Maybe it’s our depressingly dark, wet, cool June here in southwestern Ontario that’s inspired me to look at dead things with renewed interest. While the plants I’ve recently installed in the ground and in containers are already looking exhausted from repeated deluges, perpetually damp stumps and fallen logs are springing to life as generous hosts to all manner of moss, fern, and flowering plants. Taking the idea of repurposing dead wood further, here are ideas I’ve found in my garden travels for turning dead wood into fun garden solutions–even for small urban gardens.
Stumps go formal
Here are two great examples of how a tree stump can live, or rather, stay put in a formal garden. A vintage mill wheel, balanced on a large tree stump, makes a stunning container for a woodland-themed planting, while still remaining undeniably elegant. Placing a wire pot holder over a small stump gives the illusion of a floating container planting.
One stump good. Three stumps? Even better!
Sometimes a group of trees has to be felled. In a small garden, that could be a nightmare. In the case of one garden I visited, the back of the property included a row of half a dozen stumps. The gardeners’ creative way to incorporate them into the overall garden design was to make a wide bed of woodland plants that ran along the back fence, extending the bed forward to meet and frame the stumps. The effect has the feeling of an enchanted forest (in a small city garden!) and the stumps look right at home like softer versions of large flat stones.
In an expansive country garden I discovered while on a garden tour hosted by the Woodbridge Horticultural Society (in southwestern Ontario) three tree stumps were left tall rather than sheared almost to the ground as is normally done. The result has a Woodhenge feel about it. Besides creating sculptural interest with their powerful vertical shapes, these stumps have also been pressed into service as plant supports for a variety of climbing perennials.
Emphasizing a garden theme with logs
These two examples use short sections of logs, bark removed. The planter of upright logs is the perfect idea for a rustic chic garden whether you live in cottage country or just want the feel of a woodland escape in your small downtown backyard. Take those logs and stand them upright in a garden in groupings of three and you’ve got mini piers, adding vertical interest as in this maritime-themed garden located along the shore of Lake Ontario.
Let your dead tree go to the birds
These three uses for up cycling dead trees or logs into fanciful housing for birds just goes to show that even the simplest of materials can make the most remarkable pieces of garden decor.
In a desert-themed garden, stumps do their thing
Tree stumps and found pieces of old wood work great as found art in a lush, green oasis but they can also work surprisingly well in a xeriscaped garden. This front garden, seen below, in downtown Toronto, was designed to function without extra watering. Old stumps were used as homes for a variety of plants and pieces of weathered wood served as organic sculpture.
Making a big yet simple statement
Some of the best ideas are the simplest. I love the log bench I spotted in a wooded section of a large country garden. What this seating lacked in formality, it made up with grandeur. The broad mulched path, kept clean of any plants, created a dramatic visual line that lead the eye from the edge of the woods right up to this peaceful spot.
In another woodland-themed garden, a staircase made of split logs with bark still intact, added a dramatic focal point to a steep hillside filled with hosts and lily of the valley.
If you want an idea for what to do with a small ornamental tree that’s bitten the dust, read The Rise Of The Dead Tree. You’ll find out about what I did to give our expired Japanese maple a second life as a flowering vine support.