Where Leaders for Public Gardens Come From by Susan Harris

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Posted on: May 26, 2017

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The ridiculously fit Bill Thomas when I first met him in 2006.

Last week I showed off my favorite views in Chanticleer Garden from a recent visit, promising a second post about the “good and important work that Chanticleer does.”

So I’m back to spread the word about the behind-the-gorgeous-gardens stuff that goes on there, good works I had no notion of until I read this announcement of the prestigious Scott Award going to Chanticleer’s director, Bill Thomas. (I’ll rush to reassure everyone that it has nothing to do with  ScottsMiracle-Gro but more happily, is awarded by Swarthmore College’s Scott Arboretum – the best landscaped campus I’ve ever seen, by the way.)

The announcement mentions Chanticleer’s programs that “emphasize leadership training for the next generation of public garden professionals, through the Chanticleer Scholarship, Internship, and Guest Gardener programs.”

What’s all that? A really big deal is what it all is. I asked Bill about it during my visit.

The awesome Scholarship Program “encourages and supports public garden leadership development nationally and internationally.” Professionals at public garden anywhere in the world design their own advanced training program, apply, and Chanticleer pays them to do it! They’ve sent scholars to Kew in the U.K., to Phipps and other U.S. gardens, and as far as Japan to learn and develop leadership skills, which Bill defines as “developing creative thinking.” The program also sent Andrew Bunting (former director of the Scott Arboretum) to China to explore plants.

Here’s the 2017 batch of Scholars and how Chanticleer is advancing their education and training.

There’s no other program like this in the world. Longwood’s new fellowship program comes the closest, but it doesn’t offer the flexibility of Chanticleer’s. Asked why there’s a need for this, Bill cites the less-than-full funding that public gardens generally receive, with staff training and travel funds being the first to be cut in lean times.

Great Dixter

Chanticleer created a joint project Great Dixter in England to send worthy candidates to both Chanticleer and Great Dixter to work and learn with the masters. To overcome the restrictions on U.S. citizens working in England, under this arrangement the Scholars are volunteers at Great Dixter and paid workers at Chanticleer. Bill tells me this program is very competitive – I bet it is!

Guest Gardeners come from other public gardens to volunteer at Chanticleer. Two from Olbrich are guest-gardening there now and another is coming soon from Laos. In the past they’ve also come from Stellenbosch Garden in South Africa, with whom Chanticleer has a collaborative relationship.

Stellenbosch Garden

Finally, Chanticleer trains interns every season, both paid and unpaid, who rotate through the garden and learn from every one of the seven professional gardeners at Chanticleer. This season they’re hosting six paid interns, who stay from three to ten months.

There’s more. Bill helps other public gardens through his leadership of Greater Philadelphia Gardens (established in 2006 to collectively promote 30+ gardens within 30 miles of the city), and in the American Public Garden Association.

Chanticleer’s educational mission includes not just professionals in horticulture but amateurs, too. Their classes for the public are planned in collaboration with all those other Philly-area gardens, to avoid duplication.

Pharmaceuticals’ Gift to the Gardening World

So how does Chanticleer manage to fund all this good work, taking up the slack in funding of other public gardens here and around the world?

The estate was built in 1912 as a summer cottage for Christine Penrose and Adolph G. Rosengarten, Sr. Adolf was the head of Rosengarten & Sons, a Philadelphia pharmaceutical manufacturer that his family had founded in 1822 to produce quinine. The company later merged with Merck & Co in 1927. [5] Upon inheriting the estate, their son, Adolph G. Rosengarten, Jr. established a foundation to ensure that Chanticleer would be developed as a public garden.  Source: Wikipedia.

So thanks to Merck money, Chanticleer doesn’t have to rely on legislative whims for funding. I sure wish we could say the same for the beloved but always-struggling public garden nearest me.

For more about Bill and his impact on Chanticleer after 13 years as director, I recommend Margaret Roach’s interview with him on A Way to Garden. 

Where Leaders for Public Gardens Come From originally appeared on Garden Rant on May 26, 2017.

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