Walking Wentworth

From ice age remnants to Japanese gardens

Shin-Boku Nursery in Wentworth

Photo by Stillman Rogers

It was a search for New Hampshire’s biggest potholes that took us to Wentworth. That may not seem like a superlative worth vying for, but these are not the kind of pothole you try to avoid on March roads. They are the kind you hike to in May.

Glacial potholes were created during the last ice age by melting glacier waterfalls that bored into the underlying bedrock. As the massive ice sheet retreated, it created a lot of water. Rivers carried sand, stones and debris that the glacier had accumulated as it scraped its way south. Where the rivers dropped, this debris collected in whirlpools at the bases of the mighty waterfalls, scouring away at the granite beneath. The rocks and sand in the swirling waters carved round holes that look as though they had been cut out by a giant ice cream scoop.

Elsewhere in the state, these potholes are found in rivers — Sculptured Rocks in Groton, The Basin in Franconia Notch and North Woodstock’s Lost River Gorge are well-known examples. But the potholes at Plummer’s Ledge in Wentworth are on dry land — they’re located on a hillside some distance above a small stream. The waterfall that carved them is long gone, leaving no riverbed in view.

It wasn’t easy to find the trail to these potholes. The sign at the edge of Buffalo Road is not right alongside the road, and it’s overgrown with foliage. Coming from Route 25, we missed it entirely. When we turned around at an unpaved road to the left and drove slowly back toward the bridge, we eventually spotted it at the edge of the woods. Once found, the trail is easy enough to follow, as it parallels the road along a steep hillside. The trail leads past the three largest potholes (one half-filled with water) at the base of low cliffs. Several more small potholes hide nearby, which are harder to find as fallen leaves and undergrowth have begun to cover them.

From this wild and overgrown hillside sculpted by nature, we drove to a scene carefully sculpted and arranged by human hands. Wentworth is not where you would expect to find a serenely beautiful Japanese garden, nor would you anticipate the size of the nursery of bonsai trees that accompanies it. These are not the miniature trees in dishes that we normally associate with bonsai. These are yard-sized bonsai trees for landscaping, and, to display how they are used, Shin-Boku Nursery owners Deb and Palmer Koelb have created a strolling garden near the entrance to the nursery.

Here, the public is welcome to follow the paths among perfectly trained bonsai, Japanese stone lanterns and carefully chosen rocks from the Koelbs’ woods and fields. Stepping-stones lead over low berms and onto stone bridges that cross flat “pools” of crushed white marble, reminiscent of a Zen sand garden, but less fussy. A bench at one end, beside a 20-foot bonsai tree, makes a good place to sit and enjoy the serene garden landscape. We’re only reminded where we really are by the sight of Belted Galloways grazing on the hillside meadow above the garden.

Below, visitors can see rows and rows of conifers trained in the shapes characteristic of bonsai. Weeping hemlocks cascade almost to the ground, and all manner of bristly-needled evergreen varieties are being trimmed and guided into traditional bonsai forms. Beyond, fully formed bonsai trees stand in huge containers, ready for transplanting into clients’ gardens. Some of the trees are more than 80 years old.

After seeing nature’s sculptures and these artfully sculpted trees, we found another form of sculpture in Wentworth. On Route 25 near the center of town, the talented Larry Bixby carves large tree segments into native birds and animals. When we stopped, he was putting the fine touches on the face of an owl as part of his latest project: a wooden bench with a pair of delicately rendered owls perched on each armrest. Bixby does the expected bears, but the finesse of his work lifts chainsaw carving into a fine art.

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