Green with Envy
Paxson Hill Farm unveils stunning gardens from the fertile imagination of Bruce Gangawer
by Susan Sandor

His degree in ornamental horticulture from Rutgers led Bruce Gangawer on a sometimes maddening journey to create a “greenscape” at a 32-acre property in Bucks County where he lives and grows plants at his nursery, Paxson Hill Farm. It seems the project won’t be finished until the entire acreage is under cultivation or, a less likely option, until Gangawer’s obsession fades. His fertile imagination is evident in the extraordinary gardens—many public, some private—at Paxson Hill Farm in New Hope.


Inspiration comes from the faraway places he travels to in the dead of winter when digging in the frozen earth here isn’t an option. It’s not surprising then that embarking on a tour of Gangawer’s public gardens is like a journey to foreign soil.


Beginning the walk, one encounters a pond alive with croaking frogs leaping into hiding places among the aquatic plants. Colorful, flowered lily pads float on the surface amid the tranquil sound of trickling water. Turn left and see a magnificent kinetic sculpture that constantly changes shape with even the slightest breeze. The 20-foot gleaming stainless steel piece created by Jeff Kahn is called “The Naked Alien” and is one of Paxson Hill Farm’s latest art installations.


Beyond the sculpture lies a pen where alpacas, emus and a donkey reside, along with one of three other dead trees on the site that have been given a second life by being transformed into sculptures. The tree in this spot is a silver maple called “The Nine Eleven Tree” and resembles the crumpled girders of the World Trade Center, evoking a lump-in-the-throat feeling in some.


Turn left again to find the obscured entrance to the Japanese bridge garden, which is planted with lotus, water lilies, irises, grasses and specimen plants. A tiered pond and waterfall measuring 150 feet in length pumps 70,000 gallons of water upland where once the land was flat. The earth-moving task to create this effect and that of the maze garden leading uphill to a gazebo draped in trumpet vines could have been nothing less than daunting.


After wandering the many paths in the bridge garden, visitors may find their way across a one-piece stone bridge and into a shallow bubbling stone area that Gangawer designed to resemble an Alaskan glacier. Again, his wanderlust is more than apparent.


Walk through the shade garden past a statue of Buddha and discover an unusual Japanese zigzag bridge that crosses over wetlands and marsh plants such as horsetails, pickerel rush and Louisiana iris, followed by a path to another bridge likely to remind visitors of a scene deep in the jungles of Costa Rica. The risky walk across it is necessary and worthwhile—just be sure to plant each step carefully—to see up close an extraordinary sculpture of a spider web with its bound prey created by Greg Napolitan from a dead elm, another of those trees with a second lease on life. Several feet from this spot one sees the beginnings of an open-air theater Gangawer is constructing of stone and dead wood found on the property.


This is just a glimpse of what awaits visitors to these lush gardens, which were featured in the prestigious 2011 New Hope Historical Society Garden Tour.


Paxson Hill Farm, which is located at 3265 Comfort Road in New Hope, is open to the public every day in season except Monday. Gangawer, the gardens’ creator, can often be found on site as he works to finish the theater and add to his gardens. Call 215-297-1010 for more information.


Susan Sandor is an award-winning writer and columnist from New Hope.