There’s an old saw about grandchildren that goes, ‘if you haven’t seen them in a year, you won’t recognize them’. I think the same can be said of the best gardens. They continually evolve as they mature. We hadn’t been to Bedrock Gardens in (gulp) two years but, this past weekend, we carved out a beautiful Saturday to see what Jill Nooney and Bob Munger have been up to. The answer turns out to be ‘a lot’.
|The garden deliberately breaks|
design rules, but the effect is magical
To the best of my knowledge, Bedrock Gardens has no basis for comparison in New England. It is the idiosyncratic creation of two people who have transformed 35 acres of one-time dairy farm land in rural southeastern New Hampshire into a space that is equal parts intelligent horticulture and sheer whimsy, with an accent on the unexpected. It also an ‘art park’ – an expression I generally detest, but use here because it is a wholly accurate description. And it is a garden that is not afraid of shade. More than half of the property is heavily wooded, yet under the canopy of those tree lie some of Bedrock Gardens’ most beautiful and enchanting spaces.
Jill is what the brochure describes as the ‘horticultural and artistic force’ behind the garden. She designed the garden and largely chooses the plants for it. She also builds the art you see all around the place. And, ‘build’ is quite accurate. Much of her work involves taking industrial and farm machinery and reimagining it as sculpture. While I’ve included a few samples, you can peruse a more complete gallery here. Bob has the more prosaic responsibilities of maintenance, digging holes and moving rocks (although he is also credited with creating and executing several of the intricate stone walkways on the premises). He is definitely a Principal Undergardener.
|Double-click for a full screen view|
If I were to attempt to articulate the design philosophy that underlies Bedrock Gardens, it would go something like, “If you see a rule, break it.” The garden abounds in plant and color juxtapositions that force the viewer to reconsider his or her idea of what is ‘right’. Yet the overall effect is as glorious as anything you’ll encounter in, say, the New York Botanical Garden.
|A profusion of blue pots|
There are no fewer than 23 distinct gardens within the property. Seeing them all requires half a day and sturdy walking shoes. Truly appreciating them requires multiple visits. This is the kind of garden that invites you to frequently turn around and see where you’ve been. The perspective changes; sometimes subtly, other times wildly. There are also two major axes. A 900-foot-long one extends from a pair of thrones across a pond to an allée, a torii, and a spiral garden. An 850-foot-long one extends from a barn across an acre of red, green, and blue grasses to the aforementioned torii and terminating at a CD tree (don’t ask).
|A shrine to hay rakes|
The garden has evolved since our last visit. The ‘acrobats’ sculpture is now preceded and framed by the beginnings of a beech arch that will take another five years to make its statement. I do not recall seeing the ‘thrones’ on my past visit and the ‘Baxis’, a parallelogram-shaped arch is a stunning addition.
|More garden art|
Four years ago, Jill and Bob established a non-profit ‘Friends of Bedrock Gardens’ to begin a process to preserve the garden for future generations by converting the property to a public garden and cultural center. The project is apparently well underway. John Forti, who left his mark on Strawbery Banke and Elm Bank, was named Executive Director earlier this year.
Bedrock Garden will next be open in 2017 on September 16 and 17, and then one final time on Columbus Day weekend. In the phrasing of the Michelin guides, this is ‘worth a journey’.