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Creating a Stumpery

A stumpery is a garden that uses tree stumps and logs as an organizing feature. Find out more about its history and how a stumpery could become part of your home garden.

Photo credit: Penn State Master Gardener Program

A rockery or rock garden is a well-known concept in the gardening world. It is a natural-looking assemblage of decorative rocks and boulders and is often a setting for alpine plants. Far less common is a “stumpery”—a similar concept to the rock garden using tree stumps as the structural feature. One of the first documented stumperies was at Biddulph Grange in England, designed in 1856 by estate owner James Bateman with input from his artist friend, Edward William Cooke. (Bateman was a wealthy horticulturalist, who exemplified the Victorian passion for collecting plants from around the world.) The stumpery caught the imagination of the Victorian gardener and was emulated throughout England. One of the most famous stumperies was created by Prince Charles of Wales and is still a featured part of the gardens at Highgrove, his home in Gloucestershire.

A public stumpery in Pennsylvania can be viewed at Morris Arboretum, University of Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Janet Paterson

What inspiration does a Victorian tradition from England have for American gardeners? Actually, the stumpery is a quite workable concept for a modern garden. In addition to being a unique garden design, it can provide a beneficial growing environment for shade-loving plants and for garden wildlife, as well.

Traditionally, the basis for a stumpery is a planned arrangement of unearthed tree stumps that include the root mass. Though the design is deliberate, it should also look natural, which can be achieved by partially burying the stump and root mass. Part of a stumpery’s charm is that pockets within the trees and nooks and crannies around them provide varied environments for plants. For example, plants that need a dry soil could be planted within a crevice on top of the stump, while plants requiring moisture and deep shape could be planted in the shelter of the root mass. Ferns are an obvious choice for stumperies, but they also an ideal setting for hostas. Any woodland plant could be included in a stumpery, as could late winter and early spring bulbs such as snowdrops, daffodils, and scilla.

As stumps gradually decompose, they go beyond merely serving as garden architecture. Peeling bark will provide a habitat for insects that will feed birds or pollinate plants in the garden. Small mammals, lizards, and frogs can take refuge underneath. Colorful mushrooms or other fungi may eventually grow and add more character to the wood.

Stumperies can be large or small. They can consist of several unearthed trees or can simply make use of logs or driftwood. The source of the wood and choices of plants are individual choices. The beauty of a stumpery is that the architecture provides a varied environment for plants and will evolve along with them.

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