A Stumpery Garden, Going Back to the Roots
The first known stumpery was created by marine artist, botanical illustrator and gardener, Edward William Cooke in 1856 at Biddulph Grange, a very forward thinking garden in the day; in fact, the earliest example of a garden being divided into a series of smaller rooms. Land clearing had left debris and chaotic piles of wood, which visionary Cooke created into 10' walls on either side of a path and planted them out with ferns. These stumperies where the vehicle that launched the obsession with ferns in Victorian England. That, and people realized how ferns reproduced themselves and it was considered more appropriate for ladies to collect and grow ferns because of the lack of obvious reproductive parts. The fern-crazed Victorians repeated the concept of a stumpery across Britain in the 19th century.
Last summer, several gardening friends came together for the illustrious Festival of Flowers in Greenwood, South Carolina. We made a detour to visit the garden of Billie and John Elsley, who have a show stopping woodland garden. In this post, I'm sharing images of their amazing stumpery garden. We've left stumps in our woodland garden for years, but I was not familiar with the term 'stumpery' until I met the Elsleys. I love the term and feel very connected with its English roots.
Perhaps you have tree stumps that you don't know what to do with, or branches and logs from a felled tree. Here is some inspiration to get your creative juices flowing.
In this woodland setting, stumps are intentionally arranged to create a habitat for ferns and other shade loving plants. The proper placement of logs and stumps can create a unique topography providing a variety of different conditions, not usually found together. Deep shade, a little sun, wet soil, fast draining soil or areas for epiphytic plants can be made suitable with various pockets within the stumpery.
Limbs are placed deliberately throughout the Elsley's garden providing an additional dimension to the natural setting that is packed with an exciting mix of woodland plants. It really turns the shade garden into something magical.
Not only do these carefully excavated stumps provide an exciting artistic element, reminiscent of driftwood, they also become a haven for wildlife. Tree stumps are usually dense and take a long time to rot. As they decompose they provide habitat for a succession of creatures such as beneficial insects, wood-boring beetles, decomposers, and invertebrates and amphibians to live on and around the wood. Lichen and moss and fungi may begin to grow on stumps and you could even plant a climber or rambling plant to intertwine throughout the structure.
Stumperies may be a throwback to a bygone age, but these inverted tree stumps and roots create a cornucopia of planting opportunities while providing a beneficial environment for wildlife. I think it's time for this concept to be reintroduced into the American landscape.
Huge thanks to Billie and John Elsley for opening their garden to us for an impromptu, private tour. And it's always fun to tour gardens with friends Julie from Garden Delights, Julie at Southern Wild Design , Daricia with A Charlotte Garden and our gracious host Janet, Queen of Seaford.
For more inspiration and examples of stumpery gardens see my Pinterest Board