Stumperies.

Some of the people who commented on my  post about my stumpery seemed unfamiliar with the word.

Stumperies were popular Victorian garden features. In the nineteenth century many people were gripped by pteridomania; that is a sort of mad fern- fever.  The countryside was stripped of native ferns and many new varieties were imported from abroad. A stumpery is a wonderful way of displaying them. It’ s a sort of rockery for ferns, but using tree stumps instead of rocks. Ferns enjoy the moist shade in the pockets of the roots.

The first stumpery was  created in the 1850′ s at  Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire. It was at first referred to as a ‘ rustic root garden‘ . People were perhaps surprised to see old tree roots piled up and made into a feature. But then James Bateman’ s design for this garden was nothing if not eccentric. There was a taste at the time, not only for rusticity, but for grotesque and exotic garden features.  I still haven’t managed to see this wonderful garden, but I believe it is well worth a visit.

The first stumpery I saw, was some years ago now, when Prince Charles invited me to lunch at Highgrove.  OK, I have to spoil the story here and add that Prince Charles invited all the County Organisers of  The National Gardens Scheme to lunch, and I was one of them at the time.  It wasn’ t just me and HRH getting cosy over the canapés. But although there were many people there, Prince Charles made sure he spoke to us all individually. He spoke to me about magnolias. I admired his Magnolia sieboldii and he spoke knowledgeably about the difference between this and the very similar Magnolia  wilsonii. He is clearly a hands- on gardener who loves and knows his plants. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs, but the stumpery has been featured in many gardening magazines. Over 180 huge roots of Sweet Chestnut, Castanea sativa from the estate and elsewhere, have been used. Some of them are held together with steel and make an arch which you can walk through. Hostas, ferns, euphorbias and hellebores grow very well here. Everything is grown organically.  I would like to know how the hostas are kept slug- free as they are all pristine, not a hole in sight. Perhaps there is a Royal Slug- Remover who takes care of it all.

Prince Charles also told  the story of how his father, the Duke of Edinburgh was unimpressed when he saw the stumpery and asked him when he was going to burn all the wood. He must have liked this story and repeated it,  because I have since seen it reported in the press.

Near where I live, in Suffolk,  at the National Trust Property, Ickworth House, there is a large stumpery. As at Highgrove, they have used many large roots and stumps from the estate in very creative ways.  After the great storm of 1987 there were many  uprooted trees that could be used. The sweeping landscape of the park was designed by Capability Brown, but the gardens round the house were created by the First Marquess of Bristol in the early nineteenth century. There was an Italianate garden and a fashionable stumpery. Recently the stumpery has been extended and is now huge. Sean Reid, the head gardener came to talk to my garden group about creating the stumpery. He said it reminded him of an Arthur Rackham drawing and he wanted to create a mysterious magical place. He has succeeded very well.

Wnnd in the \Willows. Illustration Arthur Rackham.

Wind in the Willows. Illustration Arthur Rackham.

To maintain the magical atmosphere there is a dragon’s lair.

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There is even a clutch of dragon eggs.

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I don’t know how safe it is to walk along here.

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IMG_1813IMG_1834IMG_1831 IMG_1821Some of the roots are really beautiful.

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I would love some of these huge roots in my garden, but I have to be content with a more modest scale. As you can see in the next picture, there is still a way to go clearing round the tree.  There is a lot of the  elephant I was talking about the other day,  still to be digested . But I have made some progress.

DSC_0803
For those of you who have pointed out that what I actually have here, is a pile of logs, all I can say is please humour me. I have longed for a stumpery for so long and this is the closest I will ever get. So please let’ s call it a stumpery. As you can see my little robin garden helper is never far away.

DSC_0829

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53 Responses to Stumperies.

  1. Laurin Lindsey says:

    Great post, i had forgotten about stumperys . I need to suggest them in my designs when we have to work around an old stump…add to it instead of trying to get rid of it! Cool

  2. Stumpery indeed. Lovely and atmospheric with ferns . What’s not to love 🙂

  3. rusty duck says:

    You could make a dragons lair of your own and put Chloris in there. No not you, the one with the padded brassiere and the wig.

