Friday, April 21, 2017

The Creative Side of Gardening

So often the creative side of gardening is overshadowed by the more practical aspects of planting and nurturing flowers, fruits and vegetables.It's important to remember that gardening is not just work, it can be fun and inventive as well.

Gardeners can be a resourceful lot. They look around them to the materials at hand and see a creative potential. This post celebrates different ways to add whimsical or rustic touches to a garden using found objects and materials. Some of these ideas make use of natural items such as twigs, branches and tree stumps in a host of clever and unique ways. In other examples, everyday objects and industrial materials, like metal, have been re-imagined and given a second life.

Natural Ways to add Rustic Touches to a Garden

Even in death and decay, nature has an eerie beauty. Trees, with their twisted and gnarled roots, retain some of their majesty and grandeur even in death. Not surprisingly then, there is an old tradition of using tree stumps in a garden.

The first known "stumpery" was created in the 1850's by Edward William Cooke, an artistic gardener working on a large estate garden. In a flash of inspiration, Cooke saw a fresh use for tree stumps that had been unearthed when a section of the Batemen estate was cleared. Cooke piled the roots of these trees into a wall of stumps and then interplanted them with ferns. Very quickly the Batemen estate became known for its "stumpery." The delicate beauty of the green ferns emerging from the decaying wood was not only strikingly beautiful, it was a reminder, on a more spiritual level, that life can spring from death.

A modern stumpery that includes clay pots.

Making a garden stumpery grew to become a fashionable way to creat the perfect habitat for hardy ferns. Decaying wood returns nutrients to the soil providing the perfect rich, loamy environment that these woodland plants love.

At present stumperies are enjoying a resurgence in popularity do, in large part, to the efforts of Prince Charles who created a stumpery at his home at Highgrove House. In this instance, the Prince used sweet chestnut roots to create a shade garden filled with a large collection of hosta, ferns and hellebores.

The dramatic architecture of a tree's roots is more than just an ideal home for plants. Their mysterious and somewhat melancholy aesthetic can suggest a spiritual significance. One of the most dramatic examples I have seen is in the picture above. The stunning view is a reminder of nature's beauty and the ring that surrounds the large silvery-grey tree stump is a reference to the circle of life.

Tree stumps and driftwood can have modern uses as well. The only limitation is a gardener's imagination. Here on the edge of a pond (above) a weathered bit of wood suspends lanterns over the water. In the image below, a birdbath is nestled in the centre of a large, inverted stump that has been aged by the elements.

A large tree trunk can also make a fine pedestal for an object... 

or a pot filled with flowers.

A dead tree trunk can also make a tall apartment building for birds.

Logs and tree branches can find architectural uses as well. These rough wooden structures can sometimes have a large, imposing scale. There is something about this pergola that makes me think of Stonehenge.

The face that presides over this arbor again makes reference to that other worldly quality of rough, unfinished wood. In this example and the next, the faces reference fantastical creatures and the world of myths and legends.

Young saplings can be pliable. They can be bent into a curve or woven to make a fence or gate.

Here spruce saplings have been used to create a fence and arbor for this vegetable garden.

The tradition of making low woven fences for a vegetable or herb garden stretches back to Elizabethan times. In this modern example, branches have been woven to make a frame for an urn that sits in the centre of a formal herb garden.

Willow is particularly pliable and is often used to make rustic furniture, structures and even abstract sculptural figures like the ones you see below.

As well as more decorative uses, twigs can also be configured into an obelisk that provides support for climbing plants.

Even on a very basic level, twigs can make a very natural looking plant support.

In this final example a mix of different branches and a upright log support a couple of different types of clematis.

Found objects and Rustic Industrial Touches

Aren't these metal buckets hung on a length of chain a rather whimsical way to channel rainfall? In the second part of this post, we will focus on ways everyday objects and industrial materials have been repurposed.

The roof of this long rectangular birdhouse is a old rusted piece of metal. A row of maple syrup spigots provide a place for birds to land.

 Below the birdhouse, an old wagon wheel becomes a abstract sculptural object.

Ladders make terrific plant supports of one kind or another.

A window with an nice patina can be used as an abstract architectural sculpture.

An old milk can makes a rustic container for a planting of succulents.

In this instance old bottles are have been scattered through a shade garden.

This row of tomatoes are made more dramatic with a striking backdrop. The fence looks like it's rusted metal, doesn't it? But as you can from the closeup below, it is just a clever paint job on an ordinary wood fence. The oxidized metal stakes behind the tomatoes add to the effect.

It seems fitting to end this post with a few spring container plantings. This first one makes use of an old blue pot.

This is a re-imagined use for a rusty toolbox.

I hope this post will encourage you to get creative with found objects and natural materials. Remember, a garden is the perfect excuse for a grown-up to have fun express their imagination.


  1. Great ideas - love the birdhouses and that birdbath!

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this post! I try to incorporate wood cuttings and stumps in my gardening, but they seem to rot very quickly. Maybe too much in the shade. Love the stumps with their silvery beauty.

    1. Glad you liked the post! Perhaps the quick demise of the wood you are using has to do with the type of wood you're using. Hard woods would decay at a slower rate, I am thinking. The good thing is your garden will have benefited from all the nutrients from the stumps and wood cuttings.

  3. So many great inspirations! We recently brought some driftwood from a trip to the seaside with the intention to create something for our garden.
    There is also some stumps from cut trees in the near park, that I really want in my garden. It is a bit too heavy thought, but I keep my eye on them, and they have not been taken yet. I better hurry up ;)

    1. I think you have proved my point that gardeners are a resourceful lot Aga! I hope your able to find a way to bring those stumps home to your garden.

  4. What a great idea for those birdhouses. Kind of like a little neighborhood for the birds.
    I've never seen so many uses for tree stumps, and each one is beautiful.
    One of my favorites is the flowerpot
    Thank you so much for sharing all of these wonderful ideas, Jennifer. It is truly appreciated.

    1. I am glad you liked to post Lisa. I think I'd like to create a similar neighbourhood for birds in my own garden. I really like the way the vine covers the stump too.


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