Visit to Wave Hill, a Hudson River estate garden in New York City

I traveled to New York City with my daughter on October 10 to see public gardens. On Saturday, our first full day in New York, a chilly rain didn’t keep us from visiting Wave Hill, a 28-acre estate garden in the Bronx with a million-dollar view of the Hudson River and the Palisades, sheer cliffs of exposed, vertically striated stone on the opposite shore.

Wave Hill had a succession of owners and a few famous tenants between its construction in 1843 and 1960, when it was deeded to the City of New York. Mark Twain leased the place from 1901 to 1903, and as a boy Theodore Roosevelt summered here with his family. Two houses and a conservatory remain today, along with gardens acclaimed for their horticultural artistry.

We took the train for the 30-minute ride from midtown out to the Bronx, and from there a Wave Hill shuttle took us to the garden. Away from the bustle of the streets of Manhattan, we found ourselves in a serene oasis, with the soft dripping of rain and birdsong in our ears instead of honking horns and whooshing subways. You enter to views of a sweeping lawn leading to a long, vine-draped pergola. The river and Palisades view just beyond was partly obscured by mist.

Let’s save the pergola garden and turn right toward the simply named Flower Garden, a formally arranged garden of exuberant, colorful plant combos, surrounded by a Chippendale-style cedar fence and arbors.

Tall grasses partly screen the view as you enter.

Blackberry lily, tall verbena, and blanketflower add to the fall scene.

Pink cosmos threads through the grasses.

A wide brick walk runs through the center of the garden, with rustic cedar arbors and benches bookending the space. An impressive conservatory overlooks the garden.

Turning around, you can see the river and Palisades through a window in the arbor.

Paralleling the brick walk is a narrow stone path along the perimeter. Chartreuse plants glow even on this misty morning.

Glancing over the fence you see the lawn, with pairs of the famous Wave Hill chairs inviting you to sit and enjoy the view — on drier days, anyway.

Looking across the center of the garden, you see the conservatory framed by four fastigiate trees in pots. The bronze mound in the center is oxalis.

Yes, oxalis! I tried to part the foliage in order to discover how the mound was created: tiered containers, or mounded soil, or just a monstrous single plant? (Couldn’t be!) But it was raining pretty steadily by now, and I couldn’t juggle camera, camera bag, and umbrella well enough to look. It remains a mystery.

Looking to the far end of the garden you see the other arbor. Evergreen shrubs add year-round structure.

Turning around, here’s the opposite view.

I enjoyed this rich, purple foliage accented by orange and peach sunset hues.

Bold dahlias stole the show.

Red berries on a yellowing, potted tree make a pretty fall scene too.

Peach dahlias complement the bronze oxalis mound.

It’s such a textural garden, invitingly touchable, with sophisticated color combos.

We took a quick peek inside the conservatory, but aside from a few tables of succulents it wasn’t that interesting. So let’s go back to the pergola overlooking the Hudson.

Packed with potted plants and hung with vines, the pergola is essentially a container garden on steroids.

My daughter, investigating a plant or a fallen leaf from the shelter of her umbrella

Tearing my eyes away from the pergola garden, I paused to admire the mist-shrouded view from a handsome stone balustrade.

A double stair leads to the lawn below…

…and to the Elliptical Garden, formerly the site of a swimming pool.

Twin golden pots mark the entry to this small garden.

Concrete benches offer contemplative places to rest.

I love the melancholy, going-to-seed splendor of the autumn garden.

There are wooded trails to explore below the Elliptical Garden, but they were muddy and overhung with dripping foliage, so we headed back to the balustrade stairs and the pergola.

Summer’s zinnias were still hanging on.

Ivy was hanging too.

Back in the main gardens I admired the fall color in this scene: burgundy foliage and purple beautyberries.

We liked this cheerful vegetable garden too, planted along a vine-swagged, golden-yellow fence in the Paisley Bed, so named for its comma shape. The Paisley Bed is redone every year to new effect, so you won’t see the same design twice.

The Flower Garden and pergola views were gorgeous, but the best was yet to come. Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Wave Hill visit, which includes the dramatic Monocot Garden and pond, Mediterranean-style Dry Garden, and windswept Wild Garden.

For a look back at my 2-part tour of the High Line, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Dark-fantasy woodland, Asian teahouse and more at Bedrock Gardens, part 2

In my last post I introduced you to Bedrock Gardens, created by Jill Nooney and Bob Munger in Lee, New Hampshire, on a former dairy farm. It’s a place of thoughtful design, beautiful views, eye-catching plant combinations, and fanciful found-object sculpture created by Jill.

