NORTH KINGSTOWN – On rustic Gilbert Stuart Road, a stone’s throw from the noisy rush of traffic heading to and from the beach is SunRose Farm, a place so peaceful that it’s possible to tune out external commotion.
In the Pierce family for more than 200 years, this was once a 110-acre dairy farm.
Eight years ago, Sybil Rose and Stephen Pierce, who live in what was once a one-room cabin Stephen’s father built in the 1930s for college studies – it kept growing until it was a comfortably-sized cottage – renovated the house. Then they began to dream of a natural getaway where visitors could walk or sit in healing gardens and say goodbye to stress, a notion they implemented four years ago.
The concept, says Sybil, is to approach the garden experience with a silent prayer or meditation for what’s needed in your life – peace, calm, patience – and then wander along the paths absorbing the rich fragrances and colors of the flowers and herbs, freeing up your mind.
“It was pretty overgrown when I moved here,” recalls Sybil. “Stephen was working; his parents were old. The land was mostly vegetables.”
She started with a meditation garden based on geometric symbols that, today, is graced by a beautiful angel that was created by a Connecticut sculptor who had left his job as a company executive and turned to making inspirational figures.
Still a work in progress, as all gardens are, SunRose Farm is among the 32 private and public gardens maintained by graduates of the University of Rhode Island’s Master Garden program, that will be open to the public for the fifth “Gardening with the Masters,” to be held 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 16-17.
SunRose Farms is a place for personal reflection in a quiet natural setting as well as a site for spiritual gatherings and healing circles.
Each garden reflects an element of nature: water, ether, earth and fire.
A large rectangular garden is filled with blossoms, many with healing properties, in the glorious palette of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow – carried out in burgundy sedum with thick green leaves, golden mullein, milkweed, tansy, yarrow and short perky petunias. A Celtic cross is the focal point of one corner and all of the fence posts surrounding the garden are topped with bluebird houses handmade by Stephen.
Besides the rectangle are two labyrinths; one is a three-circle and the other is a 7-circuit, simply cut as green swirls in the grass. Stephen maintains these, too, although Sybil’s son, a math major, drew upon the spirals in nature – nautilus shells, pine cones, tree trunks – to design the smaller labyrinth. A small bed of portulaca, hen and chicks, sedum and false Solomon’s seals provide a transition from the house down a slight embankment to the lower gardens.
Like many expert gardeners, Sybil caught the bug as a child.
“I started when I was six,” she says, smiling. “My mom bought the flowers and I had a little section of my own.” Later she studied formally and then took the Master Gardeners course. She likes to let her garden run free, in a fresh approach that bears little resemblance to the trendy English formal gardens that have been manicured within an inch of their lives.
“I feel that people coming down here will have different perceptions. It’s not all tidy and neat; I like my wild things.”
She has, for instance, a rose that climbs and wends along a wall and a wonderful old-fashioned hydrangea with huge white pompom blooms – called a snowball bush by old-timers – that was planted by Stephen’s mother. There are also soothing lavender and thyme (for protection), as well as the delightful surprise of a stand of wild irises, growing all on their own in the middle of a meadow. And speaking of surprises, let’s not forget what Stephen unearthed.
“My husband kept banging the tractor on this rock, so he dug it out with a backhoe and found it was a snowy crystal probably dating to the Ice Age.” The crystal now occupies a place of importance, as does an antique haying rake, standing as a tremendous piece of representational art, a reminder of the hard work necessary to keep a farm running.
Stephen and Sybil have 13 acres of the original farm and a cousin lives across the meadow in the 1812 farm house; the rest is in conservation and can’t be developed. Two fields are owned by the Narrow River Association and much of the farm is in the watershed.
There are still big plans to be implemented at SunRose Farm: the Pierces would like a small barn where they could keep chickens, sheep and bees; they’d like to have a gift shop offering homemade things from the area including their own honey; and a major goal is to provide a picnic table and a composted toilet for visitors.
“I hope that people who come by get positive energy from the farm and they’re blessed, too,” Sybil says.
Guidebooks for the Master Gardeners’ tour serve as admission for both days and include descriptions and directions. They must be purchased in advance and the cost is $15 for 32 gardens. Locally, they’re available at Schartner Farms in Exeter. For more information, call URI at 874-2900 or 800-448-1011 9 am-2 pm Monday through Thursday.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .