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Birds, Wildlife and Gardening

At Bedrock Gardens art leads you on a journey

November 18, 2021

In early October, as we road-tripped south from our leaf-peeping week in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, I was head-over-heels excited to revisit Bedrock Gardens, a private-transitioning-to-public garden in the town of Lee.

I first visited Bedrock Gardens in 2014, when the owners, Jill Nooney and Bob Munger, were still managing their 30-year-old garden on 20 acres of farmland on their own, with seasonal help from volunteers. Seven years later, they’ve transitioned their home garden into an emerging public garden with regular visiting hours, a parking lot, entry kiosk, restrooms, and gift shop. Jill and Bob still reside on-site and have private space by their house, but by going public they hope to preserve their remarkable garden for future generations to enjoy. What a gift to the community and their state.

What I love about Bedrock is that it’s a journey garden, one that evokes humor and magic thanks to Jill’s found-object art (much of it made with old farm implements) and Bob’s handcrafted structures interspersed among creative and mature plantings. The various garden spaces convey moods of serenity, excitement, and mystery. Sight lines on an epic scale draw the eye through the garden, and pull you along to experience each space. Exploring the garden is a voyage of discovery and delight.

Gothic Arbor

The garden’s entrance has changed since I last visited, moved away from the house. You enter the garden nowadays under an acrobat arch (see top photo), which leads into a towering wood meant to “cleanse your spirit as you leave the world behind.” A Gothic arbor, planted with golden fastigiate beeches, frames a view of a bench in one direction, and in the other leads to a pond.

Jill favors vertical sculptures or totems in the garden, some out in the open, like these, and others tucked among plants. I think of these as sun totems.

Tea house

The map shows a designated route through the garden, but there was a guided tour ahead that I wanted to avoid as I took photos, so I ended up walking it in reverse. I do wonder how the garden unfolds in the other direction though, so if I ever return I’ll go that way. Next we came to a tea house in the woods, which was chained off, tastefully, to prevent a closer approach.

Jill once told me that she and Bob sometimes enjoy sleeping out here, and it looks like the bed is still inside, so perhaps this private space is reserved for the owners’ sole enjoyment.

A found-object sculpture nearby has an Asian-inspired roof. I’m curious to know what the toothed rails and perforated middle section come from.

An uphill path leads to a sculpted Buddha pillar under a large halo suspended from the trees, seeming to float overhead. The energy of that halo makes for a striking scene.

ConeTown

Emerging from the woods, you come to Conetown, marked by a wide, steel arch adorned with dangling metal cones.

This pinetum contains a collection of 70 dwarf and standard conifers! That’s what you can do when you have 20 acres to play with.

CopTop

Just as the garden becomes sunny and open, a gazebo appears. Capped with antique skylights and sheltering a few chairs made from old farm tools, it offers a spot to sit and enjoy a small pond.

Someone else is here too, waiting in the water to surprise you.

Wiggle Waggle

Undulating between the pond and a spring house, a 200-foot rill called the Wiggle Waggle introduces a sense of playfulness and frivolity. The colorful Garish Garden stretches along one side, and a Belgian fence of espaliered apple trees, backed by a tall screen of arborvitae, runs along the other. Unexpectedly, a flock of speckled guinea hens appeared, darting across the Waggle toward us.

Unperturbed by our approach, they gathered to drink from the rill, chattering at each other. I saw Bob tending to some plants nearby and struck up a conversation. We’d never met in person, although I’d interviewed Jill for an article in Garden Design once. Bob told me the guinea fowl are beloved pets who roam the garden during the day. Later I read on the garden’s Facebook page that all but two of the birds were killed by an unknown predator, likely a fox. I know foxes have to eat too, but I was sorry about the guineas.

GrassAcre

On a gentle slope nearby, masses of grasses make a stylized meadow. GrassAcre consists of red (switchgrass), green (hakone grass), and blue (little bluestem) grasses, massed for a painterly effect as seen from a distance.

The guineas followed us over.

In a central plane of turf grass, a steel sculpture called SyncoPeaks evokes distant mountains.

Nearby, a naturalistic meadow surrounds a tree stump elevating a spherical artwork.

I like this piece as a focal point, and it echoes the round-topped undulating hedge of the Pate behind it.

A wider view, with the pond and CopTop gazebo.

The Pate

A wavy hedge of clipped privet known as the Pate has a gap that invites you in.

In the center stand colorfully striped beehives.

Rock Garden and the Landing

Back by the rill, a pair of horse-head sculptures frame a broad stone stair leading through a boulder-edged garden. A large barn stands at the top of the hill, and Jill and Bob’s house sits beyond that.

Along the ridge, a pergola supported by granite pillars offers an elevated view of GrassAcre and the surrounding garden.

Jill and Bob are gardening on a scale well beyond what most of us can imagine. I admire the way they create big moments like this as well as intimate garden rooms, plus vignettes of art and plants along paths connecting everything.

Belgian fence

A long view of the Belgian fence, with grasses and junipers carpeting a broad slope.

And the Wiggle Waggle making its snaky passage through the lawn. I’ve seen photos of this in the winter, with the serpentine line of the water cutting through mounds of white snow.

The Wave and arborvitae hedge

What’s on the other side of the arborvitae hedge, you might wonder? Actually, another big moment: the Wave, a chorus line of 26 of Jill’s metal folk displayed on undulating painted posts.

Jill gave each of her quirky creatures personality and charm.

The wave effect of the posts is nicely framed by the dark arborvitae screen.

One more totemic sculpture up by the barn.

Barn Garden

I adore this found-object bird sculpture in the Barn Garden. There are many of Jill’s sculptures I covet, but this is one of my favorites.

A tumble of flowering perennials jostle for sunlight here.

Bees were enjoying the bounty.

Hairy balls (Gomphocarpus physocarpus) always makes me smile.

A creative peaked arbor leads into the garden.

Parterre Garden

Contrasting with the cottagey barn garden, a formal parterre garden leads to private space by the owners’ house. A section of porch railing on the path barred the way in, so we stood under the yew arch and just looked.

It’s an elegant space, given a little harlequin twist with a diamond pattern of gray pavers amid squares of green and swooping red-brick edging.

Turning around, you see a double line of stone paving leading the eye to the Swaleway woodland.

We headed that way, stopping to admire another sun totem…

…and blue steel tuteur smothered by a vine perched on top like a Daniel Boone coonskin cap.

A tilted screen of metal reeds leads the eye to the spring house and Wiggle Waggle.

Funnel Gardens

And here a stunning view unfolds, with trees in hues of emerald, yellow-green, and wine-red lining both sides of a long lawn. Shapes are contrasted too, from vertical spires to rounded canopies. The Funnel Gardens really do funnel the eye to a distant upright boulder, the terminus of this long axis. This is one of the most beautiful views in the garden.

Swaleway

Stepping into the woods bordering the lawn, you’re in the Swaleway, where spring-flowering plants “brighten the mud season,” according to the brochure. Stacked rock towers allude to wayfinding cairns on top of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington.

Colored glass prisms — deck prisms once used on sailing ships — set on stakes make glassy bouquets that bring light into the shady garden.

On the sunny side of the Funnel Gardens, one dagger-like sculpture frames a view of a distant arbor called the Torii…

…if you position yourself just so.

A whisk-headed, robotic Julia Child makes me wonder if butter-colored flowers surround her in summer.

Torii at GrassAcre

Beyond GrassAcre, the Torii beckons.

But first we must explore the exuburant Garish Garden, coming up in part 2.

Up next: Part 2 of my visit to art-infused Bedrock Gardens. For a look back at colorful fall foliage in the White Mountains of NH, click here.

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