I have found a solution! A friend and fellow Master Gardener woke one rainy dawn to discover that a huge tree next to her driveway had fallen across the street, effectively blocking all traffic. The city of Canton was quickly there to cut up and remove the resulting debris, but thoughtfully they left the stump rearing partially out of the ground for her. Coincidentally, I had just read an article about … drumroll … stumperies! I didn’t know the term even existed. Rockeries, yes, but stumperies? Even more exciting: I have one! I made it myself … well, I applied the idea myself, anyway.
In fact, stumperies have been around since Victorian days — 1856, to be exact, the brainstorm of Edward William Cooke, an artist and gardener faced with an extensive mound of wood debris to be disposed of. Instead, he built ten-foot walls along garden paths and planted them with ferns. Victorians were plum crazy about ferns, so the concept swept Britain. In 1980 Prince Charles was so enchanted that he built himself one. (True that his father, Prince Phillip, on seeing his son’s stumpery, remarked: “When are you going to set fire to this lot?”) So okay, the idea isn’t for everyone.
But I think it depends on what you want your installation to look like. Originally it was the uprooted root systems of trees that held the most appeal. Have you ever seen an overturned tree whose roots have been exposed to wind and weather for years? Rain has washed away soil and rootlets until it’s beautiful! Just add some plants — ferns, if you’re a Victorian, but really any plants that are compatible … hosta, hellebores, whatever you like that doesn’t distract from the tracery of the roots.
And it doesn’t have to be roots at all. A downed log can be hollowed out, making a large planter. In my case, I wanted something distinctive in the shrubbery at the dogleg in my driveway. I’m not much for garden art, so I talked my good friend Steve into cutting various lengths of a fallen tree and then hauling them to stand upright as the focal point of the corner. The pieces look sculptural amidst the azaleas, a gardenia and several astilbes, all backed by rhododendrons and pieris. All I had to do was “arrange the furniture.” (Steve did the heavy lifting, admittedly.)
Mine is a simple arrangement meant to be sculptural in design. A full-blown stumpery could seriously involve a number of stumps and thus, because of its vertical use of space, become a suitable growing place for a variety of plants with different needs. Mosses and lichens can be encouraged to grow on them. A more modern effect can be achieved using old railroad ties or driftwood. Certainly it is a means of disposing of unwanted storm-damaged or diseased wood, thus sparing you the cost of removal.
Creation depends on your needs and wants, of course, but basically the method is simple. Find a shady area of your yard and clear it of weeds and brush. You can always spread newspaper to deter regrowth. Then arrange your materials, spraying with water to remove any dirt and reveal “bone structure.” Pockets of dirt can be left in the structure or added where you will tuck in your plants. Wrapping the root balls in sphagnum can help hold them. Surround the stumpery with whatever shade-tolerant plants appeal to you — mini hostas are a great option if you don’t do daily battle with deer — than simply add several inches of wood mulch and keep the area watered until your plants are established.
Actually you don’t have to stop there. I live on a wooded piece of property and have always left out-of-the-way downed trees where they fell. Add a rock or two and a few intentional plants, and you have a cohesive landscape that looks as if you planned it that way all along!