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Stump gardening, or the practice of planting soil and ornamentals into hollow tree stumps, is catching on as a new way to create fairy garden settings.

In many ways, the only constant is that things will always keep changing. When considering what is and isn’t popular with home gardeners, this is especially true.

For the past several years, garden center retailers have embraced the growing relevance of the miniature gardening genre — as a result, fairy garden departments are commonplace in retailers across the country. But are these businesses current on all the latest aspects of this in-demand hobby?

Garden blogger and landscape professional Abbi Hayes thinks there may be some tastes retailers could consider appealing to in order to keep their miniature gardening offerings up to date. As owner and operator of NittyGrittyGardener, an independent landscaping business in Springville, Ind., and commentator on gardening trends at www.plantersplace.com, Hayes is seeing a shifting environment in mini gardening, with a variety of new trends, sensibilities and ideas taking shape.

Don’t get stumped

While taking a glance at some gardening pages on Pinterest, you might notice an interesting method of container planting gaining steam. Homeowners with unsightly old tree stumps on their property are finding a new use for them: turning them into planters.

“[Stump gardening is] just a great way to dress up a stump in your yard, if you don’t want to pay to have it ground out.” — Abbi Hayes, garden blogger

This trend of “stump gardening” is a relatively easy way for gardeners to turn an eyesore into a makeshift natural container for potted plants or fairy garden settings.

“Stump grinding is pretty expensive when you have a large tree removed,” Hayes says. “A lot of times when they’re cut, there’s a cavity already in there, or you can use a chisel to carve that out. It’s just a great way to dress up a stump in your yard, if you don’t want to pay to have it ground out. It’ll eventually help with the decay of the stump, too, as the roots spread and get nutrients from the stump itself.”

Courtesy of Abbi Hayes, Planterspace.com

With more and more home gardeners looking for ways to repurpose and personalize in their green spaces, there’s opportunity for retailers to provide the supplies and know-how for their customers to tackle stump conversions.

Stump gardening is no cakewalk, however. Hayes advises caution in plant choice and maintenance when approaching a stump planter project. Retailers could benefit from her tips, including stocking helpful plant types and communicating via signage that shoppers can get equipped for stump gardening at their local IGC.

“Most of the time, you’re not going to have a very large cavity to fill, so you can’t fill a 1 gallon pot in a stump, usually,” Hayes says. “There’s not a lot of soil for the plants, so using plants that don’t mind things on the dry side is a good idea.”

Stump gardens make for a natural extension to conventional container fairy gardens, Hayes adds.

“It could be a crossover even with the miniature gardens to have a sign next to the miniature gardens [department that reads] ‘Hey, have an ugly stump in your yard? Turn it into a miniature garden,’” she says. “It’s kind of the perfect little setting for that, really.”

Making the translation

Conventional wisdom might suggest that mini gardens and standard flower beds don’t mix, but Hayes thinks there may be more similarities between the two philosophies than differences.

As consumers are planning out their gardens — whether they be miniature or “life-sized” — design sensibilities from both schools of thought often carry over. Gardens of any size benefit from proportional arrangement of upright, mounding and ground cover plants with accentuating décor added in.

“I think the elements of a fairy or miniature garden kind of replicate the larger gardens, so the same kind of concepts that you’d use in a fairy garden would apply to general landscaping,” Hayes says. “You’d want a taller element, some mid-low shrubs and something on the ground surface, then accessorize at will.”

Hayes says retailers can key into this sharing of ideas by emphasizing the use of scale in all garden designs, while also providing enough types of accessories to accommodate as many different tastes as possible.

“If you like whimsical elements or maybe more colorful things or more ornamentation ... there are people who like really modern designs where they keep it to clean lines and maybe not so many garden ornaments in their garden or miniature garden,” she says. “I think it’s just similar concepts applied to both styles of gardening.”

More to consider

There are myriad angles to take into account when catering to fairy gardening hobbyists. Plant selection, accessory quality, design advice and many other considerations can set a retailer apart as a miniature gardening authority.

Hayes says one way IGCs can improve their standing in the mini garden genre is to provide clear and unhindered access to plants that lend themselves to smaller-scale plantscapes. Accessories and figurines are somewhat easy to find, but the plants that best accompany them are, in many cases, a different story.

“The plants can be hard to find,” Hayes says. “I think stores that want to support this trend should really focus on the plant material that is small and can work in a miniature garden. It’s hard to find the really tiny dwarf and mini plants in most nurseries. Stocking those would be very helpful.”

Classic container-based fairy gardens are still as popular as ever, but it pays to be informed about changing tastes in container style, shape, size and more.
Courtesy of Abbi Hayes, Planterspace.com

When shopping for fairy décor, most savvy and experienced gardeners are thinking hard about how the products will fare in their outdoor containers and flower beds. Some materials are better suited for the outdoors than others, and IGC buyers may do well to weigh the options when purchasing new inventory.

“I think the main thing is just making sure you’re not buying toothpick dollhouse furniture,” Hayes says. “It needs to be ceramic — that’s probably my preferred material — or maybe even concrete figurines. Metal does okay, as long as it’s painted or powder coated or something, but it will eventually rust, especially if it’s in an outside garden. Plastic is fine; I think it looks a little chintzier, but it does hold up pretty well.”

Whether tying fairy gardens into stump gardens, carrying their charm over to larger flower bed designs or any other variations, the options are many for retailers investing in miniature gardening. While there’s no right or wrong way to sell a trend, keeping an ear to the ground for changes in consumer attitudes never hurts.