Radnor Story #1: Howard Holden on Living at Chanticleer

There are many wonderful memories of the 48 years I have lived here in Radnor Township, memories of both good times and bad with family. However, the years my wife and I resided at the then Chanticleer estate are some of the most memorable. 

The Chanticleer mansion, ca. 1983.

Being newlyweds, my wife and I sought an opportunity to move out of our little apartment into a setting that allowed us to garden, a passion we both shared. I was also seeking an opportunity to raise a family supported by a profession I would enjoy. I responded to a classified ad in a local newspaper reading “Gardener wanted for Main Line estate,” never really expecting a response. About a week later I received a hand-written letter from a Mr. Adolph Rosengarten Jr. stating that he would like to meet me. My wife agreed this seemed like a good opportunity to explore, and soon I was walking the estate with him as he explained its various attributes and asking questions of my background and why I was interested in this position. He explained that the current gardeners were about to retire, and he was in search of someone interested in horticulture to carry on the legacy passed down to him by his father. I was enthralled with the property and this gentle man’s mannerisms. Within a month I was working side by side with his knowledgeable gardeners learning all I possibly could, and in two years’ time I became head gardener with my wife and I residing in a quaint gardener’s cottage. We found ourselves within this earthly paradise sending down deep roots into our future together.

Surprisingly, one day “Dolph” shared with me his desire to leave his estate as a public garden for all to enjoy. From that point on, we envisioned its potential together and built the fundamentals of what it would to take to get us there. Additional horticulturists were hired, equipment acquired, and facilities established to support a young professional team who all shared this same dream. As the gardens began to flourish, we began to offer tours to various horticulture groups offering them wine at the tour’s end on the terrace of “the main house” to hear of their experience here. They liked it! 

Meanwhile, my wife was enjoying handweaving and found the gardens to be quite beneficial in producing the dyes she needed for her spun wool. We enjoyed freshly picked vegetables, beautiful walks, honey from our beehive and a plethora of plants. We acquired a puppy; a son was born, and a daughter adopted. Our cozy cottage and its surroundings were the ideal environment for a young family to grow and thrive, just like the gardens all around us. At times, my wife and I would look at each other and wonder what we had done to deserve such a pastoral and enchanted setting.

A garden path at Chanticleer, ca. 1983.

I was promoted to senior horticulturist and with a staff of six we were committed to the garden’s continued embellishment. Word spread that this garden was taking form as we joined the Philadelphia region’s fledgling gardens collaborative. A vision was being realized right before our eyes as the fundamentals of a private foundation were being established. After twelve wonderful years of employment with Mr. Rosengarten, he informed me he wished to appoint me as director of  the garden and move our family to his deceased sister’s house.  My wife and I struggled with this news, since that house was not conducive to the lifestyle we were envisioning for our family. We sought a house in North Wayne with the hopes I could remain as director while living off site. That was not to be. Nonetheless, Mr. Rosengarten and I had a very respectful parting of the ways, and we remained in communication about the garden’s future after my departure. 

Our family’s time since in North Wayne also holds many treasured memories, although we will always cherish and be grateful for our time at Chanticleer. Visits to the garden today bring on feelings of appreciation, astonishment and pride with a touch of melancholy.

Howard Holden is a member of the Radnor Historical Society Board of Directors. All images courtesy Howard Holden.