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.

Garden magic and whimsy at Floramagoria: Portland Garden Bloggers Fling

As we entered the intriguingly named Floramagoria garden on the recent Portland Garden Bloggers Fling, thunder rumbled and raindrops pelted our group of 40 or so bloggers. The reasonable — and hungry — among us ran for the two covered pavilions with box lunches in hand. The die-hard photographers, however, saw the brief shower as an opportunity to get softly lit images with few people in them. You know which group I was in. Oh boy, did this garden deliver on wow moments, perfectly framed views, bold foliage, flower-power color, whimsy and naughty humor. Let me give you a rainy-day tour.

I’ll start with the most mouth-dropping view: the axis from the owners’ back door to the orange back wall. Poured concrete laid in geometric blocks widens and narrows, creating distinct spaces and slowing the foot and eye with inset beds like this grassy parterre…

…and a mosaic floral “rug.” Its colors reappear in the pumpkin-colored wall, turquoise pots and chairs, cobalt-glass fire pit, and golden and green flora.

The mosaic “rug” is a tapestry of flowers, leaves, and insects and an absolute work of art.

The enormous, mossy gunnera leaf is a Little and Lewis piece. (We saw another of these in the Lane Garden at the Seattle Fling.) In concert with bold-leaf, tropical plants like brugmansia, castor bean, and banana, not to mention a bamboo dining pavilion to the right, this area feels like an exotic garden carved out of jungle rain forest.

Temps were cool on this day, and one of the owners lit the fire pit when we arrived.

Like exotic gateposts flanking the entry to the fire pit patio, stone shrines on pedestals contain…baby heads! (What is it with baby heads these days? I saw a whole day care’s worth at Digs Inside & Out.) A mix of golden bog plants surrounds this shrine, including cattails and pitcher plants.

Carnivorous flora with questing mouths

The cross-axis running through the grassy parterre (shown in the top photo) creates a different effect, less tropical and more English-style perennial border. A covered deck, just visible at left, adjoins the house and provides a place to enjoy the garden even during the rainy months (or on summer days like this).

Gosh, which way to turn? Let’s take a closer look at the contemporary covered deck. Steel posts support a triangular metal roof, and a blue plexiglass wall provides shelter, privacy, and mood lighting.

A quick peek at the back: translucent, blue plexi panels admit light and reflect drooping conifers.

Wait — is that our Fling host, Scott of Rhone Street, manhandling a mannequin? Hmm, I guess what happens at the Fling doesn’t always stay at the Fling. But I am opting not to show the seating area of the covered deck, which was jam-packed with bloggers eating their lunches. Nope, no one wants to be photographed while chewing. Just over Scott’s shoulder…

…is a beautiful porch light — a bug with 3-D wings and antennae.

Another one. Aren’t these marvelous? Bugs are a decorative motif at Floramagoria.

As are gnomes. This one is a bit naughty.

Oh look — tentacles! I’m definitely detecting a Digs/JJ De Sousa influence here.

The view from the deck. Hefty bamboo poles, painted orange, add spiky structure and year-round color. Rudbeckia makes a cheery color echo.

Panning right, purples take over.

And here’s a wider view across the garden. That’s the tropical cabana at upper-left, which I’ll show you soon. Believe it or not, this garden is only 3 years old. The owners tore out their former, 10-year-old back garden in order to rework it with the help of designer Laura Crockett of Garden Diva Designs. That takes guts. I’d love to have seen before-and-after pics.

A metal-grate bench runs along the perimeter of the deck.

The deck overlooks a patio accessed via large glass doors in the living room.

A clean-lined metal arbor frames the view, and string lights create a party atmosphere, as does music piped through the garden. Can you imagine looking out at this view from your living room?

Looking slightly right

Painted-stucco seat walls define the patio and provide plenty of display space. More babies! More pitcher plants too.

Fiery coleus, in pots to match

In this longer view, you can really appreciate the magnitude of their potted-plant display.

Succulents and cacti in soft-blue pots are lined up along much of the wall, where the garden segues into a dry garden.

