A Garden's Journey
Sometimes gardens lead the way, as Nettie and Mark Rynearson have discovered on North Uncanoonuc Mountain in southern New Hampshire.
Transformations are the norm for gardens. The ones at what used to be Uncanoonuc Mountain Perennials are no exception.
Founded almost forty years ago, by Annette “Nettie” Rynearson, the nursery has now become The Gardens at Uncanoonuc Mountain, a venue for weddings and special events. These beautifully designed and cultivated gardens are a co-venture for Nettie with Alyssa Van Guilder, founder and creative director of Apotheca Flowers in downtown Goffstown. “When I first saw Alyssa’s work, I thought, ‘Oh, this is someone who knows how to arrange flowers,’” Nettie says. “I recognized her genius right away.”
And, with the management of the nursery behind her, Nettie has returned to her first calling: “Now I get to garden again.”
However, her wealth of horticultural information for gardeners in northern New England and beyond remains accessible online at uncanoonucmt.com. Her plant guidelines and gardening tips are written in such a direct, practical and warm style that seasoned gardeners appreciate her clear authority while novice gardeners take heart.
Laying the groundwork
‘Taplow Blue’ globe thistle can reach up to five feet tall and requires well-drained soil.
To begin, Nettie came from a family of gardeners. “They all grew food and flowers,” says Nettie, who was born in Maine and lived all over New England, before heading off to the University of Maine. While in college, she spent four summers gardening for families in South Harpswell, Maine. That’s when she realized that she’d found her calling. She transferred to Cornell University and there met her future husband, Mark, in pomology class (the study of tree fruits). With degrees in hand—Mark’s in landscape architecture, and Nettie’s in horticulture—they headed to New Hampshire. Soon, Nettie began shopping for a site to develop her nursery.
“I looked for about six months,” Nettie says. “We needed a field, and some water or the ability to have water. New Hampshire is heavily forested and finding a property was harder than you might think.”
The property on Mountain Road in Goffstown rests on the southern slope of North Uncanoonuc Mountain. Once a gravel pit, the property had a two-acre tillable field, an old sugar maple and a big pasture pine. There was a shallow well, and the fifteen-acre parcel was surrounded by Goffstown watershed land. Plus, there was an unfinished workshop, an empty thirty-foot-by-sixty-foot box.
“We moved right in and camped out,” Nettie says. “We just went right at it, and things didn’t stop. And that’s been the fun of it. We built the house and the gardens around it ourselves, and managed to stay married. We even raised two beautiful children who survived us and the chaos of construction.”
When Mark talks about how the display gardens developed, his approach is methodical and thoughtful. He sees in broad, structural patterns. His freehand sketches have an astonishing clarity and balance that seem to indicate all things can be possible. The stone wall he built in front of their house is an example of this kind of inspiration.
The wall, which is dry laid stone, anchors the whole place. “That wall is the most exquisite one on the property,” says Nettie.
Mark, who runs his own landscaping design/build firm, The Rynearson Company, Inc., placed all the granite for the gardens to create frameworks. Then Mark and Nettie added slow-growing evergreens: boxwoods, hollies, yews and Japanese pines in various sizes and shapes.
A path is bordered with daylilies, hosta and, to the right, Allegheny spurge, a native pachysandra. Underneath the ‘Floribunda’ crab apple, a groundcover of yellow bishops’ hat, an epimedium, flourishes. The rocks, all imported to the site, emphasize the easy curve of a pleasantly wide walking path.
“We wanted to show people the possibilities of various gardens,” Mark says. “And we especially wanted people to go into it. The display gardens have aspects of a Japanese stroll garden. You are drawn into it, can’t see too far ahead and there are places to sit. Once the format was set, then Nettie filled in with color and perennials.”
With this two-layered organizational approach, combining both structure and color, the various display gardens evolved: the entrance garden with the yellow magnolia; the main display garden with the big crabapple tree that expanded to include the weeping cherry tree, which is big enough for a whole family to sit under; the pink and gray garden; the purple, white and yellow garden; and the hot-color garden. At the end of the field, tucked under the forest canopy, is the woodland garden. There’s a small home orchard with peach, cherry and apple trees as well as a highbush blueberry planting. Then there are the nursery beds, which have begun to be reimagined.
For years, roses were a challenge in northern New England, but now with new varieties and wise cultivation, that has changed. Nettie’s rose garden is a showcase for what a gardener can do in zone 5.
The sixty-foot-by-eighty-foot formal garden is enclosed by an elegant, wooden, white picket fence. It feels like its own little world. The entrance arbor features an eyebrow-arched top and is planted on either side with the classic ‘New Dawn’ climbing rose. The garden’s lush plantings feature red roses in each corner, blending to roses that shade into apricots, pinks, whites and yellows. Defining parts of the pathways are hedges of ‘Hidcote’ lavender along with companion plantings of pinks and lady’s mantle. Rounded boxwoods in the central beds and upright yews in Lunaform planters offer structure and contrast. Here and there, a clematis—such as ‘Sweet Summer Love’—clambers up and over the fence, adding softness and even more color. The far side of the garden is constructed of lattice to support climbing roses and two espaliered pear trees. It is centered by another arbor that shelters a swing. “There was always going to be a swing. That was never a question,” Nettie says.
Nettie’s online resource provides extensive information on growing roses of all types, including her favorite floribundas, modern shrub roses and David Austin’s English varieties. The list is long. Nettie writes: “Remember, roses don’t know they’re special: they’re plants. Choose carefully, satisfy their basic site requirements and give them pretty much the same maintenance you do the rest of the garden. Then prepare to be delighted.”
As for winter protection, she concedes, yes, some roses do need it: “Early summer would seem strangely empty without the luscious blooms of our David Austin roses. We don’t mind tucking them in during the late fall and relish uncovering in early spring. We call it gardening.”
Nettie’s office is, no surprise, well organized with a long desk against one wall and shelves of books above it. Opposite is a big window; a Victorian-style hooked rose-patterned rug complements a comfy maroon couch. The walls are painted a warm petal pink, and a gallery wall features photographs, some sepia-toned, of relatives and friends—all of them mentors. They look like people who would tell you exactly what they think. Just as Nettie does when she muses about growing say, bunchberry, a sometimes cranky native groundcover, and the only herbaceous dogwood: “Getting plants established, especially in the beginning is crucial. Once they’ve gotten through their first year, they’re much more resilient. It’s all about getting them going.”
Given the spirit of these gardens, those who Flowercelebrate here will be off to a good start.
Right: A gentle, stepped-stone structure for a waterfall brings sound, movement and refreshment to the garden.
Right: A flowing line of ‘Yaku Prince’ rhododendrons, a compact variety, adds weight to an island garden.
Middle: A sculpture by John K. Lee creates mystery amid the lush greenery of the garden. Lee teaches at Dartmouth College.
Right: This understory planting features striking contrasts with ‘Blue Moon’ woodland phlox and ‘Scintillation’ rhododendron.
Right: Mark and Nettie Rynearson.
Middle: A study in green and gold is enhanced by gray granite and white ‘Purity Candytuft’.
Right: The ‘Country Dancer’ rose was developed by the late Griffith Buck, an American rose breeder.