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  • Greg Graves

Stumpery


So every once in a while I get inspired to do a project in the garden. For the last few years I have wanted to build a small Stumpery. A Stumpery is an intentional arrangement of woody material including logs and tree roots to create an artistic habitat for ferns and their companion plants. By showcasing the roots vertically you can have several pockets to plant ferns in. I guess since it would only have from 5 to 10 stumps it would be more of a stumpette, but I digress.  


I had the good luck to attend one of the Northwest Horticultural Society’s classes, a couple weeks ago, on the building of a Stumpery. It was taught by the president of the Hardy Fern Foundation at their project located at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden. It is the largest public fern Stumpery in the world. The HFF Stumpery Is about an acre and holds about 150 tree roots and trunks. I’ve watched this project since the beginning and once all the stumps were in place I wan’t so sure it would ever look good. That is a lot of dead wood, so to speak. 



path through the stumps

path through the stumps


That was 5 years ago and today it is stunning. The architecture of the wood stops you in your tracks and the plantings have softened it and created a magnificent garden. That is even before you realize the variety of planting material that exists there. This garden sits on a hillside above a pond so the borrowed view makes the site seem much larger. It blends beautifully into the larger garden.

It is based on a simple principle of what happens when a tree falls in the forest. (never mind if anyone heard it or not). You may have seen a downed tree after many years and the plant material that grows on it. Logs like this are referred to as nurse logs. They nurse along the young plants that are adapted to growing on rotting wood. These stumps are arranged to do that over a long time frame.


The first known Stumperies date back to Victorian times, actually 1856. An artist and gardener named Edward Cooke came up with the idea for the first one. At that time in England, large tracks of land were being cleared leaving huge debris piles of wood. He decided to pile some of them 10 feet high along both sides of a path and plant them with ferns. This was also the same time the British were plant collecting all over the world. This structure quickly caught on as a perfect venue for ferns and Stumperies were built across the country.


Because they do decay many disappeared with the Victorian era. Thanks to Prince Charles they have enjoyed a bit of a resurgence. In 1980 he built one at his home ‘Highgrove House’. A wonderful gardener on Vashon Island has also built one in her garden that is equally as large as the one built by the Hardy Fern Foundation. 


I have, for years, used wood as an accent element in the garden.  It is natural and adds a type of architectural beauty to the garden beds. A Stumpery would be just taking it to the next level and combining several logs and stumps to make a bigger statement. I’m not sure how quickly this will happen so in the mean time I plan on just going back to the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden and enjoying the work of the Hardy Fern Foundation.

Stumpery

Path

Path



Japanese maple and Astilbiodes

Japanese maple and Astilbiodes



close-up

close-up



ferns and combination plantings

ferns and combination plantings



Root ball

Root ball


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