A Walk on the Wild Side


By Joan Butler

My husband and I are avid hikers and campers. We love hiking on trails and woodland paths, and along streams and lakes. Another love is gardening. But gardening is a bit of a curated affair, whereas hiking offers us the chance to connect to the wild world, and take in the beauty and complexity of life around us. 

The New England landscape is uniquely beautiful in every season:  from the frosted silences of winter, to the exuberance of spring, to the lushness of summer. Autumn and late summer have their own special charm, with a gentler, but no less beautiful, aspect. 


Meadows and fields of goldenrod and other wildflowers staged beneath a clear blue sky, with the angle of the sun low, are breathtaking. Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) is stunning, and is a workhorse throughout the growing season, typical of many of our native plants. Its foliage feeds a variety of butterfly and moth larvae and its bright flowers (a textural delight!) are an important food source for migrating Monarchs and dozens of pollinators.

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Late summer is the season for the beautiful blooms of asters. Most asters are sun-lovers, but the white woods aster (Eurybia divaricata) is unusual, growing in shade in dry open woods. It is very tough and very showy, with dark stems and white flowers. It readily reseeds, creating stands of misty white in the woods.

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Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) may look like a fungus, but it’s not. It is a small white herbaceous perennial with an interesting survival strategy. Lacking green pigment, it is unable to photosynthesize (produce food). It survives by sapping nutrients and carbohydrates from tree roots using an intermediary: myccorhizal fungi. Also called Ghost Pipe, it can be found rising through leaf litter on the forest floor.

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The bright flowers of Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) are noticeable from a distance, and their form certainly references their common name. Its pink spires are a late-season source of food for butterflies and other insects. This suckering native shrub can be found basking in the sun in moist soil near lakes and streams.


Nearby, you may also find the unusual flowers of white turtlehead (Chelone glabra). Easy to see how it got its common name! Its primary pollinators are bumblebees strong enough to pry open the two-lipped corolla in order to reach the pollen and nectar inside. And they really have to work at it: a bumblebee I recently watched made numerous attempts and false starts before it got the hang of it. And I have to mention that exiting seemed a challenge, too! Turtlehead has a particularly important eco-function as a primary larval host plant of the Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly.


Another lover of moist conditions is cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Ahh…that brilliant red! It draws us in like a magnet. The long tubular flower form is difficult for most insects to navigate, but the flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds, hummingbird moths and butterflies. 

These are just a tiny sampling of the fascinating, beautiful plants to be found in our woodlands, meadows and lowlands. Initially attracted by their beauty or color or location, I eventually come to marvel at the overall picture: the inter-relatedness of life around us. Just by taking a walk on the wild side.

New Hampshire's Garden of Whimsical Sculptures

Photo courtesy of Bedrock Gardens

Photo courtesy of Bedrock Gardens

Bedrock Gardens is a 20-acre garden that Carol Stocker of the Boston Globe aptly described as a “cross between Sissinghurst and the Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden.” In 1980 Bob Munger and Jill Nooney purchased this former dairy farm and began a 30-year transformation of the landscape into a collection of themed garden rooms enlivened by whimsical sculptures.


Nooney is a practicing clinical social worker, as well as an artist and graduate of the Radcliffe Institute Landscape Design program. She uses old farm equipment and repurposed metal to create a variety of abstract sculptures, arches, arbors, water features and “creatures” inspired by nature and her imagination. Munger is a retired doctor and a lifelong tinkerer. Nooney is the garden’s visionary artist and “problem maker.” He is the “problem solver,” the implementer of those visions, including beautifully patterned walkways and patios, and hydraulics for water features.


Nooney and Munger created their garden as a journey with “places to go, places to pause and rest and interesting things to see along the way.” Nearly two-dozen “points of interest,” many with humorous names, are connected by paths that wind through garden rooms, around ponds, and through woodlands.


Closest to the house, a yew hedge encloses a formal parterre planted with white flowers, with a diamond patterned bluestone path and a circular pool and fountain. The Straight and Narrow garden features a cobbled-edged path that runs between beds of native trees, shrubs, and perennials. The Swaleway’s woodland wildflowers welcome spring amidst towers of balanced stones. The Garish Garden’s playful sculptures fit in with flowers in flaming reds and oranges and trees and shrubs with bright gold foliage.


Bedrock Gardens is full of new ideas for gardeners as well as new takes on classic garden forms. The Wiggle Waggle is a wavy 200-foot long water channel, planted with lotus and water lilies. The Spiral Garden is a “twist” on a traditional maze garden, with twirling roof ventilators on spiral stands that emphasize the Fibonacci-inspired paving laid in a moss floor. Grass Acre is a “painting” of Switchgrass, Hakone Grass, and Little Blue Stem, anchored by a metal sculpture that evokes a mountain range. The Dark Woods is a grove of dead trees accented with sculptural ghosts, spiders, and other scary creatures. The Wave is a series of 26 small metal characters on pedestals backed by a tall arborvitae hedge. Several ponds and many more gardens await the visitor.


Walking through the gardens is a delightful journey. There are many places to sit and enjoy a vista or a sculpture along the way. The Japanese garden and Tea House offer quiet repose in the woods, and the two thrones at the Termi at the far end of the large pond offer a stunning view along the 900-foot axis through the garden. Nooney has designed the garden with an artist’s eye and her strategic placement of focal points and vistas takes classical garden design concepts into a contemporary setting.


Nooney and Munger want to preserve the garden for future generations and are working with Friends of Bedrock Gardens and new executive director John Forti to transition the property into a public garden.


Bedrock Gardens will close out the 2017 season with a special fundraising Fairy House and Hobbit House Festival Weekend, October 7-9, 11 am to 3 pm. Tracy Kane, award-winning Fairy Houses author, www.fairyhouses.com, will read from her books. Visitors can stroll along a Fairy and Hobbit House Trail past houses created by gardeners, artists, and children, and take time to make their own house out of natural materials provided. Chili, books, whimsical handmade creations and fairy fare will be for sale. The entire garden will be available for touring.


Bedrock Gardens, 45 High Rd., Lee, NH 03861, (603) 659-2993, bedrockgardens.org

Excerpted from The Garden Tourist, 120 Destination Gardens and Nurseries in the Northeast by Jana Milbocker