get the hang of it). It’s not famous for beaches, there are no large hotels. Rum punch is potent. That said, the ubiquitous touring cities stop at the port of Roseau, the capital, and off-load folks who bolster the local economy. They are gone by 4pm. More in the next post about the Nature Island, as they called themselves, but for now, colors accent an already gorgeous palate.
Just a short jaunt from my home is a tiny train station that services, among other things, the Amtrak line linking us to Los Angeles and Chicago via the Southwest Chief . A controversy now embroils the community because an oil company is proposing to bring crude oil into the station and off-load it onto trucks for transporting to refineries. Tracks and transporting trucks are outdated and the infrastructure has proved incapable of handling the increased demands. In the small village, two wells are in close proximity to the proposed off-loading station. A petition against this ill-conceived plan needs your signature. Lamy is named after Bishop Jean Baptist Lamy who served Santa Fe from 1851 to 1885.