Botanical Gardens of Solitude

Public gardens offer peace and beauty
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Bedrock Gardens is a 37-acre site in Lee that is a public oasis of art, horticulture and inspiration. Photo by Morgan Karanasios

In our new socially distanced world, there are different challenges to finding peaceful places. For a bit of outdoor relaxation, visit one of the state’s public gardens, each offering inspiration and time for a much-needed pause among natural beauty.

Located along the ocean in North Hampton, Fuller Gardens is a public botanical garden that was once part of the summer estate of Alvan T. Fuller in the historic district known as Little Boar’s Head in New Hampshire. The gardens feature the highest levels of horticulture, with hundreds of varieties of flowers that bloom all season long. Among the varieties are English perennial borders, a Japanese garden, a tropical conservatory and over 1,000 rose bushes.

“We have around 1,700 roses and between 150 to 170 varieties from all different classes,” says Garden Director Jamie Colen. “Old garden roses were known to bloom once a season, but with new breeding techniques, modern roses have the same shape and scent of the old roses, and repeat bloom throughout the summer. Guests are always surprised when they come in October and the roses are still blooming and producing even richer colors than they do in the summer,” says Colen. “People really love seeing roses all year round, especially during the unpredictable New England seasons.”

To add some spectacle to his summer estate, Fuller commissioned the Olmsted Firm in the late 1920s to design the formal Colonial Revival-style rose gardens. While the roses are still one of the garden’s biggest attractions, the Olmsted design of the entire property draws in a large number of garden enthusiasts.

The Olmsted designed “side garden,” located in the original front part of the garden nearest to the ocean, is laid out in a circular pattern of rose beds and grass pathways that surrounds a central antique wellhead.

“The garden design always takes people aback,” says Colen. He explains that it’s an “old-world design,” and was built in such a way to look much larger than it is. This false perspective is due to some clever planting. “All the plants at the far end are fine-leaved, so it gives the appearance that it is farther away,” says Colen. “It was created with an immense amount of care and attention to detail, and that same intentionality is still very apparent in the beautiful design that you see today.”

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A walk through Fuller Gardens promises peace, relaxation and solitude. Photo by Denise F. Brown

A private hedge and cedar fence with trained espaliered apple trees enclose the garden, and the carriage house (circa 1890) still provides a backdrop to the stunning array of formal gardens. The Japanese garden was part of the original design as well, and remains a sanctuary of serenity.

The variety brings its own excitability and mystery along with it, a staple of the garden that Colen believes is what makes it such a treasure. “We encourage people to come all season long because you never know what you will see,” he says. “After one perennial finishes, something is already taking its place right near it, so there is fresh color wherever you look. It’s like art and music — everyone likes a different form and one leads to another. The fluidity creates a restorative, peaceful and timeless experience, and reminds us that gardens have the power to bring joy when we need it the most.”

When it comes to variety and peace-filled experience, Fuller Gardens isn’t alone — Lee’s Bedrock Gardens integrates unusual botanical specimens and unique sculpture to create an inspiring landscape journey.

The 37-acre property was once a dairy farm, which the founders of Bedrock Gardens repurposed into a garden. For 30 years it remained private property, opening to the public on a limited basis seven years ago. This year marks the first time the garden will be open on a weekly basis with a new point of entry, parking lot and plant sales area, says Executive Director John Forti.

The garden includes many structural elements such as paths, an espaliered fence, architecturally interesting rocks, pergolas, fountains, water features, a Japanese teahouse, whimsical garden art and two miles of woodland trails. The beds also have a range of plant varieties and unusual specimens of perennials, trees and shrubs designed to immerse you into the relaxation benefits of being in nature.

“Every time you walk the grounds, your blood pressure goes down and you have a chance to unwind,” says Forti. “It is a peace-filled journey where you are able to go from room to room in an artful landscape, never knowing what you will see next. The art and plants play off of each other and you are constantly seeing new things, even if you work here every day.”

The garden was based on the principle that a garden needs to provide places to go, places to pause and rest, and interesting things to see along the way, says Forti. The three-quarter-mile circulation path connects each garden “room” with vistas along the way. Garden rooms are connected with broad paths, and are filled with interesting structures, unusual plants and captivating landscape design elements.

As you walk, you will discover a variety of special places to behold, like the Dark Woods with mysterious sculptural figures that linger between the dark pines, or the Wiggle Waggle, a 200-foot-long water channel planted with lotus and lilies that wiggles between the Spring House and CopTop, two structures both capped by antique skylights.

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Coleus, dahlia and dracaena at Bedrock Gardens. Photo by Morgan Karanasios

One of the best places to view the garden is the swing at the Swaleway, which has sculptures of balanced stones inspired by the cairns on the top of Mt. Washington, and stand like sentries to guide visitors through the fog.

Nearby you will find the unique Parterre and Barn Gardens. The formal Parterre Garden is enclosed by yew hedge. Follow the diamond-patterned bluestone path that leads to a 10-foot-high yew arch with a circular pool and fountain in the middle.

The Barn Garden around the corner includes the Wave, a stage for a “lineup” of little figures with their own large personalities. If you stay around long enough, you might also see one of the neighborhood guinea fowl roaming around the gardens and hedges.

While the entire property is a sight to be seen, one of the highlights of the garden experience is a stop by the Japanese teahouse. The teahouse is surrounded by rare perennials, a Japanese maple collection, waterfalls, and ponds that are home to salamanders that return each spring to lay their eggs. Each individual element adds to the visual whole — a large work of living art.

You are invited to bring your own picnic or preorder lunch to eat on the grounds on the weekends. At the end of the day, Forti has found that, when people are stressed or worn out, they are all searching for the same thing — serenity. “We are proud to be a respite to find peace in a chaotic world,” says Forti. “There is beauty, joy and solace here, and a bountiful amount of inspiration waiting for you to discover in these landscapes.”

Get There

Fuller Gardens
10 Willow Ave., North Hampton
(603) 964-5414,

Bedrock Gardens
19 High Rd., Lee
(603) 659-2993,

Click here for a guide to more public gardens around the state.

Categories: Home & Garden, Summer Roadtrips