In the beginning … of the stumpery.
I was cleaning out the corner back quadrant of our 5 acres when I saw her. The once strong walnut tree was in decline — near death — with only one outstretched barkless branch barely able to hold up the few autumn leaves left dangling midair. Although she stood more than 20 feet tall, near-death and hollow, I knew that in her death, she would be giving new life.
She would be the central piece to my garden stumpery. Why yes, it is a thing, thanks for asking.
I saw my first stumpery this summer on a tour of the Whitehall Mansion and Gardens in Louisville, Kentucky, which included their Woodland Fern Garden. As described by Whitehall: “The woodland fern garden also serves as a ‘stumpery,’ a Victorian garden design where tree logs and stumps are used for the rustic planting of ferns and other woodland plants.”
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In many designs the stumps are turned upside down so the roots reach skyward. The first known stumpery was created in 1856 by gardener and artist Edward William Cooke, who took large debris piles of tree roots at the British Biddulph Grange Estate and created paths of 10-foot tall walls and planted them with ferns. Prince Charles created one in his Highgrove Gardens in 1980, using sweet chestnut roots.
If you’re so inclined (or a garden geek, like me) you can Google photos of Prince Charles’ Highgrove stumpery and Whitehall’s Woodland Fern garden.
When I first envisioned my new woodland stumpery garden, I jumped off my Dixie Chopper and began dragging stumps hidden in the thicket. As any creative person understands, whether writing a song, drawing an illustration or designing a garden, the excitement is fueled by the opportunity to create.
So as I lugged dead logs and roots next to the central walnut stump, I began to wonder if the original gardener and creator got as excited when he created light, water, dry ground, seed-bearing plants and trees that bear fruit with seed in it.
I caught myself nodding to myself and smiling as I continued to rearrange the stumps and began thinking, “This is gonna be cool and fun to create.”
The original gardener’s words of creative excitement were: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (He had to be smiling.)
More stumpery updates later.