Continuing our tour, let’s pause to admire one of Jill’s sculptures, a sinuous, plant-like, blue base cradling a glass globe.

Hex Rock (at left) terminates a long axis view, and when you arrive you see, tucked under the trees, a large stone spiral set in moss. Behind it, a curving line of spinning roof ventilators atop culvert pipes seems to rise from the ground.

I use culvert pipes as vertical planters in my own garden, so I delighted to see them turned into art in Jill’s.

The Spiral Garden looks out on an allee of newly planted Chinese fringetree (Chionanthus retusus). The fringetrees have replaced a mature allee of Korean mountain ash, which Jill cut down when she learned it was invasive. A torii gate in the center draws the eye and invites you in.

Looking left, back toward the espaliered apple fence and arborvitae hedge, you see GrassAcre coming into late-summer glory. Little bluestem, switchgrass, and hakone grass create a soft, abstract picture, with the sculpture SyncoPeaks as focal point.

Looking right, another axis view opens up, leading the eye to the Baxis, a tall pergola in the shape of a double triangle. Stumpy remnants of the destroyed Korean mountain ash trees seem to scuttle like Thing toward this new destination.

Looking back toward the torii gate as the setting sun bathes the garden in golden light

Nearing the Baxis, with tall grasses and pines framing the view

This is a monumental arbor. A few benches offer a place to rest and enjoy the view.

But you might want to watch your back because from here things begin to get a little spooky. This gazebo-like sculpture with bones hanging in the middle sets the tone as you enter a shadowy wood.

Mosquitoes began to harry us as the sun dipped to the horizon, and we saw monster-sized representations as well.

Hurry, before they get us!

Tree men appear. Is that what I think it is?

Jill confirmed that it was. They seem to be having a Bacchanalian orgy with other trees.

Then again, maybe it’s just an arboreal nudist camp.

Stump creatures watch with sinister intent. I was starting to feel like I’d stepped into another world, a Pan’s Labyrinth.

As I emerged from the woods, I wanted to warn this charming metal family — Papa in a beret, Mama in earmuffs — not to go in there. But then again I’d just walked through with my own kids, and we thought it was a hoot.

Sun-like sculptures echo the setting sun behind the pines.

After the eerie Dark Woods, a clearing appears. A mirror-like pond reflects the surrounding trees and is bridged on one end with an elevated walkway reminiscent of a Japanese moon bridge. A red bench in the center overlooks the pond.

Framing the bridge and bench are tall stumps of trees that have been cut off at about 12 feet. I don’t recall what Jill told me about these trees, but I like how she uses everything that happens in her garden, even the tragic things (like the removal of the invasive mountain-ash allee), to create art.

Another peaceful pond-viewing spot

I felt a sense of urgency at this point, as the sun was rapidly sinking, to see everything, so I hurried along the path toward a large metal arch — a sculpture of 3 acrobats leaping across the path.

The acrobats usher you into an Asian-style garden containing a small pond and a teahouse just large enough for a bed. Jill says she and Bob sometimes enjoy sleeping in the garden.

A birch arrow on the ground gleams in the fading light, pointing the way to…what?

I followed.

Steps lead past waterfall-like ledge stone carpeted in pine needles.

As I reached the top I looked up and gasped: a “halo” floats high above a columnar stone sculpted on all sides with serenely smiling faces.

This sculpture is from Cambodia, Jill told me. She and Bob enjoy traveling around the world to visit gardens, and perhaps they bought this home from one of their trips.

The sculpture sits in center of a knoll behind the teahouse, and the halo above creates a tension, a feeling of energy, here.

But Jill’s sense of humor is evident here as well.

The teahouse has a marvelous swoopy, arched roof.

Heading back toward the main gardens, I passed this tall stone table set in a gravel circle: a mushroom in a fairy circle?

A tall, metal arch marks entry into Conetown, a pinetum of about 50 dwarf and standard conifers.

The gateway arch is charming in its own right.

Conifers of all shapes and colors surround a central lawn…

…with variegated grasses, silvery shrubs, and other plants adding different textures to the scene.

Now we’re approaching the back of CopTop, the covered patio that overlooks the Wiggle Waggle, an undulating rill we explored in part 1 of this tour.

Seats made of old farm equipment swivel to take in views in all directions.

The views are excellent indeed: meadowy GrassAcre, the Wiggle Waggle, Conetown, and more.


A closer look

To the left of CopTop and Conetown, an undulating hedge has echoes of Piet Oudolf.

