Woodland Stumpery Garden Design – Working Wonders With Woodland Stumperies

Grow a beautiful woodland stumpery garden with woodland plants interspersed in, on and near tree stumps of all kinds and sizes.

Artfully arranged tree stumps form a stumpery
(Image credit: Sterling750 / Getty Images)

Most gardeners view any type of landscaping with an approving eye, even if it isn’t something they would or could do themselves. While formal gardens like the classic French landscaping at the Palace of Versailles might be outside the realm of the possible for most homeowners, here’s a new trend in gardening that could appeal to you: a woodland stumpery garden.

Stump gardens are informal and look natural, but are refreshingly different since they use tree stumps as their basic structural feature. If this piques your curiosity, you aren’t alone. Read on for information on making a stumpery.

What is a Woodland Stumpery Garden?

You’ve heard of a rock garden, and may even have one in your backyard. It’s a garden built around rocks and boulders, with the plants and flowers interspersed with them in a creative and appealing manner.

Just so, a stumpery garden uses stumps to create the structure of a natural-looking landscape. Gardeners use stumps that have been removed from the earth, roots and all, to create a setting for woodland plants. Since the setting is not supposed to look formal or artificial, the stumps are partially reburied, and plants are settled on the stumps or, for shade-loving plants, inside the root mass. One of the benefits is that a woodland stumpery garden is also helpful for encouraging garden wildlife.

Plants For a Woodland Stumpery – Best Selections

How to make a stumpery garden: It starts with stumps of course, and other woody elements like logs and even driftwood. The plants to select for a stumpery should soften the look of the landscape. That means that ferns and mosses are among the best choices. Their leafy look provides an appealing contrast to the solidity of the wood. Any woodland plants and spring bulbs also work well.

The Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia has a stumpery that includes these native ferns and fern look-alikes:

  • Spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris carthusiana) is a native fern that often is found in a natural oak forest
  • Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina) is a perennial with fragrant leaves that looks like, but isn’t, a true fern
  • Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is an evergreen native fern

Other wonderful fern choices include:

  • Hart’s tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium) with its glossy, leathery leaves
  • Soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum) an appealing evergreen with finely divided foliage
  • Copper shield fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) a colorful fern switch fronds that grow in pink.

Stumps For a Stumpery – Tips and Inspirations

The key to creating a wonderful woodland stumpery garden is the artistic placement of the wood elements. This showcases the architectural look of logs, tree roots, and even driftwood. Nestle plants inside the roots if they prefer shade, or atop the logs if they prefer sunlight.

Another attractive idea is to pile uprooted stumps or logs high - even as high as 10 feet - on both sides of a walkway. Put in small shrubs or bulb plants at the base. What if you don’t happen to have any stumps? You can also use simple cross-cuts of wood.

Recreating Woodland Lighting and Temperatures

The idea of stumperies in the garden is to make them look as natural as a woodland area. That’s why there are no rules for planting, just squeeze plants into any available nooks and corners, crevices and crannies in the wood. It’s nice to include some tall plants to add height that will work nicely against the gnarled forms of the stumps.

Garden Size / Hardiness Zone Considerations

Remember that stumperies are like rock gardens: they can be big or small, depending on your landscape. It is possible to create a stumpery from just a few unearthed stumps, or even with just a few driftwood pieces.

However, if you have a large area and lots of wood elements, make it as large as you like. You can have several stumperies in your garden. Be sure to select plants within your region’s hardiness zones since otherwise they won’t make it through the winter.

Problems With Making a Stumpery

Small garden? Narrow garden? Garden without much sun? Stumperies can adapt to any of these limitations. Just include whatever wood elements fit within the space, then choose plants that will like the site. If there’s little sun, pick shade-loving plants.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is the best place to put a stumpery?

The great thing about stumpery gardens is that the idea - using fallen wood as a structure for plants in a garden - can work in urban or rural areas, large and small backyards, and even spaces that have never grown a tree. Work with what you have and use your creativity to make a lovely arrangement of wood and plants.

Which wildlife can you find in a stumpery?

A woodland stumpery garden provides a wonderful ecosystem for whatever birds, mammals, and reptiles inhabit the area. Even if you don’t have any wildlife in the garden when you first complete it, remember that stumps will rot and decompose, creating a habitat for insects that will, in turn, attract birds and pollinate plants. Mammals and reptiles like lizards and frogs will appreciate the stumps and, in time, may seek refuge beneath them.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.