This is a long post, so if you think you might be interested, go get your coffee cup refilled.
Chanticleer has been well documented for a long time, including in Donna's wonderful series of posts on Garden Walk Garden Talk. I can't add anything to the inventory of sights she has captured. Yes, we took hundreds of pictures too, but they look just like what others have photographed and in fact the day we visited was hot and very humid so there is a haze in all the shots.
Chanticleer is a series of separate spaces, each designed and maintained by a different staff member, so there are distinct areas -- a woodland walk, a square lawn-and-border sunken garden, a pond, a ruin garden with whimsical hardscape, shady arbors, much more. The plant material is artfully selected and blended.
It is closest to what I am trying to do, mostly because the look is one of open lawn and curving border, patios with containers, and stately trees as anchors in the lawns. The plants chosen are exactly what I have planted, including their fantastic bottlebrush buckeye stand (Aesculus parviflora) which shows what mine will look like some day.
They even had some of the more obscure plants I have chosen, like a beautiful 'Snow Fairy' caryopteris divaricata, which I also have, and stands of Indian Pink, spigelia marilandica, which I have just planted.
So at Chanticleer I felt a comfortable reinforcement.
Yes. This is what I am designing too. Ah, the same look and feel, only my space is much smaller. It all solidified a feeling of familiarity.
To get out of the heat I sat for a long while in a rocker on the veranda under an immense linden tree, looking out over the lawn and soaking in the view of the borders and the woods beyond that. That's exactly what I do at home, although my views are much shorter, my tiny patio is no veranda and I have little shade yet. But it's close, at least in my mind's eye.
They deliberately don't do plant collections at this garden. They design the spaces using pleasing flowers, shrubs and trees in combination. There are some provocative spaces, like the Serpentine Garden which is planted in a different agricultural crop each year to show the beauty of food plants (this year it was kale), but the emphasis is on design and flow, not on plant accessions.
They used some unusual plants like dramatic variegated giant reed (Arundo donax) that looks like plumes of corn in a mixed border, but there was a very traditional, old fashioned feel to the garden, with painted palettes of coneflowers and other pretties.
In contrast, at Federal Twist I was excited. This is a completely different garden, with no lawn, no painterly curving borders. It is a wild but controlled space with plants seeding themselves around, reined in by gravel paths and stone walls and small pools. Balls of boxwoods and spires of dark arborvitae punctuate prairie colonies of waving pink filipendula and giant towers of rudbeckia maxima.
There is an exquisite tension in this garden.
It is heightened by the fact that you enter through the house, something unheard of when a private home is on a garden tour. From the house you look out at a pleasant sitting terrace, then down into the garden below.
I was greeted by the owner, and he graciously took me through the entire garden, and together we marveled at interesting plants, observed the aggressiveness of some, and talked about how to use different plants. He gardens in a heavy, wet area, and experiments with what will grow there.
He says it is more like farming than gardening. Because it looks so effortlessly untamed, visitors complimented him on building a habitat for wildlife, but this is a space designed for beauty. For humans more than bugs and birds I think.
At Federal Twist I felt excited as we went from sun to dappled shade and then back into sunshine, or turned a corner and saw a surprise, or looked over and noticed a sculpture or painted logs or a pool.
There is no question that you are in this garden. Leaves tickle the legs as you walk the paths. Chairs for sitting along the way are nestled into the plants so that when you sit, the garden encloses you.
He is using many of the same trees and shrubs at Federal Twist that I have, like my favorites, dusty blue zenobia pulverulenta, and viburnum prunifolium grown as an upright tree.
At both places I clearly saw how the same plants that I am using can be grown in beautiful settings and combinations, so there was much reinforcement and lots of inspiration from each of these gardens.
But at Chanticleer it all felt familiar and comfortingly predictable, while at Federal Twist it felt unfamiliar and excitingly unpredictable.
Although I was seeing the same plants that I grow in the same climate at the same time of year, being in these two gardens felt completely different. I ended the day understanding that it isn't enough to have great plants in your garden and interesting things to look at. There must be something that pulls it all together.