A Stumpery

When a client asked me to place a bronze sculpture of a bear sitting on a beaver dam, what came to mind is a stumpery.  I first read about them in “The Gardens At Highgrove”,  Prince Charles book about this garden of his. It isn’t very hard to explain;  large stumps and other dry wood are integrated into a landscape or garden as a sculptural element.  What better home for a bear, than a landscape that suggested a primeval forest.�

The first order of business was providing water for the bear, and his beaver dam.  As the property had natural fall, it wasn’t hard to visualize a stream bed, falling over a cliff of rock, to a pool below.  This was a construction project of considerable length, involving large machinery and many tons of rocks, plumbing and filtration.  That bear was unperturbed throughout the process.
The entire landscape was designed around the bear.  Outdoor sculpture of great size asks for a compelling and convincing landscape . Some sculpture is best in a big open area, but representational sculpture comes with a story.  The landscape can represent that story.
Farmers in the thumb area of Michigan pile up the stumps of their dead trees on the edges of their fields, or on their property lines.  These natural fences are wildly beautiful.  All manner of seeds blow in, and soon the fence is a living thing. I found one such farmer who was willing to part with some of his stumps.�
We trucked them on a giant flat bed, and placed them on the slope with a skid steer.  That piece of equipment seemed dwarfed by what was chained to the forks.
If this looks precarious to you-it indeed was.  Once we set a stump down, we dug it into the ground.  As if a storm had upended it. I always try to dig in hard materials, so there’s a physical connection with the ground.
At this stage, the idea is starting to become clear.  Though the bear is tucked into the slope, the scale of the surrounding landscape seems scaled to his size and presence.�
The sculpture and materials are very much larger than I. An overscaled landscape can be very dramatic.  Interesting enough, this whole area is almost completely invisible on the house side.  This landscape is a room all its own.�
The first day the waterfall ran was an anxious moment.  Once it was determined that everything was working properly, we installed the plant material.  Comprised largely of different types of dwarf evergreens, and clematis to soften the stumps, the plant choices are as hunky and massive as the bear.

The plant material greatly softened the appearance of all the stone, and this garden is aging gracefully.  That bear has a home.


  1. I must say I am amazed! What an awesome project and the finished product is incredible. My new flower bed doesn’t seem as great now that I have seen this:-) I have always wondered how I got skipped when it comes to artistic talent and vision. I hope you will continue to show us this stuff.

  2. Not the kind of garden installation that I could ever dream of having, but beautiful and creative, nonetheless.

  3. Frederick Olmsted would be envious of your talent and creativity…and vision.

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