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.

Love just around the bend at Bella Madrona: Portland Garden Bloggers Fling

For our final tour on the Garden Bloggers Fling in Portland last month, our bus stopped on a rural highway and deposited us in a field with a few pieces of rusty farming equipment strewn about. Not sure what to expect, I walked through open gates adorned with the garden’s name, Bella Madrona. Suddenly a pulsing beat and falsetto vocals filled the air. The disco anthem “Stayin’ Alive” was playing throughout the garden via hidden speakers. This was going to be a party!

A dramatic red and black garden greeted us as we entered.

Va-va-voom reds

Beech hedges, like arched Gothic columns, framed the space, creating doorways and windows, while this black pot sat like a cauldron atop a mossy pedestal.

A mysterious and romantic mood was set.

A concrete dolphin sporting a red crystal on its head? Why not?

Crocosmia and red-tinged banana leaves, along with mossy chairs, make for a lost-in-the-jungle vibe.

Intimate seating areas like this appear throughout the 5-acre garden, amid slightly overgrown, romantically tangled gardens.

Paths branch off in different directions, curving around hedges and shrubs so that you can’t tell what’s ahead. Randomly selecting the left-branching path, I came across a barn-like, ivy-cloaked guest house. Old wash buckets decorate the side.

On the porch, all manner of cast-off items are turned into strange and spooky still lifes.

Following the path onward, I paused to admire these stars set in the gravel. As soon as I got home I dug some old metal stars out of my garage and set them in one of my paths.

At the base of some steps, a series of monumental, angular arbors appeared, beckoning one downhill and into the woods.

I did not heed their call, tempted as I was by another path leading elsewhere, and I never made it back to this area in my 2-hour wanderings. How I wish I had! It led to an eerie gnome garden and high-flying swing that others have blogged about.

Instead, I walked this way, drawn by a small seating area atop a curved double stair backed by a doorway hedge.

Looking through from the other side

The terracing contained a dripping fountain of metal pipes jutting out of the rocks, which fed a small pool.

Just beyond that, a larger gathering space appeared, as well as “waterfall” steps leading up past billowing white hydrangeas. You can’t really see it in this photo, but a terraced stream runs downhill alongside the path. Heading upward and around the bend…

…my heart gave a start as I peeked beneath low-hanging branches to see what a glimmer of blue might be. I find this vignette creepily fascinating. It’s like the garden is populated with otherworldly characters that come to life after dark.

But although the sun was low in the sky, it was still light, and Aretha Franklin was belting out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” over the speakers. I couldn’t be too spooked. Soon I came upon a tousled, English-style border, and all eeriness disappeared.

Spiky eryngium — love!

Tall pedestals along the back of the border support potted ‘Color Guard’ yuccas and add drama to the scene.

The columns themselves are set in planters made of steel rings.

More flower-border goodness

And more. I love the rich colors.

I watched a hummingbird working the border for some time and caught one blurred image.

The other side of the border was intriguing also, with a spiky, orange-tinged Solanum pyracanthum in front of a tiered metal fountain. I once tried to talk Loree of Danger Garden into this plant at Cistus Nursery. “But you need it. It’s dangerous!”

Speaking of whom, there’s Loree with Peter, The Outlaw Gardener, who’s giving me a this-is-the-life wave.

And here’s Loree again, one of our incredibly organized, generous, and welcoming Fling hosts.

Bella Madrona is the 34-year-old creation of two retired physicians, Geof Beasley and Jim Sampson. Their magical garden is regularly the site of fundraising benefits, and the band Pink Martini, which has performed here, wrote “The Gardens of Sampson and Beasley” about it. Stacks of Pink Martini’s CD Hang On Little Tomato, which contain the song, were generously donated to our group by the band when they heard we would be visiting the garden.

This skeleton affixed to the front of a truck in the driveway is perhaps a nod to the owners’ former profession? It reminded me of a similar hood ornament at Wamboldtopia at the Asheville Fling in 2012. Actually, the whole garden bears a certain resemblance to Wamboldtopia, especially in its mysteriously magical mood and cast-off-object artistry.

Wandering past the front of the house, I came across a living bottle tree.

Chunks of glass were stuck in the folds of its massive trunk, reminding me of the pig’s teeth in the wych elm of Howards End.

A carved, wooden figure wearing a tin hat, with a piercing, blue-eyed gaze, emerged from a swath of ferns.

Here’s a striking use for a steel pipe remnant.

And a wire sphere

Heading back down into the main gardens I entered a room bordered by a randomly crennelated hedge — Piet Oudolf meets Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

Secret gardens at every turn

And inviting, wandering paths…

…full of mystery…

…and beauty…

…and “danger”…

…and romance.

A cracked, hollow sphere appears, egg-like, to hatch an ornamental grass. I’m fairly certain this is a Little and Lewis piece.

How could anyone resist paths that beckon you on with curves and hidden rooms ahead?

What lies around the bend?

A boulder with glass horns and a spot to sit with a friend and enjoy the view…

…surrounded only by grasses and conifers.

A few steps down from the chairs and table…

…I came upon a golden garden around sunset.

It glowed with gold and chartreuse foliage. I felt I’d stepped into King Midas’s garden.

Continuing on, I encountered a pair of red chairs enclosed by tall…thistles?

In yet another small clearing, a sundial or clock made of chains, round pavers, and straight sections of slate reminded me that it was getting late.

Heading back, I was enchanted to find a small patio paved with bottoms-up wine bottles. I wonder where they get all these bottles?

Oh, never mind. Here’s a beautiful bouquet on a table of drinks and food set up for our group on the main lawn.

Our group of 80 bloggers, plus one very enthusiastic bus driver, gathered here for refreshments and conversation…

…sitting with friends for a while before drifting away to explore the winding paths of Bella Madrona.

What a magically wonderful way to end the Fling.

My thanks to the owners of Bella Madrona and all the other gardens for welcoming us so warmly into your delightful creations. And huge applause and congratulations to the Portland Fling planning committee — Scott Weber at Rhone Street Gardens, Loree Bohl at Danger Garden, Heather Tucker at Just a Girl with a Hammer, Jane Howell-Finch at MulchMaid, and Ann Amato-Zorich at Amateur Bot-ann-ist — for putting together such an incredible event. Thank you, thank you!

Up next: A pre-Fling drive out to the scenic, wild Columbia River Gorge and then to Cannon Beach. For a look back at the foliage-rich, xeric garden of John Kuzma, click here.

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