FIELD TRIP: BEDROCK GARDENS, LEE, NH

On a lovely Tuesday a few weeks ago, 16 May, we attended the members’ opening day at Bedrock Gardens in Lee, NH, a sprawling space “organized around the concept of a journey. … The tension between movement and stillness is one of the animating features of the design.” Filled with unusual collector plants (many originally found in Asia) and some native plants, sculptures made from metal, ceramic, glass, and wood, as well as other whimsical art, and more than 20 “garden rooms” that range from “playful to contemplative,” the Gardens are the brainchild of artist/psychologist Jill Nooney and husband gardener/physician Bob Munger; just this year the couple passed over ownership to the non-profit Friends of Bedrock Garden, formed in 2013.

We’ve been going to the gardens for about eight years, since 2015, and every visit — depending on season, weather, plantings, our moods — is different but always both relaxing and inspiring. I’ve posted about previous visits in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Here’s what we encountered on this May day, when the high temperature in Lee was 78°F.

First, at The Welcome Court, John Forti, their executive director since 2017, was engaging with visitors before his garden tour began. Previously, Forti was chief curator of historic gardens and landscapes at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH, and from 2014 to 2017 was director of horticulture and education at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in Wellesley, MA (I saw him in that capacity at the Boston Flower Show in March 2017). My permaculture group read his book The Heirloom Gardener: Traditional Plants and Skills for the Modern World (2021), which was conversational and relaxing to read and discuss.

(Forti is the one in black with a beard and longish hair)

Nearby was the garden fairy, with a table of children’s books and other items.

We walked the forest bathing path, where we saw one patch of phlox and a good dog sitting on a bench

toward the Gothic Arbor of golden beeches

and Dylan’s Dell, beside the pond.

The Termi, encircled by Seven Sons trees, had changed since we last visited. Instead of lions, which had been moved elsewhere, there are now pigs standing guard.

The pond, filled with rainwater, was much the same as always. It’s largely unmanaged.

Nearby, art and a dogwood tree.

And this lovely family we always greet.

Hi-Ho Silver, a reassembled horse skeleton (bones found on the property) hanging from the trees.

Onward toward the Dark Woods, made even more atmospheric than usual by limbs hanging down at the entrance. Later, while we were on the garden tour, Forti noticed them and called someone to cut them. I guess they did pose a risk to visitors but they looked the part. (You can see them in the first photo if you enlarge it.)

Exiting the Dark Woods led us toward The Baxis, with beds of fountain grass (just begun growing for the season), smokebush, and winterberry around a pergola, as well as an Inukshuk grinding wheel sculpture a little ways off.

Nearby, the Torii, a Japanese-style welcome gate; it’s the midpoint of the central and perpendicular axes that cross the property. The allée is lined with Chinese fringe trees (Chionanthus retusus).

In the same area was a magnolia tree with lovely pink and white flowers.

We enjoy the Spiral Gardens, repurposed roof ventilators spiralled around a simple spiral path, with masses of Solomon’s seal plantings.

I especially like the shade gardens and friends (Swaleway, Funnel Gardens, Straight & Narrow, Barn Gardens), because I have a lot of shade in my own garden and because there is always something interesting — more than one something — here.

These eye-catching oriental poppies were abundant throughout the gardens, with many in bloom.

Another poppy, a Japanese wood poppy (Glaucidium palmatum), and some Solomon seal.

I was taken with this dainty geranium, which reminds me of a ‘Mourning Widow’ variety I have, but mine lacks the variegated striking foliage.

The Chinese mayapples (Podophyllum pleianthum) are certainly unusual looking.

I don’t think I had ever noticed this balm-leaved archangel (Lamium orvala) previously. I had to ask iNaturalist what it was.

Had no idea what this was either, but apparently (thanks iNat) it’s upright wild ginger (Saruma henryi).

Another one that baffled me, and I can’t recall if it was in the Swaleway or the sort of perennial/edible garden they’ve recently been creating. It’s, I believe, tuberous Jerusalem sage (Phlomis tuberosa). Its texture is swoon-worthy.

This is a shredded umbrella plant (Syneilesis aconitifolia). It’s a member of the aster family, native to hillside forest margins and slopes in China, Korea, Japan, and eastern Russia.

Here are a few that I recognised easily, the same plants or similar to plants I’ve had in my own gardens or seen on trails.

Some art.

A peek-a-boo view of the Parterre Garden, which visitors could once walk through (now it’s private).

A few more images from this part of the Gardens.

And now to the Garish Garden — another favourite, but at its most garish gorgeous in late summer — and the Wiggle Waggle water channel alongside it, and the perennial/edible garden that doesn’t seem to have an official name yet.

This ninebark is quite stunning.

I liked this fading daffodil bloom.

Giant rhubarb (Gunnera manicata) never fails to get noticed. It’s a species I first noticed at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, over 20 years ago.

Garish can mean bright or richly coloured; presented too grandly or prominently, or in a way that’s exaggerated and dramatic; brazen or flashy in nature; so colourful as to be in bad taste. I love how “in your face” — how swanky, tawdry, jazzy, splashy, glaring, gaudy, and downright razzle-dazzle — this garden can look from July to October. Right now, while it’s gathering OTT energy, it’s subtle. I give you … the simmering Garish Garden.

Just for fun, here’s a hot shot from 25 August 2021.

Counterpoint to the Garish Garden is the Wiggle Waggle, a curving stretch of water that will soon be filled with lilypads and lotuses.

ConeTown, home to about 70 conifers, provides a green respite from garish, though the many textures, shapes, and scents are stimulating in their own way.

Now we head to another favourite area, the Shrubaria, Tea House, and Petit Pond, a shady haven for human and amphibian alike.

While we’re here, I want to highlight another favourite plant of mine, the epimedium, or barrenwort, which originates mostly in China. They are a genus of about 70 species, and both the plants and the flowers are inconspicuous except when seen in large masses.

Bedrock Gardens is rife with epimediums that are found, if you’re stanning like I was, throughout many of the garden rooms on the property; they’ve recently also been planting a bunch of them near the Petit Pond, which should look amazing in a few years. Here are a few of the epimediums I photographed in the Gardens in mid-May. I don’t know the species names for these.

I’ll end with some landscape photos and some student art on display while we were there.

the Grass Acre, looking ungrassy in mid-May
the Straight & Narrow
I like the shades of green together

Did I mention that there were birds? A lot of birdsong filling the spring air with melody, sass, and longing. Here are 25 or so of those we (Merlin and we) heard, and we also saw several bluebirds.

If you’re in New England, check out Bedrock Gardens! It’s different with every season and every change of weather and you’re almost bound to find something you weren’t expecting.

“REAP THE PERPETUAL HARVEST OF THE QUIET EYE”

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