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.
To maintain the magical atmosphere there is a dragon’s lair.
I don’t know how safe it is to walk along here.
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.
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.