    • Chloris says:

      Chloris is not looking ber best after a long winter. I noticed as I was planting my potatoes that she is hanging from her chair at a very drunken angle. She really does look as if she has been on the bottle. She is ageing faster than me and that is saying something. Next time you see her, she will have a nice jacket and I am going to look in the charity shop for a nice hat for her and maybe a new bra.

  4. Anna says:

    I must admit that hadn’t come across a stumpery until I visited Highgrove a few years ago – not for lunch with HRH but on a trip with our gardening club 🙂 We had just set off on the grand tour when it started to bucket down so we were forced to take shelter for some considerable time. Everywhere was dripping when we continued but the stumpery looked most fresh and magical. I chuckled at the thought of a Royal Slug Remover. Looking forward to seeing your planting in this area Chloris.

    • Chloris says:

      Well Anna, we can’ t all have lunch with Charlie you know. But a visit to Highgrove is always a pleasure. I think the stumpery is quite magical too.

  5. Stumperies are a new concept to me. I get it and especially like the overturned roots. I am in too much fear of termites here to contemplate such a thing – can’t wait to see yours in a couple of years.

  6. Thanks for the explanation. I recently saw an over turned tree…if only I could get it home!

    • Chloris says:

      Ah now that is the problem. All the lovely big stumps are impossible to move without expensive machinery or teams of very strong men. And I don’ t have access to either of those.

  7. It is some time since I visited Ickworth and its stumpery. In fact I remember the kids sitting on it for photos (oops). It seems to have grown exponentially since then. Some of those roots are magnificent. Your trunkery/stumpery has a nice feel to it and will be lovely covered in all the ferns you’ve placed. Looking forward to seeing the result.

  8. AnnetteM says:

    I think your stumpery is coming along nicely. Mine is going to be more ferns than wood I think. I wish I could get hold of some nice tree roots that were light enough to carry home.

    • Chloris says:

      Well the wood is difficult to get hold of and impossible to lug home if you see a nice stump when you are out and about. The Pianist is so difficult about it if I see any wood when we are out on a walk. I saw a lovely piece of driftwood on the river bank a while ago and he refused to take it back to the car. And it was not much more than a mile.

      • AnnetteM says:

        Oh dear – it really does need big bits of wood too doesn’t it? I am hoping the Traveler will come along the seafront with me and find some bits. I might have the same problem though. We will just have to build up our muscles so we can do it ourselves!

  9. pbmgarden says:

    Most informative and interesting. Had heard of stumperies but didn’t understand how they are used. And yes, yours definitely qualifies. Delightful to read of your conversation with Prince Charles.

  10. Tina says:

    So glad you gave the fun and interesting cultural lesson!! I want my own stumpery now!!

  11. Christina says:

    I have to admit I was under whelmed when I saw the stumpery at Highgrove (but then I didn’t get to speak to HRH. I think I would probably love it now as a shady green space is heaven when you live in the blazing sun for much of the time! Yours very definitely counts as a stumpery.

    • Chloris says:

      I love the stumpery at Highgrove and you are right it is a cool, shady place and so restful in shades of green. Thank you for letting me call mine a stumpery. I’ m hope it will get more stumpery- like in time as I add to it.

  12. You are right about Biddulph, it is amazing and even more so, because it is raised up on a bank so that you walk through it at shoulder height. Yours will be amazing, give it time, I am inspired to write about my effort now…it always starts with a pile of logs!

  13. Annette says:

    Such an interesting post, Liz. I knew what it was and have had the pleasure t

  14. Annette says:

    the pleasure to include a small one in my book. I think to really work they need the right setting that’s why the one in GI appealed a lot to me. You and the Prince – I’m impressed 😉

  15. Chloris says:

    I think they look lovely in a woodland setting, a cool shady retreat on a hot day.

  16. Kris P says:

    I can’t say I’ve ever seen a stumpery here in Southern California (even with the rapid decline of pine trees associated with our drought and pine bark beetle infestation) but they seem to have achieved a degree of popularity in the Pacific Northwest. It has a climate more like I imagine yours to be, where ferns flourish and there’s lots of rain to promote decay and the development of beautiful moss and lichens. Sadly, here I suppose dead tree limbs and stumps would just be fodder for wildfires.

    • Chloris says:

      They wouldn’ t suit your climate really. They need shady, damp drippy places. The kind of place where you expect a dinosaur to loom up from the mist.