In the corner, terracotta pots add complementary orange, while chunks of slag glass continue the blue theme.

This is one way a collector can cut loose in a garden with a strong design: unify a collection with similar pots and display them en masse.

The dry garden starts on one side of the patio…

…and runs along the foundation.

An aloe in a pot to match

Spiky agave next to an olla

Turning to the left and looking down the path toward the side fence, I stopped to admire a tall Yucca rostrata. But what really grabbed me was another Little and Lewis piece (I think) by the fence.

Like an egg out of Alien, the “petals” of this floral-style container open to reveal pitcher plants tucked inside. The surrounding plants make up a stunning vignette.

More pitchers are planted in a spherical container.

And more yet

A Little and Lewis bench offers a spot to enjoy the scene.

But the star of this area is a Little and Lewis column-fountain centered in a terracotta raised pond, framed by a cobalt-blue wall. Shazam!

Vying for fabulousness is this focal-point pot in the center of the gravel garden. I have no idea what the plants are — but I LOVE them. Update: The plants are Melianthus underplanted with Begonia boliviensis. Thanks, Vanessa!

Notice the little pots of succulents and sea-green slag glass alternating around the base of the container.

In all its wide-view glory

Big moments like the focal-point pots, fountain, and cabanas may elicit the most oohs and aahs, but numerous, smaller details are what really add personality to Floramagoria, from pots tucked here and there…

…to fun tiles set in the paths…

…to plastic dinosaurs rampaging among the beetles and ants. Even with a collection of high-brow art like the Little and Lewis pieces, the gnomes and dinos indicate that the owners don’t take themselves or their garden too seriously.

It’s a place of discovery and delight.

A greenhouse gives the owners a place to overwinter their tender plants. But is there room for them all, I wonder?

During the warm, dry summer months, it’s a place to display a few treasures with the doors wide open. A working chandelier is dressed up with tillandsias tucked among the crystals.

I like this glass pyramid paired with steely blue eryngium.

Astrantia and Japanese forest grass, two Pacific NW plants I lust for

The back side of the cobalt wall is painted mossy green and hung with staghorn ferns.

An enormous Douglas fir or redwood (not sure which) puts this garden in deep shade. Hostas, ferns, and other shade plants complete the woodland look. Quirky art like a hanging UFO and Marcia Donahue “necklace” add personality.

Is this a birdhouse?

Colorful bug paver

You can enter the tropical pavilion, at left, from the shade garden.

A spacious seating and dining area is sheltered by a bamboo-framed roof. Over the table hangs a striking metal light fixture.

The hosts generously provided us with cookies and lemonade here.

Fun, fused-glass bugs crawl over chunky wooden spheres in one corner of the cabana.

Heading out through the tropical, colorful garden, I catch Barbara of bwisegardening snapping some shots too.

Behind the deck in the side garden is one of the funnier displays at Floramagoria: a wooden duck “diving” into a succulent-planted birdbath.

In the window of a rustic garden shed, a curious chicken peers out.

Inside, a tidy display

Bouquets in glass jars add a cheery note.

This is a happier phrase in Portland than in Austin, I think.

The rest of the side yard is devoted to beekeeping and edibles in stock tanks.

Glass bees on stakes surround a yellow beehive.

Out front, it’s another world entirely: naturalistic rather than formally designed, serene rather than quirky, green rather than colorful.

It’s very beautiful too, of course, but you’d never know what awaits you in back.

Every space is gardened up, including this side strip along the driveway.

A modest but patriotic front entry and grilling station

I adored the metal art found throughout the garden.

This metal ribbon reminds me of Scott’s metal pieces at Rhone Street Gardens.

One last glimpse of a colorful vignette from the back garden, and it’s time to end this lengthy virtual tour. Floramagoria was one of my very favorite gardens on the Portland Fling, full of personality, color, wit, and strong design of both plants and hardscape.

Up next: The surprisingly xeric, experimental, and contemporary garden of John Kuzma. For a look back at the inviting, art-filled Dancing Ladies Garden of Linda Ernst, click here.

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