A Garden Tour: Andrew Bunting's Swarthmore Sanctuary


Andrew Bunting comes from a family of green thumbs. Both his grandfathers were farmers—he fondly remembers spending the summers of his youth helping his paternal grandfather on his land in Nebraska. And, he says, “my mom has always been an exceptional gardener.” Our creative team recently had the pleasure of exploring Andrew’s gorgeous garden at his home in Swarthmore, PA, where he’s lived for 20 years.

Of his own horticultural journey, Andrew says he started “dabbling” in vegetable gardening in high school and went on to intern at storied institutions like the Morton Arboretum in Illinois, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and the Fairchild Tropical Gardens in Miami. Now, Andrew serves as the Vice President of Public Horticulture at PHS (Pennsylvania Horticultural Society) and works to further PHS’ mission to use horticulture to cultivate social connection, livable environments, healthy food, and economic opportunity. Keep reading to get a few behind-the-scenes peeks at his garden, hear his philosophy on container garden design, and learn more about what PHS is doing for its community. 

terrain: Hi Andrew! Thank you so much for joining us here and for giving us the opportunity to tour your personal garden. To start, we’d love to hear how you’d describe the style of your garden.

Andrew: Hi there! My garden style is definitely a fusion. I once lived in England for almost a full year and was influenced by the English cottage garden style while there. My time spent at both Miami’s Fairchild Botanical Garden and New Zealand’s Titoki Point Garden influenced my love for seasonal subtropical and tropicals. Most recently, as you can see above, I’ve started to gravel garden. Here, I’ve been influenced by the work of Jeff Epping at Olbrich Botanical Garden in Madison, Wisconsin, Piet Oudulf’s Lurie Garden in Millennium Park in Chicago, Beth Chatto’s Dry Garden in the southeast of England, and Lisa Roper’s gravel garden at Chanticleer, to name a few! 

terrain: Your container gardens are works of art unto themselves. Can you share your planter design philosophy?

Andrew: Make sure that 75 percent of the container is filled with plants with interesting foliage. Flowering plants can be wonderful but foliage plants will look great for months. Kathy Pufahl, who owned the Long Island-based Beds and Borders nursery, advocated for employing three design principles that I still use. The first is to always have a “thriller”—a stunning specimen like a canna, banana, or elephant ear. The second principle is to have some “fillers,” or medium-sized plants like cuphea, begonias, or coleus. And lastly, use “spillers,” or those plants that will spill over the edge like dichondra, ivy, Swedish ivy, or scaevola. Above, I’ve used all foliage, centering on a red Abyssinian banana, Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurellii’; Persian shield, Strobilanthes dyerianus, and a coleus.

terrain: There are so many unusual mementos scattered throughout your garden. It’s a special experience to come across these personal touches as you wander the garden.

Andrew: I like combining objet d’art with plants; I’ve collected a lot of “things” over the years. Just for example, above, the blue tree was once alive! I like the begonias for the foliage. The old bird prints had water damage from a previous owner, making them perfect for this indoor/outdoor space. I found the skull in the garden years ago and the metal contraption is intended to hold a ball of string, but I use it as a votive holder. 

terrain: Similarly, you’ve created a lot of “moments” in your outdoor space. There’s a hideaway to sit and read here, a spot to have dinner there–was this intentional?

Andrew: I’ve always been a big fan of creating “garden rooms.” In 1990, I worked with the internationally-renowned garden designer and author Penelope Houbhouse at the National Trust property, Tintinhull House. She was writing about garden rooms at the time, and Tintinhull House has many of these “rooms,” or gardens-within-a-garden. For a small garden like mine, creating “rooms” is a way to exaggerate the size of the garden and to create unique “destinations.” 

The “room” above is meant to have a contemporary, Mediterranean feel. The chair you see is actually the Garden Chair, designed by Dan Benarcik, the horticulturist at Chanticleer. The paving is a crushed granite gravel. The plantings are succulents you might find in a Mediterranean region like California or South Africa. Amongst the plants are more “found” items or object d’art. I hope it feels casual and inviting. For me, my outdoor spaces are as important as my indoor spaces—I always choose my outdoor spaces to entertain guests. 

terrain: Thanks again for chatting with us, Andrew. Before we say goodbye, we’d love to hear what you love most about the gardens in Philadelphia and what PHS is up to these days.

Andrew: I know I’m biased but the Delaware Valley is the best gardening spot in the United States! We have 37 public gardens within 50 miles of Philadelphia. It’s the birthplace of American horticulture and it’s woven into our fabric. I’ve been at PHS for nine months and I love working for an organization that uses horticulture and gardening to make a difference in people’s lives. Every day we’re working to help transform lives and neighborhoods with community gardens, our Roots to Re-Entry program, creating publicly accessible gardens, participating in finding solutions for food equity issues, planting street trees, restoring vacant lots through LandCare, and currently maintaining 12,000 as accessible green spaces.

I firmly believe that horticulture can be an incredible vehicle to bring people of all types together and create positive and long-term change.

We want to thank Andrew again for so graciously allowing us to visit his home and garden. If you liked Andrew’s garden tour, be sure to check out our tour of Wendy and Chris’ Chestnut Hill retreat, Krystal Hill’s family oasis, and our tour of The Natural Lands of Stoneleigh!

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