  17. Oh, how I would love to get together for tea and a long chat, as you’ve just given me the most amazing idea. I’m going to cover the two huge stumps in my front garden (roots down, one from a tree that died in autumn and the other removed just last week) with logs and soil and plant them up! A bit informal for a front garden, perhaps, but they’re sure to start a conversation or two.

    I visited Biddulph Grange on my first visit to England in 2001 and was overwhelmed by the number and variety of “theme gardens” rivaling Disney World (or Dismal World, depending on your view). Now that I understand Victorian ideas, interests, and gardens better, I would really like to explore it again.

    How lucky to visit Prince Charles at Highgrove. The stumpery exceeded expectations when I saw the garden in September, but I could have spent many happy days in the cottage garden and vegetable garden. The recent book by Bunny Guinness, Highgrove: An English Country Garden, has the best photos of any, I think.

    • Chloris says:

      Well, wouldn’ t that be nice to get together over a cup of tea and talk about gardens? I think you have a perfect setting for a stumpery and certainly no shortage of wood.

  18. Flighty says:

    An interesting post and fascinating pictures. xx

  19. Uprooted stumps can have a very sculptural look to them, though sometimes rather ominous.

  20. Chloris says:

    Late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth century gardeners liked the ominous, spooky look. Horace Walpole sneered at the trend to set aside a quarter of your garden to be gloomy in.

  21. Cathy says:

    I am long overdue a return visit to Biddulph Grange and I have to confes I don’t remember a stumpery – mind you, it is possible it may not have been there then as there was still restoration work going on. In my defence, I had two Daughters with me, one of whom was having a massive sulk about something which I recall rather put the kybosh on the visit… The one at Ickworth looks amazing, as I am sure yours will be, with or without a dragon

    • Chloris says:

      I would love to go to Biddulph, it looks an amazing place. My stumpery is a very modest affair but I hope it will look interesting when it is finished.

  22. gardenfancyblog says:

    Chloris, After your last post, I noted what a coincidence it was that you mentioned stumperies, and the same night my husband and I watched a BBC show on stumperies (Great British Garden Revival), which showed them to their magnificence and mysteriousness. I’m even thinking about making one in one of our windbreaks, especially after reading about your efforts. Thanks so much for the interesting history and photos of them! -Beth

  23. snowbird says:

    Now why did you have to go and spoil a perfectly good story….I could just imagine you and Charlie chatting animatedly about magnolias! Oh, how I love that dragons lair, I absolutely must have one, yes! Not sure how to go about that though, maybe build one around the stocks…..I see all sorts of creatures in those marvelous stumps, the more you look the more you see.
    I just love your stumpery as does your robin! A wonderful post.xxx

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Dina. A stumpery and a dragon’ s lair would suit your garden very well, you aleady have the skeleton to set the spooky atmosphere.

  24. jenhumm116 says:

    I went to Highgrove a year or so before I started blogging and I remember being blown away by the Stumpery. It was just so different – magical and calming. And you’re right about the unholey hostas!
    I’m looking forward to seeing yours develop.

  25. Chloris says:

    I think HRH should come clean about how he keeps those hostas slug free.

  26. Peter Herpst says:

    The story of your lunch with Prince Charles was delightful! Your post made me smile as a couple of years ago, I started keeping some interesting small stumps and collecting ferns. Now I have a little pile of logs and some potted ferns sitting in a bed where I’m working on eliminating running bamboo roots. Your stumpery looks much more grand than mine.

  27. Chloris says:

    Well, there you are you have a stumpery too. I long to add some impressive roots to mine, but of course I can’ t. I went for a walk in a bluebell wood yesterday and looked longingly at all the wonderful mossy stumps.

  28. Definitely a stumpery. Not a pile of logs. How very dare they 😉 I’m impressed at the progress, lifting grass and removing the weeds is slow and heavy work.

  29. I love your stumpery! This is a totally new concept to me but it’s clever and creative. I’ve never seen a stumpery in the US. Looks like another great gardening idea we need to borrow from the Brits!

  30. I saw somewhere how to make a stumpery from logs if stumps were not available, I dug up 2 huge elderberry roots when I was first at my garden, they are now not far from their place of origin as they were so heavy to move, I wanted them down by the trees, I just liked the shapes,
    I like your stumpery, it’s looking nice, thanks for an interesting post on the subject, Frances

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