Helen Yoest is an award winning garden writer and author of Gardening with Confidence – 50 Ways to Add Style for Personality Creativity.

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Stumpery Style
by Helen Yoest    

Picture in your mind a fern growing out of a stump, deep in the woods where an old tree fell. This is a relatively common occurrence in nature, and I imagine it is where Victorian gardeners found the inspiration for “stumpery.” A stumpery is a garden feature made from logs and stumps, and they were the height of garden fashion in England during the reign of Queen Victoria. Romantic, naturalistic and calming compared to the excess of Victorian times, stumperies quickly became a popular garden style. 

In many ways we have come full circle, with nature once again governing our tastes and garden design. Adding a stumpery to your woodland garden, particularly if there are already stumps in the area, can satisfy your desire for a more naturalistic look. 


Artist and gardener Edward Cooke created the first recorded stumpery at Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire, England in 1856. He added piles of trees – creating 10-feet high walls – on either side of a garden path. The trees were designed to provide a place for ferns to grow, since the Victorians were quite enamored of ferns. 

Ferns were all the rage during these romantic times – hundreds of new species were brought into Britain from around the world. The era is actually referred to as “The Victorian Fern Craze.” Most often, stumperies were created in deeply shaded woods, an ideal habitat for these shade-loving plants. This “Fern Craze” is more than likely what led to the popularity of stumperies. 


While shade gardens were the birthplace of stumperies, they can be created wherever a stump is found, even if it’s in the hot afternoon sun. Stumperies can be as simple as a single stump to an arrangement of dozens of downed trees. As the trend progressed, logs, driftwood and large pieces of bark, in addition to upside-down stumps were also used.

Traditionally, a stumpery is crafted with tree stumps arranged upside down or on their side to better show the root structure. Ferns, mosses and lichens are encouraged to grow around and on the sinuous roots and in the hollows formed by root branching, creating a natural appearance. I can only imagine the sight of patrician women in Victorian attire, trekking through the woods to view their stumpery, with no worries about their dress hems wet with mud. 

This Victorian gardening trend is once again becoming popular, and stumperies definitely deserve a place in today’s gardens. In the 1980s, Prince Charles created a secret stumpery at his Highgrove Estate; by doing so, he resurrected an interest in the centuries-old practice of pairing stumps and ferns with other shade-loving perennials.

Today, stumperies can be found in a wide variety of looks and arrangements. Devotees of the original Victorian design create theirs by placing hollowed-out stumps with their roots in the air. You will also find creative plantings in stumps, or piles of logs with ferns and lichen in and on them. 

If creating a stumpery based on Victorian style, take your cues from nature. A walk through the woods will show you how nature designs a stumpery and provide much inspiration. Note where trees have fallen and how plants grow around, through and on the wood. Making fallen wood look as natural as possible is the ultimate goal.

If replicating original Victorian stumpery design isn’t your primary goal, just use a hollowed-out stump as a container filled with your favorite shade-loving plants. Begonia, ferns and grasses all work well. An added benefit is that stumperies also provide homes for wildlife, hosting toads, small mammals and other creatures. 

Whether you are mimicking nature or plopping a pot of petunias on an old, unsightly nub, including stumps into your overall garden design can be great fun. Work with what you have, and that unsightly stump just might be the perfect addition to your garden.




This article appeared in a previous edition of a State-by-State Gardening publicaiton.


Posted: 04/04/19   RSS | Print


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