Tag Archives: stumpery

Another one bites the dust

With an increasing number of what are called ‘extreme weather events’ in the face of climate change, we just have to accept that falling trees are a fact of life here. We have a garden created amongst large trees. But none are as vulnerable as our old man pines (Pinus radiata). Planted in the 1870s by Mark’s great grandfather, some tower as high as 45 or 50 metres. We just have to accept that they appear to be reaching the end of their life span. And as yet another one falls, the next trees in the row lose their shelter so may be weakened.

Totally uprooted, the Ficus antiarus which dates back to 1957

We usually say that it is amazing how cleanly big trees can fall, especially ones that don’t have a lot of big side branches or a great deal of foliage. But not the one that fell last night. It has clearly done substantial damage as it came down. The worst is the total uprooting of the rare Ficus antiarus which will require a major effort to get back upright and planted again. The macadamia nut tree is probably unable to be salvaged. Mark is a bit sorry that it only brought down part of the expendable Lombardy poplar and not all of it.

The tree tips, like a giant spider, descending on the new caterpillar garden area

And 50 metres of tree coming down as one long length extends… well, it extends 50 metres really. So this one lies through the avenue garden, across the intervening hedge, through part of Mark’s tropical palm border and the top landed in my recently planted perennial beds of what we call the caterpillar garden. I am not thrilled by this.

With Auckland being badly hit by falling trees in last night’s storm, I come back to my position on the chilly moral high ground. With these increasingly frequent events, it is not a sign that we should be felling all trees. Yes, it is important to keep a close eye on vulnerable trees and branches. But we need to match the felling or falling of trees with the planting of more trees in places where they have a reasonable chance of growing to maturity without causing problems to life and property. Which usually means on public reserves when it comes to cities. A dendrologist friend said that it should not be a one-for-one replacement but a five-for-one ratio to allow for those trees that die or are killed before they reach maturity. And that is just to maintain the status quo. We need to think about these issues because the planet needs more trees and city folks should not be consigned to living in concrete and tarmac environments where nothing is allowed to grow over two metres tall. The problems lie not with the trees themselves but with where they are planted, how they are maintained and which varieties are being grown.

I wryly suggested to Mark that maybe we should be renaming our Avenue Gardens the Pine Log Gardens and he quipped that our stumpery is growing. We will follow our practice of clearing paths, removing all the side branches and cleaning up the collateral damage but leaving the body of the trunk where it fell and gardening around it. As more huge trees fall, we  have a stumpery by chance, not design.

 

 

The Evolution of a Garden

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Fallen branches and the occasional large tree are a fact of life here with our oldest trees dating back to the 1870s. The pinus radiata, in particular, are not stable trees in the long term. We usually hear them land so I was surprised to find this sight down the Avenue Gardens on Saturday. Mark had commented in the middle of the night that we had an earthquake culminating in a bang but neither of us had thought more of it.

IMG_1411Not an earthquake. A falling dead tree. Pinus radiata often drops all its side branches when it dies, before keeling over or, in this case, snapping a third of the way up. This is good because the side branches can cause even more damage when a tree falls although it can and does clip other trees as it falls. As falling trees of at least 135 years of age go, this was on the minor end. The trunk broke in three as it fell, with the longest length (about nine metres) rolling over to a final location which is not bad at all, though it did initially land on a garden bed.

IMG_1471On Monday, we started clearing the paths. Surprisingly, there is quite a bit of good firewood in the centre of the trunk and by the end of the day, the pile of split wood in the shed was growing satisfactorily. There is nothing quite like the Squirrel Nutkin feel of seeing the firewood for 2017 already stacked and drying.

IMG_1586The longer lengths will remain in situ and we will garden around them. It is just a stumpery that chose to arrive. The main damage was to woodland orchids – dendrobiums and cymbidiums and some crushed bromeliads. I rescued most of the bits and replanted. There is no shortage of chunky wood chip to house all the orchid pieces. The pine bark we use as a natural edging, stacked as a low wall in places. It doesn’t break down so is relatively permanent while creating its own eco-system.  I planted the odd small fern and orchid piece on the length of log to hurry up the colonisation process.

IMG_1587It is a lot easier to garden with nature, rather than in constant battle to keep it under control. By Tuesday, it looked like this. We are fine with that. It will settle down again over the next month or two and look as if it has always been like that.

