To walk with Master Gardener Michael Nerrie through his Distant Hill Gardens and Nature Trails in Walpole, NH is an uplifting and inspiring experience. His gardens keep tempo with the seasonal changes, enhancing the landscape with new shapes and textures. The carefully carved paths through fen and forest ignite the mind with curiosity about the harmony nature plays between plants and the environment. Visitors are inspired to think about what can be learned from observing the plants.
Becoming a Master Gardener when he retired from a career in design and construction enabled Michael to further his education and feed his passion for working with plants as a new type of construction material. As shrubs are his favorite type of plant, he used them to design outdoor living spaces. Michael was most interested in honing his pruning skills and learning the secrets of fertilization to improve both the shape and vitality of the shrubs on his property.
When Michael took the Master Gardener course in 1998 (only 5 years after the program began in NH), instruction did not differentiate between native and invasive species. It did not focus on gardens integrated with nature, nor planting to keep the circle of life continuing. Since then he shifted his focus from aesthetics to improving biological diversity or “gardening with a purpose” to create a horticulture and environmental learning center. He has learned a lot over the years, but owes his foundation to his still referenced and heavily highlighted Master Gardner notebook.
As much as he loves creating and caring for his gardens and trails, he equally loves to share his knowledge with others. He and his two brothers were raised to always, “Share what you know and learn what you don’t know”. Sometimes the sharing was creative. He would barter his property to become the classroom for specialists to teach about ferns or vernal ponds, thus increasing his knowledge about his property while sharing that information with others.
Today his property is a learning playground for all. Research and educational partnerships with graduate students from Antioch University of New England in Keene lead to the development of trails and a nature play area that invites children to explore and problem solve through play. During non-COVID times he hosted numerous workshops including Birding, Invasive Plant Identification and Removal, Landscaping for Wildlife, Native Tree and Shrub Identification, Pollinator Gardening, Vernal Pools, and Wildlife Tracking as well as courses in health and wellness.
Michael’s gardens and trails have been recognized as one of New Hampshire’s top ten places to visit. He has been featured in several magazines and local newspaper articles. As the Master Gardener program has expanded its footprint to be more easily available to students in the southwestern part of the state, he welcomes volunteers in many capacities. He is open to new possibilities and knows that sharing his knowledge with others will also be an educational adventure for himself. His enthusiasm to learn and share will never fade. Learn more about Michael and his gardening at distanthill.org.
UNH Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteers share information about home, yard, and garden topics with the people of New Hampshire. Got questions? Master Gardeners provide practical help finding answers to your questions through the Ask UNH Extension Infoline. Call toll free at 1-877-398-4769, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.