Ahead, the Wiggle Waggle

Here’s the pergola we spotted in part 1, which I promised I’d show you later. Jill calls it the Landing, and it sits amid a rock garden planted on the slope that leads back up to the barn and house.

Horse-head sculptures created by Jill riff on the neighboring horse pasture.

The pergola has a fine view of the Wiggle Waggle, CopTop, and GrassAcre, with more farm-detritus swivel seating.

In the last light of evening I popped up to the garden around the house and barn, which sit close to the road in the style of most hundred-year-old homes.

On a ledge outcropping lurks…

…a hungry praying mantis made by Jill.

A tiny dancer twirls nearby, her pointed toe an old syrup tap for maple trees.

Birdhouses made of old sap buckets (I think)

A gazebo or arbor made of culvert-pipe columns and glass-globe finials adds permanent color to the garden, which I’m sure is welcome during New Hampshire’s long winters.

This piece looks sort of tribal to me, but its parts are all about farm life.

Jill’s stash of materials and a few works in progress are tucked off to the side of the driveway. I wonder what this is — a Willy Wonka candy-making contraption?

I admired a rainbow assortment of her tuteurs.

Jill and Bob, who at ages 65 and 71 still do all their own maintenance, have begun thinking how they might ensure the garden’s preservation when they’re no longer physically able to take care of it. They founded Friends of Bedrock Gardens as a tax-exempt charity and hope to raise funds that will allow them eventually to convert Bedrock into a public garden, cultural center, and horticultural sanctuary amid the rapid suburbanization of southern New Hampshire. The couple are generous with their garden, opening it monthly for public tours and hosting numerous events and classes. Click here for more information about visiting the garden.

Huge thanks to Jill and Bob for sharing their incredibly creative garden with me and my family. What a treat to be wowed for two solid hours of strolling and exploring. It was a highlight of our New Hampshire vacation.

If you missed part 1 of my tour of Bedrock Gardens, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

A fanciful journey through art-filled Bedrock Gardens, part 1

Acres of poison ivy and scrub brush had overrun the old dairy farm in Lee, New Hampshire, when Jill Nooney and her husband, Bob Munger, purchased it in 1980. Undaunted, the couple began a decades-long process of clearing weeds and making planting beds, eventually creating a 20-acre garden of formally structured axis views; intimate, hedged garden rooms; undulating, English-style borders; a meadowy vista; a wriggly rill and ponds; a dark-fantasy woodland garden; an Asian teahouse; and, throughout, inviting, sit-a-while viewing platforms and patios.

Underfoot, exposed ledge stone gave Jill and Bob a name for their creation, Bedrock Gardens.

Aside from designing and planting Bedrock’s extensive gardens herself, Jill is a clinical social worker and an artist who turns found objects and old farm equipment into one-of-a-kind sculptural pieces, which she sells through her company Fine Garden Art. Bob, a retired physician, is her “problem solver,” the garden’s builder and fix-it man who created the numerous water features and structures and provides muscle as needed. Each says they couldn’t have made the garden without each other. They are a truly complementary team.

My family and I were lucky enough to visit during our New Hampshire vacation this summer. Our travel schedules unfortunately kept us from meeting the owners in person, but Jill kindly invited us to come on our own one day to get photos for a Garden Design article I was writing.

We arrived on a late July day just before sunset and roamed where we liked, drawn along by long axis views, Jill’s sculptures, and creatively designed spaces like the Circle Patio, which Jill and Bob pieced together from an old millstone, concrete rounds, and small granite circles cut out of countertop slabs for faucet plumbing, which Jill got for free from a local granite supplier.

Next to the Circle Patio is Jill’s smile-inducing All-You-Need-Is-Balls Garden, with spherically clipped shrubs and trees, globe-shaped flowers like allium, and an assortment of ceramic and glass balls.

Jill is having fun, playing with color and form, blending art and plants to create a fanciful garden journey.

A lawn off the Balls Garden leads to a more formal space, a white-flowering parterre garden with an arched doorway cut into the yew hedge at the far end.

Looking back the way we came: symmetry and an axis view toward one of Jill’s sculptures.

The theatrical hedge doorway leads downhill, with cobblestone tracks directing the eye along the axis view.

Following the tracks, you come to a shade garden under a wooded border. But before we head any further down this path…

…let’s go back to the sunnier gardens that appear to your left as you exit the parterre garden. A tall hedge of arborvitae screens the main garden from view of the house, and the property’s cavernous old barn from view of the garden. The hedge serves as an emerald frame for a sine-wave display of foot-high metal figures balanced atop wooden posts.

Each one is unique…

…made of whatever spare pieces Jill could find.

