For 25 years, Jill Nooney and Bob Munger have been transforming their 35-acre property into a garden unlike any other, and from the plants and trees that color the landscape to the sculptures that rise up among them, Bedrock Gardens remains both a labor of love and a work in progress.
Nooney, a sculptor, landscape architect and avid gardener, and her husband, Munger, a retired doctor, came to the area in 1980 when Nooney took a job with Phillips Exeter Academy. Though they rented at first, Nooney said she kept driving by the place where she really wanted to live. Unfortunately, it wasn't on the market, but that didn't stop her.
“One day I just knocked on the door and asked the woman if I could buy her land,” she said. Turns out, the woman, who was elderly, was happy to place her property in Nooney's hands, and Bedrock Gardens was born.
The property includes lots of land, a tea house where Nooney and Munger sleep, and a barn that serves as her studio where she and a team of welders twist and bend and form metal into fascinating sculptures both diminutive and massive.
Working with wood, iron, granite and other materials, Nooney brings a focus to her gardens that is necessary, she said, in order to make them unique.
“Plants can make a plus, but art can put the 'there' there,” she said. “Art brands a spot as unique, focuses the eye, and slows people down so that they can appreciate what's around them. It's something that gives the experience of being in a garden a different element.”
Nooney said that she had her first garden at age 10, Amade from plants she carefully pulled out of the woods and planted. Today, she is surrounded by an incredible array of trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials, grouped in clusters to form different spaces throughout the property. She's able to maintain all with the help of her husband.
“I'm restless and I have a million ideas,” she said, “but I happened to have married a guy who said if I can think it up, he can make it happen. He's up for anything.”
Her passion, she said, is in the studio, where she takes the metal she finds at her favorite scrap yards, and makes it into sculptures that range from serious to serene to whimsical. She creates diminutive ballerinas that float gracefully on pointed toes and large, booming gongs. City skylines, looming towers, and draping archways are all part of her repertoire. Her art can be seen at Southern New Hampshire University and has also been installed in private homes.
Nooney said she heads for the studio when the spirit moves her and puts on paper the images she sees in her mind, and translates that vision for her welders, experienced professionals who know how to bind metal quickly and skillfully.
But she's always drawn back to the garden, which has its own demands.
“The garden has its own sort of rhythm,” she said. “You have to keep up with it or it gets out of control.”
Right now, Nooney is looking for a way to turn Bedrock Gardens into a public space, but in order to do so, she trying to find an endowment to help handle the maintenance of the landscape.
“We're at the point where we no longer want to keep this all to ourselves,” she said. “We want to share it with the public, so we're looking for a way to do that.”
Bedrock Gardens is open to the public a few times a year, including an upcoming open house on Saturday, Sept. 15, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Private tours can also be arranged.
For more information visit www.finegarden.com