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Chanticleer is a pleasure garden; its exuberant contemporary garden designs and architectural details created by skilled horticulturists and craftspeople delight the senses. The experience is not by chance, as Chanticleer’s staff work hard to create an inspiring horticultural adventure within a historic setting. During our recent Fellows salon with Chanticleer Executive Director Bill Thomas, Horticulturist Dan Benarcik, and Public Programs Manager Erin McKeon, we learned that staff empowerment and engagement are the driving forces behind Chanticleer’s novel visitor experience.

From left: Fellows Erin Hepfner and Chelsea Mahaffey; Public Programs Manager Erin McKeon; Executive Director Bill Thomas; Fellow Sadie Barber; Horticulturist Dan Benarcik; and Fellows Caroline Tait and Eleanor Gould. Photo by Tamara Fleming.From left: Fellows Erin Hepfner and Chelsea Mahaffey; Public Programs Manager Erin McKeon; Executive Director Bill Thomas; Fellow Sadie Barber; Horticulturist Dan Benarcik; and Fellows Caroline Tait and Eleanor Gould. Photo by Tamara Fleming.

Since his tenure as executive director began in 2003, Thomas has believed visitors should feel as though they are personal guests of the Rosengartens, the Chanticleer founding family. An overarching goal of the garden is to provide guests with an array of inspiring horticultural ideas that they can take home, as well as create novel experiences year after year that inspire and delight visitors. During our meeting, it was clear that the culture of Chanticleer includes professional vitality, the expectation to innovate, and empowerment. McKeon referred to the organization’s ability to utilize and develop the diversity of skills and backgrounds as a key factor in the success of the garden. There was much discussion around the importance of fresh perspectives and the desire to be challenged. Staff travel locally and globally to be inspired and to learn, returning with new ideas to share with one another and experiment within the garden—the results of which visitors can enjoy.

Staff are also energized by guest gardeners and interns. Benarcik feels the exchange of knowledge and exposure to new ideas and techniques is motivating and that these professionals “bring a spark” to the garden. Many of the Chanticleer staff participate in professional societies or associations, increasing their ability to learn and exchange ideas. McKeon referred to the high standards that Chanticleer has established, providing staff with motivation to rise to the occasion. In doing so, people are taking responsibility for creating a positive culture. It is evident that Chanticleer is a learning organization that’s striving to support the development of staff for the betterment of the garden.

Thomas’ level of oversight provides him with an understanding of what is happening on the grounds, yet gives staff an independence to experiment and flourish. Having a desire to help people grow professionally, Thomas spoke to the importance of discerning staff experience and skill and tailoring feedback appropriately. There is a clear sense of stewardship among the staff; it was apparent that staff are an important part of a team, encouraged to contribute to and build the garden and organization. The result is engaged staff able to grow and remain excited about their craft and expertise, which in turn encourages guests to ask themselves what inspiration they can take from Chanticleer and recreate at home.

The Fellows are grateful for the warm reception, educational conversation, and hospitality at Chanticleer … a graciousness that is embedded in their culture and extended to colleagues and visitors alike.

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