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Stumperies – an ecological option

Our Rimu Avenue with its informal raised beds which are essentially a stumpery

Our Rimu Avenue with its informal raised beds which are essentially a stumpery

Stumperies are a thing, overseas if not so much in New Zealand. After all, Prince Charles has one at Highgrove. So has Wisley, the Royal Horticulture Society’s flagship gardens. Indeed, many of the best gardens have a stumpery. The first deliberate construction of old tree roots and stumps is attributed to Biddulph Grange in Britain, where the keen owner wanted to display his fern collection but other shade gardens through history must have had incidental stumperies. They are hailed these days as ecological havens.

When you think about it, the stumpery is basically a naturalistic alternative to trendy insect hotels. But instead of being a confined hotel, it is more like an entire estate.

Our stumperies have rather more pragmatic origins than caring for the under-appreciated critters of the garden. In the area we call the rimu avenue, it has evolved over decades. The rimus are so grand and large now that they suck all the goodness and moisture from the ground around them. Our stump and log constructions are a means of getting informal raised beds so we can establish underplantings, including epiphytic plants like vireya rhododendron species and zygocactus, the so-called chain cactus. It adds a lot more interest and gardening potential to have these elevated areas and pockets for planting amongst the tree stumps and trunks.

When we have dug out the stumps of larger plants, these are re-sited to shade areas, sometimes placed upside down so the roots give more visual interest. There they can gently decay, but in the process they add some structure and height to otherwise flat areas dominated by very tall trees.

Allowing nature to create a stumpery – two pine logs left where they fell

Allowing nature to create a stumpery – two pine logs left where they fell

The more substantial stumpery efforts come on the other side of the garden where we have venerable old pine trees. As with the rimus, they are up to 140 years old. Unlike the rimus, they lack a good grip below ground and from time to time, one falls. Four plus a gum tree of the same age have done so in recent years. They cause surprisingly little damage when they fall but were we to try and extract the enormous trunks, it would create a swathe of destruction. We do a cleanup of the foliage, the side branches and the prodigious quantities of pine cones but leave the main trunk where it fell and simply work around it, chainsawing back to clear paths where we need to.

A naturally developing ecological haven on fallen poplar logs

A naturally developing ecological haven on fallen poplar logs

When our instant stumpery installations arrive, they are invariably covered in epiphytes – native astelias and collospermums in particular. We thin these if required but basically leave it to nature to colonise these new areas, adding in special plants to add interest. The ferns just arrive. Dendrobium and cymbidium orchids add seasonal colour and settle in readily. Clivias are often happy at the base. Hostas tend to need more soil than is offered in these situations, but rogersias and farfugiums have settled in well. Hippeastrums and scadoxus are bulbs that we find are happy in this environment and common old impatiens seeds down and adds some summer blooms.

A small stumpery (or stumpette) in a narrow, shaded border in Pat and Brian Woods garden in Waitara

A small stumpery (or stumpette) in a narrow, shaded border in Pat and Brian Woods garden in Waitara

You don’t need a large area to establish a stumpery. Many suburban homes will have a dark and narrow back border (usually the home of the wheelie and recycling bins and the garden hose). As long as you have half or metre or more in width and are not scared of wetas, you can bring in a smaller stump or length of tree trunk and start establishing shade loving plants around it. A little shade garden will contribute far more to a healthy eco-system than gravelling or paving and can be genuinely low maintenance. Fewer weeds grow in shade and once plants are established, it becomes a self maintaining system with the falling leaf litter and gently decaying wood feeding the soil. I did pause to wonder if a very small stumpery became stumperesque in style, or maybe a stumpette?

Amusingly, according to the information board on Wisley’s stumpery, “Not everyone appreciates an artistic garden feature. When the Duke of Edinburgh first laid eyes on the Highgrove stumpery, he allegedly turned to Prince Charles and said, ‘When are you going to set fire to this lot?’”

A natural-formed seat in the stumpery at Wisley, though it would look better without the dedication plaque

A natural-formed seat in the stumpery at Wisley, though it would look better without the dedication plaque

First published in the May issue of NZ Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.