Aren’t they fun?

Looking back in the other direction

At this end, a carved-stone basin of water recalls the bedrock theme, and in the distance you see a pergola, which begs to be investigated — and I did. But first I want to lead you…

…around the arborvitae hedge, past a quick peek at a long axis view down to Hex Rock, the pale, upright boulder in the distance…

…to the next level of the garden, just below a stone wall and the hedge. A fence of espaliered apple trees edges a long, narrow lawn, and the view terminates at a variegated dogwood tree, which glows like moonlight against the dark-green woods — proving that a well-placed plant can be used just like sculpture in attracting the eye and terminating a sight line.

Like the arborvitae hedge, the espalier fence screens the rest of the garden from view, so as you enter this more-expansive space you experience a feeling of delight. Or at least I did.

At right, a wedge-shaped metal screen with a cattail motif set in a bed of shaggy grasses introduces the idea of a bog garden.

It points the way to a captivating, eely rill, which Jill and Bob have dubbed the Wiggle Waggle. This curvy, 200-foot channel flows from the Spring House to the CopTop covered patio in the distance. Both structures are capped by old copper-framed skylights.

Lotus bloom with abandon in the Wiggle Waggle, their ruffled-parasol leaves held high above the water.

Their blossoms are like fat, pink cheeks you want to pinch.

Undulating alongside the rill is the Garish Garden, so-called by Jill for the riot of perennial color. But, red-lover that I am, it didn’t look garish to me. I loved the red crocosmia and sculptural pieces skipping along the border’s edge, backed by frothy, variegated trees and shrubs.

Even dead plants can be painted a fun color.

One of Jill’s pieces — like something out of The Jetsons — poses flirtatiously next to the bold leaves of castor bean.

Looking through the border you get a glimpse of GrassAcre, a central meadow anchored by the sculpture SyncoPeaks, inspired, Jill told me, by Japanese brush paintings of layered mountain views. In the foreground is another of Jill’s pieces, a powder-coated tuteur made of angle iron and rebar, with a replica deck prism from Mystic Seaport on top. She sells these in various colors.

Another view

Do pink and red clash? Not to my eye.

A few sunflowers stand tall in the border too.

A funhouse mirror — a borrowed piece, not one of Jill’s — struck me as a good place for a selfie.

Other sculptures, some for sale and some not, appear along the length of the border.

Jill makes garden arches too. The columns on this one came from an old printing press.

I fell in love with her Ring Toss sculpture, which looks great in a bed of round-top purple coneflower.

I like this totem pole too, a slab of mahogany that Jill spent one winter carving and painting.

The engraved, painted images on this side represent the seasons. On the back are carvings representing the elements.

Here’s a wide view of the border where it turns the corner and joins the axis view looking toward Hex Rock.

And from a different perspective, with the setting sun gilding the tips of the arborvitae hedge.

That barn behind the hedge is 200 years old and was the repository for many of the old tools and farm equipment that Jill repurposes into her art.

Turning back to the long axis, with Hex Rock at the end to draw the eye. I found this so beautiful, with layers of lushness and foliage color — rich burgundies, golden yellows, and deep greens — that we just can’t match in gray-green central Texas.

The golden columnar elm at left is Ulmus x hollandica ‘Wredei’. The green pyramidal trees are Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’. And the large, dark-leaved tree is a European beech cultivar, Fagus sylvatica ‘Red Obelisk’.

Looking back up the long lawn toward the barn, a lovely view

More of Jill’s art — solid pieces amid frothy flowering plants.

At left, under a narrow band of trees between Jill and Bob’s garden and a neighboring horse pasture, a shade garden invites you in with a quirky arbor and winding gravel path.

Another pool of water in a large dish reflects the surrounding trees. A sort of mini Stonehenge stands behind it.

Stones stacked and balanced into sculptures, some with windows, stand along the path’s edge like waymarkers. They were inspired, says Jill, by cairns atop New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington.

A pagoda-like stack of glazed pots or bowls, set on an octagonal pedestal, calls attention to the borrowed view of the neighboring horse pasture.

Chairs made of old farm equipment (not pictured), placed at the edge of the garden, overlook this bucolic view.

This ends part 1 of my tour of Bedrock Gardens. Stay tuned for part 2, which includes the eerie Dark Woods, a teahouse garden, ponds, GrassAcre, and more.

FYI, if you’re close enough to visit, Jill and Bob open their garden to the public every third weekend from May through October, including this weekend. A suggested donation of $8 per adult (children are free) goes to the Friends of Bedrock Gardens public charity, which is working to transition Bedrock to a public garden.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.