Philadelphia Area Fling and Andrew Bunting’s Belvidere

September 28, 2023

A gravel garden in the front yard of Andrew Bunting’s Belvidere

I spent all last week in the beautiful countryside around Philadelphia for the 14th annual Fling (formerly known as Garden Bloggers Fling), touring private and public gardens with around 100 other garden writers, bloggers, Instagrammers, YouTubers, and other social media gardeners. We were hosted by the irrepressibly enthusiastic Karl Gercens. He manages the conservatory at the show-stopping Longwood Gardens, so I knew it would be a Fling to remember.

Still, more is more! I flew in two days early and spent an extra full day at Chanticleer Garden, followed by shopping and dinner at Terrain with a few friends. After that, it was go, go, go on the 3-1/2-day Fling tour. Highlights included a behind-the-scenes tour of Longwood Gardens’ production facility, dinner and dancing at Chanticleer, a visit to David Culp’s Brandywine Cottage, lunch at the playful and colorful garden of Jenny Rose Carey, and much more. It was a terrific tour — even if Tropical Storm Ophelia drenched us during the final two days — and I have hundreds of photos to share with you over the coming months.

Let’s jump into the tour with the first private garden. Located in Swarthmore, Belvidere is the home garden of plantsman Andrew Bunting, the vice president of horticulture at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Leafy vines soften his charming stone cottage, which overlooks a gravel garden of diaphanous grasses, yucca, euphorbia, and other dry-loving plants (see photo at top).

Amsonia and a blushing hydrangea smother a wooden chair in the front garden.

In a window box, red foliage plants echo rosy glassware displayed inside.

Heading around back, I saw a potting bench conveniently located by the back door.

It makes a lovely place to display more red plants.

Metal flowers adorn a bit of trellis work.

Andrew indulges his love of tropicals on the back patio, with dozens of potted, big-leaved plants making a foliage-centric display.

Canna looking pretty

A bromeliad in bloom

In a shady spot, a mossy bench is half swallowed by a hydrangea and other lush foliage.

Here began my banana sightings. It seems that gardeners all around Philadelphia fancy the dramatic, paddle-like foliage of bananas. I swear I saw bananas in every garden we visited.

Going bananas at the Fling

I was so struck by all the bananas that one day I declared to a fellow tour-goer, who hails from the Pacific Northwest, that bananas might be the signature plant of the Philly Fling, and wasn’t that a little surprising? She said, “But everyone can grow bananas.” Her point being that we can all grow tropicals in summer and either haul them indoors for the winter or put them in the compost at the end of the season. That’s true…

And yet right then I realized that bananas and other big-leaved tropicals are far more popular — even commonplace — in other parts of the country than they are here in Central Texas. I mean, I almost never see bananas grown as patio plants here in Austin. I can think of an exception or two, but in general we’re much more into agaves and yuccas and grasses and native perennials. Why? I think it can only be because it’s so blisteringly hot and droughty here in the summer, and we’d have to water tropicals constantly to keep them looking good. Instead, gardeners in Central Texas have embraced waterwise native or near-native plants. Not exclusively, of course, but predominantly. It’s an interesting cultural difference, one I might not have noticed but for going on garden tours in other regions. Such discoveries help me understand the gardening culture of my own home ground a little better.

But back to the tour

Enough about bananas — back to Belvidere! Andrew converted a dilapidated stone garage into a beautiful summerhouse. One of the rooms is open to the elements and functions more as a patio. Notice Andrew’s silver-themed decor: a pewter mannequin torso presiding over a collection of gray tillandsias and galvanized watering cans.

At the other end of the building, a fully sheltered man cave offers a cushy leather sofa, a glowing chandelier, and…

…a collection of books and knickknacks to make a cozy retreat that overlooks the garden. Everyone coveted this inviting space.

Here’s the summerhouse as seen from the other side of that multipaned window.

At the far end of the garden, shade plants enclose a pretty round pond, which I neglected to take a photo of, probably because I was waiting for a clear shot and forgot to go back. Chairs designed by Chanticleer’s Dan Benarcik offer an invitation to sit and stay a while.

Andrew found additional space for a vegetable garden by taking over a portion of his neighbor’s yard — with permission, of course. A bosque of four trees shades a wooden table with a planter running down the middle — also crafted by Dan Benarcik. You can learn more about the design of this space, and all of Belvidere, in a video of one of Andrew’s talks at the JC Raulston Arboretum. It’s worth watching just to see how much a garden evolves over time.

Those Benarcik chairs are tucked into the garden everywhere.

As are the bold tropical leaves of colocasia and banana!

Up next: Charles Cresson’s garden, Hedgleigh Spring, in Swarthmore.

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Come learn about garden design from the experts at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance; simply click this link and ask to be added. The Season 7 lineup can be found here.

Tour several Austin gardens on Saturday, November 4, on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Day tour for Travis County. Tickets must be purchased online in advance and will be available beginning September 1st.

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