You may have noticed that spring has finally arrived in New Hampshire! In celebration of the warming temperatures, my husband and I decided to take a Native Plant tour at Distant Hill Gardens and Nature Trail right here in the town of Walpole, to get inspiration as we enter the gardening season.
One Couple’s Labor of Love
Distant Hill Gardens and Nature Trail traces its roots back to 1979, when owners Michael and Kathy Nerrie purchased 21 acres of land in Walpole. They spent the next few decades making improvements on their property, including building their house and multiple outbuildings, and installing a vegetable garden and a swimming pond. They erected stonewalls throughout the property and renewed a previously abandoned maple sugaring operation. The couple have since added to their original acreage, and now own a total of 37 acres of land in Walpole and an additional 21-acre parcel in the abutting town of Alstead.
Expanding on their original improvements, the Nerries have turned their entire property into a garden of sorts that includes vegetables and ornamentals, areas that are heavily landscaped and others that are growing wild, and lots and lots of native plants. Trees, bushes, and shrubs spill over beautifully crafted rock terraces, and Michael Nerrie’s whimsical metalwork sculptures can be found scattered throughout the property.
In addition to their private gardens the Nerries have also built a mile-long, fully accessible nature trail that is open to the public all year round, dawn to dusk. Construction on the trail began in 2013 and was completed in 2016. We are all so blessed that the Nerries have lovingly built this trail and allowed all of us to enjoy it—even in winter it’s a great place to snowshoe (but, let’s not talk about snow again for a while, okay?).
New England Natives Take Center Stage
The Native Plants tour, led by Michael Nerrie, took us through the shrub gardens adjacent to the Nerrie’s house and into the woods beyond it. Michael showed us many native flowers and plants that he has nurtured alongside other carefully selected specimens in his gardens. Although it is not native to North America, I was particularly enamored with a beautiful weeping crabapple (Malus floribunda ‘Red Jade’) that is one of the many cultivated trees in the shrub gardens at Distant Hill.
We left the shrub gardens and wandered past the Nerrie’s lovely man-made pond into the woods below where Michael showed us many species of native plants, both common and rare. My favorite part of the tour was when we all had a chance to sample Indian cucumber-root (Medeola virginiana), a native plant and member of the lily family that grows abundantly in patches throughout the Nerrie’s property. True to its name, the roots of this plant taste a lot like cucumber, but with a crisper, crunchier bite. Indian cucumber-root closely resembles another native, the inedible Starflower (Trientalis borealis), so it’s important to know the difference between the two—Michael helpfully gave us a side-by-side comparison.
Make Plans to Visit Distant Hill
I’ve only scratched the surface of all that Distant Hill has to offer—it’s worth a visit whether you live close by or on the other side of the state. I highly recommend taking one of the guided tours. Michael is a delightful and extremely knowledgeable guide and he knows every square inch of his magnificent, dare I say “magical,” property. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than wandering among the colorful blooms of the shrub gardens or treading softly along the woodland paths at Distant Hill.
To learn more about upcoming tours or open garden hours visit their website.