Gardener Portrait: Jill Nooney

I, for one, think gardeners are the most curious people.  Young or old, they never cease to wonder about the natural world around them, and this curiosity infects so many aspects of their lives, especially in the arts: drawing, painting, sculpture, literature, cuisine. Often when asked about when they first became aware of this curiosity, they recount tales of childhood adventures playing in the woods, building dams in streams, making potions from wild berries and seeking out foraged foods.

With this in mind, please meet Jill Nooney:  a gardener, sculptor, and landscape designer, she is one of the most curious plantswomen we know.  And to confirm that she’s a renaissance woman, I might add that she has maintained a private practice of psychotherapy for the past 30 years, to ensure she gets sometime to sit down every week. When I first visited her Bedrock Gardens in Lee, New Hampshire, I was astonished and humbled. This 30 acre property, acquired in 1987, is a collaboration of the vision and hard work of Jill and her husband Bob Munger.  (Jill gets top billing but Bob is the ultimate “man behind the scenes”.) The Gardens (are you ready?) consist of a parterre formal garden with pool, a 3/4 acre wildlife pond with bridge, a 400 foot allée, a pinetum, a rock garden, a 1/2 acre ornamental grass ‘painting’, various fountains and water features, several pergolas and shelters, and the many fantastic sculptures that Jill creates from salvaged farm equipment. There?s more, but I didn’t want to overwhelm you.

a view to the barn at Bedrock Gardens

Jill grew up in a humble 18c farmhouse on 7 wooded acres in what was then rural northern New Jersey. One of her childhood?s clearest memories was an almost religious experience. She found herself lying on earth softly carpeted with fallen petals under an apple and pear tree. At the same time, she realized she was gazing up into branches still laden with the pink and white blossoms.  For Jill, this was a totally magical experience. She was about 10 years old when she remembers creating her first garden. Jill and her mother foraged for plants in the nearby woods and along the roadside. They brought home a collection of birch seedlings, moss and an assortment of rocks that sparkled and these were the ingredients for her first creation.  She remembers planning escapes from everyday chores to visit her little sanctuary, bringing a blanket to lie upon, admire and daydream.

'Odalisque', a sculpture by Jill Nooney

‘Odalisque’, a sculpture by Jill Nooney

Jill likes to make things, and has her whole life: pottery, wood carvings, bookbinding, quilts, drawings. When her own garden turned middle age she began making sculptures to grace the plantings.  Since Bedrock Gardens was originally a working 18c farmstead, the idea of using old farm implements and artifacts to create sculpture was a natural conclusion… from the farm, then back to the garden. Jill scouted for materials and created one a kind pieces which took form as arches, wall pieces, and containers, as well as small and large sculptures, which can be both whimsical and strikingly bold. Many of her pieces are for sale and can be seen at her website http://www.finegarden.com/

Love the blue tree!

Like most lifelong gardeners, Jill has gone through many plant obsessions: perennials, unusual annuals, dwarf conifers. They all grace beds at Bedrock Gardens.  Her years of experience have steered her away from invasives, and she shies away from plants dependent on staking, use of pesticides and lots of irrigation (hint: this means lower maintenance besides being ecological).  Jill’s adventurous spirit has always been spurred on by her “act now, think later” rationale and this has often allowed her to delight in unexpected results.  So what happens if an impulsive plant purchase turns out to be a space “waster”. Out it goes, or as our mutual plant friend, the talented Gary Koller says, “Plants need to earn their spot.”

So have I piqued your interest about Jill and her garden? You can visit, and you absolutely should. Check out the open garden dates on the Bedrock Garden website http://www.bedrockgardens.org/

3 thoughts on “Gardener Portrait: Jill Nooney”

  1. Hi Kathy,
    I love getting all your e-mails, foreplay ideas, and hearing about the interesting people you know and places to explore. You always get my juices flowing and get me excited about the upcoming growing season.
    Thanks,
    Debby G.

  2. My husband and I visited Bedrock Garden last month, and we were amazed. It is a rare combination of wonderful gardening and art/sculpture. I agree that the experience was humbling. Debra

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