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Bedrock Gardens, a safe haven of beauty

Here you’ll find 'the ridiculous and the sublime combined’

This summer is the first season Bedrock Gardens is operating as a nonprofit public garden.
This summer is the first season Bedrock Gardens is operating as a nonprofit public garden.Pamela Wright for The Boston Globe

LEE, N.H. — There are some places that are so beautifully unexpected that being in them makes you inhale deeply and smile: All is well with the world. That’s just how we feel about Bedrock Gardens. Located on a former 1700s dairy farm in Lee, N.H., they were created by founders Jill Nooney and Bob Munger, who designed the landscapes to showcase Nooney’s wonderful and often whimsical sculptures. This summer is the first season operating as a nonprofit public garden, a true gift to the community and a worth-the-drive New England destination, filled with artwork, rare plants, water features, and a good dose of humor.

“Some parts of the garden are elegant and artful, and some parts are so crazy and fun — the ridiculous and the sublime combined in a unique garden excursion,” says executive director John Forti. Forti, a nationally-recognized garden historian, has served as the director of horticulture for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, Curator of Historic Landscapes for Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, N.H., and horticulturist for Plimoth Plantation Museum. And still, “I’ve seen dozens of new plants here, rare and unusual botanicals I’ve never seen before,” he says.

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The garden contains 23 areas spread over 37 acres, linked with paths. “It’s a journey,” Forti says, “Each area has a different mood, fragrance, and color.”

Benches, chairs, and tables are tucked into quiet spots at Bedrock Gardens.
Benches, chairs, and tables are tucked into quiet spots at Bedrock Gardens.Pamela Wright for The Boston Globe

We entered the garden through a large metal arch, designed by Nooney, into a shady woodland, lined with old stone walls. We followed the path through a Gothic arch made of 11 steel arches, draped in golden beech trees, leading to a wildlife pond. Two teak thrones sit at one end of the pond; at the other end is an arched bridge and bench, providing a spot to relax and linger.

We moved through the Dark Woods, an old pine forest filled with fairy-like creations, and then through a large torii arch and a long allée of fringe trees. There’s a spiral garden, perennial beds, a small parterre garden with a pond and fountain, and the barn garden, lined with a towering hedge, and a wall of 26 small sculptured metal people, made from old farm elements, tools, and scrap pieces. From here, we had long views into GrassAcre, with a variety of swaying grasses. “The grasses just wave in the breeze, under a vast open sky,” says Forti. “It’s meant to read like an abstract painting.”

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The landscapes at Bedrock Gardens often showcase Jill Nooney’s wonderful and often whimsical sculptures.
The landscapes at Bedrock Gardens often showcase Jill Nooney’s wonderful and often whimsical sculptures.Pamela Wright for The Boston Globe

We continued on past a 100-foot Belgian fence made with espaliered apple trees, and along the Wiggle Waggle, a 200-foot water channel planted with lotus and lilies. Everywhere throughout the gardens are Nooney’s sculptures and artwork, along with benches, chairs, and tables tucked into quiet spots, inviting us to dawdle and take in the pretty views.

Our journey ended at the Tea House and Petit Pond, with cascades and small ponds, and a path leading to a Buddha statue sitting under a giant, tall metal halo. As we exited, we noticed a small group of women enjoying a picnic lunch. “We see people out here all the time just relaxing, or reading books, or families in conversation,” says Forti. “We’re all so hungry right now for safe havens.”

And this is a gorgeous one.

603-659-2993, www.bedrockgardens.org; open Tues.-Thurs. and the first and third weekends; $10 suggested donation, under 13 free. Guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m., limited to 10 people, first-come, first served.

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Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com