A Garden Tour: Wendy and Chris' Chestnut Hill Retreat
On a cool morning in May, Wendy Wurtzburger and Chris Bentley welcomed the terrain team into their gardens for a tour of the 4.25 acre property. Nestled along the tree line of the Wissahickon, their lush outdoor space is a joyful expression of the creative couple’s own enthusiasm for nature, beauty, and hospitality. Hearing Wendy and Chris talk about their home, the land, and their fulfilled years spent creating their artistic retreat as we wandered the grounds was a special experience and one we’re excited to share with you here!
“Chris brought the gardens back to life,” Wendy says, remembering the overgrown hedges and untended flower beds that dotted the landscape when they bought the house in 2001. Chris says he’s “always had a bit of a green thumb,” growing up on a Christmas tree farm near New Hope, PA, so transforming the forgotten gardens into a verdant green space was a challenge happily accepted—and one that continues to this day. While Chris says that maintenance “comes in fits and starts,” he’s continually tending, planning, and adding to the gardens. Even the house itself is covered in vegetation, a mix of Boston ivy and climbing roses, giving the 1840s home an English countryside feel.
Indeed, an historic English garden is exactly the inspiration behind many of their outdoor spaces. Heavy with abundant blooms, the peonies along the front border call to mind Gertrude Jekyll’s style, “in essence, it’s a riot of color at any given time,” Chris says. Wendy says creating an outdoor space that has a “mix of woodland and paved” elements was important to the couple, so that there’s a continual balance of wild and manicured, expansive and snug, as you make your way around the grounds.
So many aspects of Wendy and Chris’ home and garden call back to the local area. The surrounding stonework is all crafted using Wissahickon schist so that the line is blurred between what’s naturally occurring and what the couple has created themselves. “These stone walls just called out for wavy masses of boxwood—it’s been about 10 years since we planted this area and they’re just now looking the way we intended,” Chris says. He also says they’re looking forward to adding the hardy Havard and Parryi Agaves to the mix of boxwood and Rhododendron ‘English Roseum’. The calla lily chairs are one of Wendy’s most treasured finds from a trip to England.
As co-founder of the design firm Roar + Rabbit and an Anthropologie Group veteran who helped shape the brand’s identity from its inception, Wendy’s singular eye for design definitely informs much of how the couple’s home looks, both indoors and out. Found objects, storied artworks, and whimsical elements define every corner of the home, and the couple is especially delighted by the mural that hangs above the fireplace in their sitting room. A folk art piece from 1987 by Maura Kerrigan, the mural depicts the home and grounds as it was so many years before.
Wendy is also quite fond of the vegetable garden saying that each year, they “like to mix it up with varieties and sources of seeds, but sorrel is always a family favorite for both greens and soup.” They currently source many of their starts from Tap Root Farm, terrain, Happy Cat Farm, and Primex, which they’ll start themselves under grow lights in the basement. Chris remembers a good natured challenge the pair had years back with Dick Hayne, president and CEO of Urban Outfitters. “We’d start our tomatoes at the same time and whomever had harvested a tomato by July 4th had bragging rights!” Their two espaliered pear trees have each been grafted with three varieties of pear, just another example of Chris’ obvious delight in trying new things in the garden.
The grounds are punctuated with several seating areas and entertaining spaces, each one revealing itself around a corner, behind a hedge, or through a pathway shielded by shrubs. There’s the incredible pool, an inviting oasis among the verdant trees, a 10-seat table under a terrace fit for rambling parties, and low-slung benches built into the landscape for a quick break from weeding. The couple also has a state-of-the-art pizza oven that’s been built up with more of that Wissahickon schist, something they love putting to use during their late fall parties.
Theirs is a garden you can get lost in, wandering through the hedges to discover an antiqued water fountain surrounded by chives, oregano, and purple sage, or simply sitting down to take in the sounds of nearby birdsong.