Jill enjoys cooking, abstract painting, stewardship & learning about gardening through the MD Master Gardener & Master Naturalist programs.
What Is a Stumpery?
Stumperies are garden features made from dead tree parts—such as stumps, logs, branches, and bark debris—that commonly clutter yards after a storm. Contemporary stumperies sometimes feature driftwood, railway ties, and floorboards.
The wood is arranged artistically. Sometimes gardeners form caves, walls, and archways with it. Invariably, stumps are displayed upside down to reveal their intricate root structures.
Although stumperies are traditionally planted with ferns, other shade-loving plants may also be used. Encouraging moss and lichens to grow on the rotting wood is also de rigueur.
The result? A naturalized garden feature that's an inviting habitat for toads, beetles, and other creatures—including gardeners.
How to Build a Stumpery in Your Garden
If you’ve never seen a stumpery but think you'd like one in your yard, check out the (extremely) basic directions for making one below. Who knows? You might decide to install one in your landscape. According to my research, these seem to be the major steps for building a stumpery in a home landscape.
Step 1: Clear the way.
First, find a shady area on your property and clear it of grass and weeds. Avoid using herbicides, which could harm toads and other tender creatures you want to attract.
Instead, scrub out as much weedy turf as you can through back-breaking physical labor. Then lay down a few layers of damp black and white newspaper to suppress everything you missed.
Step 2: Arrange the wood.
Next, arrange the stumps and other wood you have collected, such as logs, driftwood, and bark, in a manner that you find visually appealing. (Wow! That was easy to write! But of course in real life, it could take days or weeks to get the wood positioned just right. And, depending upon how ambitious your stumpery is, arranging the pieces might require big, brawny types in work boots--or even heavy machinery.)
If you're using uprooted stumps, spray them with a power hose to remove the soil. This will reveal their beautifully intricate root structures.
Step 3: Add dirt and plants.
Next, spread several inches of compost over the area. Then plant the shade-loving perennials of your choice.
Stumps have lots of crevices that make perfect pockets for plants. If these pockets are already filled with soil, just tuck in the plant's root ball after first wrapping it in sphagnum moss.
The first stumpery was built in Staffordshire, England, in 1856. The Victorians, who were wild about stumperies, favored all types of ferns. Today ferns are still strongly associated with a stumpery's natural-looking appearance. Other good plant options include mosses and hostas.
Step 4: Apply mulch and water.
When you've finished planting, apply two to three inches of wood mulch. Spray the area with water and keep it moist until the plants are well established.
Can I Have One?
Oh, how I would love to have a stumpery in our garden!
Unfortunately, when I mention using the uprooted trees in the woods behind our house to create one, my husband pretends that he doesn’t speak English. His attitude toward stumperies is similar to that of Great Britain’s Prince Philip who, upon seeing his son’s, famously asked, “When are you going to set fire to this lot?"
In other words, my prince thinks they’re ugly.
Ordinarily, his silence wouldn't deter me. Our rule—well, my rule, really—is that non-answers mean yes. But in this case, his active cooperation is required. (The big stumps that I have my eye on are really heavy!)
And, of course, it’s our garden, not mine. Would I really want to put something in it that he absolutely hates? My conscience tells me, “No.” And I must also admit that in some cases he's right: done poorly, a stumpery can be as ugly as . . . a stump.
But not the one I’m imagining!
It’s rife with interesting root structures punctuated by a variety of ferns, hostas, and perhaps a few dangly bleeding hearts. It’s verdant, cool, mossy soft, and wonderfully earthy. Who wouldn't be as happy as a hobbit in a hole mucking about in the cool soil of a stumpery like that?
Every Stumpery Needs Ferns! Try Starting Yours at Home.
No Ugly Stumpsisters Here!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Jill Spencer
Joan on March 26, 2017:
I'm new to stumpery, but it's speaking to me! Loudly! I don't know what part of the country you're in, but I'm in Long Island, NY. Do you know of people who are stumpery artists, and can be hired as such?
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on March 01, 2013:
Hi LongTimeMother--I'm sneakily working some stumpery like elements into our existing landscape, like moss-covered logs and lot o' ferns! Someday!
LongTimeMother from Australia on February 28, 2013:
Hey Dirt Farmer, what a lovely idea. Like you, however, I doubt I could convince my husband to help me with this one. He's currently helping me build a rammed earth wall entry to my fire bunker. Can't begin to imagine what he'd say if I asked him to build a stumpery right now. He'd think I was after a bonfire to test out my bunker. lol. Maybe next year ...
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on May 26, 2011:
You're welcome, Margaret. Thanks for stopping by!
Margaret Murphy on May 12, 2011:
What a great Hub! Too dry where I live but something to consider if we move - thanks for the information.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 20, 2011:
Thanks, Simone! Glad you stopped by.
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 20, 2011:
Hahahaa- GREAT TITLE!!! Great Hub, too :D
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 20, 2011:
Thanks for reading, Esmeowl12. Isn't it cool? Think I'm going to try a small "stumpette" made of driftwood first.
Esmeowl12 on April 20, 2011:
What a neat idea. I've never heard of a stumpery. Might have to look into this. Thanks for the great info!