Atlanta BeltLine’s New Stumpery Garden

A new treat awaits on the Eastside Trail. South of Wylie Street in Reynoldstown, imposing, overturned tree stumps with their gnarled web of ancient roots beckon trail users to deviate from the concrete byway, if only for a moment, onto an inviting woodchip path.  The wooded detour weaves through a thick of trees and shrubbery lined by low serpentine log-pile walls. Playful tree stumps provide a spot to sit and rest or perhaps an obstacle course to hop to and fro, while intricate root system sculptures or hollowed logs in various states of decomposition invite the curious to discover the wonders of nature up close and personal. Welcome to Atlanta’s first public stumpery garden.

Since they first appeared in Great Britain in the 1800s, stumpery gardens tell nature’s lifecycle story as living trees and flora work in tandem with dead and diseased stumps to nourish a vibrant microclimate. This horticultural oddity is the newest addition to the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum from our partners at Trees Atlanta. Part of their mission is to create learning landscapes that highlights diverse uses and benefits of trees. This tumpery garden includes a winding trail where users can explore a different kind of forested space along the transportation corridor. As such, this whimsical, playful space highlights the importance of the circle of life of trees in an urban environment.

“The Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum is such a unique project that cuts through different parts of the city, with different spaces of learning,” shared Kelly Ridenhour, Associate Director of Design at Trees Atlanta. “Stumpery gardens provide a glimpse into the interesting cycle of the forest with dead wood becoming home to birds or moss, which harbors a lot of animals as well. A healthy forest needs death to be healthy.”

Possibly one of the largest gardens of its kind in the U.S., the Atlanta BeltLine stumpery garden spans across some 12,000 square feet and is home to over 100 pieces of trunks and stumps, including about 20 “big root” stumps. To those who may be alarmed, rest assured: no trees were cut down on the BeltLine for the making of the garden. Trees Atlanta worked with New Urban Forestry and Royal Landscape and Gardens to identify, transport and install the cumbersome repurposed wood from other construction sites in Atlanta, rather than being sent to a woodchipper or a dump.

To cultivate that microclimate alongside the curated wooden walkway, Trees Atlanta planted about 12 species of trees and 20 woody plant species, mostly native to the area, showcasing the beauty of Georgia’s native woodlands. Black cherry, for example, may not be a garden favorite, but it supports some 450 kinds of caterpillars and offers a fun, wonky branch growth to stir the imagination. Likewise, southern hackberry is another local species less commonly planted due to its fruit, but as a huge pollinator and supporter of some 40 species of birds, it offers a treasure-trove for wildlife to flourish. Tree stumps plugged with mushroom spores during a Trees Atlanta educational workshop add to the wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and over the next few months, they will continue to bring new life to the stumpery with the addition of over 80 species of ferns, mosses, shrubbery and woodland perennials.

“The stumpery garden serves to bring joy and teach us about our natural world,” continued Ridenhour, who recently helped organize a virtual tour of the stumpery as part of National Public Gardens Week from May 8-17, 2020. “It’s not just an opportunity to passively walk through, but it’s also a space to steward and watch grow.”

Learn more about the Stumpery Garden at TreesAtlanta.org. 

Please respect all CDC social distancing and health guidelines when out on the Atlanta BeltLine. 

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