Stumperies for shaded areas

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“Not everyone appreciates an artistic garden feature. When the Duke of Edinburgh first laid eyes on the Highgrove stumpery, he allegedly turned to Prince Charles and said, ‘When are you going to set fire to this lot?’”
Spotted on an information board at Wisley Gardens, England (2014).

Not our seat as you can probably tell from the dedication plaque to Miss Ruth Ezra who was, apparently, ‘Unique, Outstanding and Unforgettable’, but a fine example of a bench seat constructed from a weathered tree trunk.

Not our seat as you can probably tell from the dedication plaque to Miss Ruth Ezra who was, apparently, ‘Unique, Outstanding and Unforgettable’, but a fine example of a bench seat constructed from a weathered tree trunk.

Stumperies. I first saw the term used in a garden description locally and it did sound a little pretentious – ‘admire our stumpery’, it may have said. It is not a term that has ever appealed to me – too close to stumpy and dumpy – but it is an established term. Why, even Prince Charles has one at his famous private garden named Highgrove, as you will see from today’s quote.

The origins apparently date back to 1856 when the owner of Biddulph Grange in Britain created the first recorded instance of a deliberate construction using old tree roots and stumps in order to display a fine collection of ferns, but I suspect that incidental stumperies must have occurred throughout garden history. Mark pointed out to me that our rimu avenue gardens are in fact a stumpery, though the creation of a garden beneath those trees only dates back to the 1950s.

The addition of wood in this garden is for both decorative purposes but also to enable the soil levels to be built up so that plants will thrive despite competition from tree roots

The addition of wood in this garden is for both decorative purposes but also to enable the soil levels to be built up so that plants will thrive despite competition from tree roots


Our newest stumperies in the garden here are a pragmatic solution but one with which we are happy to work. When large trees fall – and this happens from time to time here – the initial mess can be daunting. But once the superficial clean-up has been done, it is always amazing how little long term damage huge trees actually cause when they fall – as long as they miss buildings and do not bring other trees down with them.
A recently fallen pine tree needed some chainsaw work to tidy up the remains but the trunk will be left to lie where it is and we will garden around it

A recently fallen pine tree needed some chainsaw work to tidy up the remains but the trunk will be left to lie where it is and we will garden around it

But to turn around and remove the main trunks of these trees would cause damage beyond description. Not only would we have to get heavy machinery in but contractors with massive chainsaws are not going to carefully pick their way around garden treasures. Big boots can do considerably more damage than the original event. Besides, we have plenty of firewood already. It is simply not worth the effort and damage, being far easier to leave them in place and to garden around them.
This is fallen poplar and it has only taken a few short years for Nature to move back in and colonise what remains. Poplar is a soft wood that will break down quickly.

This is fallen poplar and it has only taken a few short years for Nature to move back in and colonise what remains. Poplar is a soft wood that will break down quickly.


Who needs a trendy little insect hotel when you have a natural environment which is the equivalent of an insect estate? These fallen logs quickly become entire ecosystems in the space of a few short seasons. The rawness soon blurs and the first colonising mosses and ferns take hold. It is all part of the cycle of nature and fits with our philosophy of trying to garden with nature, rather than in competition. Mind you, the initial clean-up is what makes the difference. We remove or mulch the smaller side branches, anything broken and much of the foliage. We clear paths and basically leave just the main trunk to gently decay.
The stumpery style can be adapted to narrow house borders on the shaded side and will give a low maintenance option

The stumpery style can be adapted to narrow house borders on the shaded side and will give a low maintenance option

If nature fails to deliver you an instant stumpery in the form of fallen trees, you can create your own version and it is usual to pick a shady spot. If it is possible to get an exposed root system and lower trunk of an established tree, it is more stumpery-ish than merely using logs or bits of wood but space will determine the appropriate size and scale. Many town properties have awkward, narrow passage-way spaces down the shaded side of the house. These often accommodate the rubbish and recycling bins, garden hose and other bits. Any garden borders are almost always difficult, being narrow, shaded, cold and often dry. It may be perfect for a small stumpery.

Just don’t ever think that sawn timber boards are going to give you the right effect. Worse is the very idea of tanalised or treated timber. The whole concept of a stumpery is creating a healthy ecosystem based on gentle decay and natural change while creating pockets to display plants. There is nothing gentle or healthy or natural about tanalised timber. It has its place and purpose, but a stumpery is not one.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.