Sunday, April 25, 2010

How To Love A Stump

In the "Back 40", we have a section that lives under a building restriction. We cannot build anything in this space, nor change anything that's there. It's part a set-back for the creek that is at the bottom of the ravine behind our property. When we bought the lot, years ago, we knew there was a creek down there, but didn't realize that the set-back area crossed on to the back corner of our lot.
Last year, as I developed the landscape plan for the back, I went down to visit the city hall to check on the back boundary. That's when the fun began.
I spoke to a cute young engineer at the permits desk, and he looked more and more puzzled as he searched out the maps for this hill. Then he read off the restrictions on this set-back to me:
No sidewalks, sheds, fences or structures of any kind.
No planting of trees, shrubs or gardens.

So I started asking questions.
Can I plant a vegetable garden?.....No.
Can I clean out the weeds and blackberry vines?.....No.
Can I prune down the tall Salmonberry bushes to let some light into
my yard?.....No.
Can I dig out the stumps?.....No.

Now this young whipper-snapper had my back up!
Neither he, nor those silly rules were going to get in the way of my redesign of the back 40! So I thanked him politely for searching up all that information for me, and marched out of the building.

After some weeks working on the plans, and several conversations with a city planner in a neighbouring municipality, I decided that I would go "half-way", that is , I would not try to clear and plant this strip pf land, but quietly "manicure" it into a transition area between my garden and the wild forest along the ravine.
And so the fun started - pulling out the blackberry vine that strayed close to my garden (I have the scars to show you), and quietly chopping back the Salmonberry bushes, one by one, with my heavy duty loppers. I pulled weeds, and quietly relocated several 2-3 foot cedars to the back property line. I tidied up several nice sword ferns, and gave them some plant food. Now there's some sun getting into my yard, and the stumps, all 7 of them are partly visible above the green. Some of these are just ordinary short ends of the trees that have fallen in storms, but 2 of them are old. Really old for this area of Coquitlam , anyway. They're 3 - 4 feet across, and 5 or more feet high. I'm guessing at the exact height as I cannot get close enough to measure with a tape - the undergrowth is that thick. These guys must have been cut way back, when this area was first logged in the early 1900's. They are ragged and black, but have not rotted away. One has a red huckleberry bush growing from the top. The other old giant has a cedar tree growing from the side that has been pushed over, and which now grows upward in a gentle arc.

With a little care and a few lucky finds at the upcoming plants sales in my neighbourhood, perhaps My stumps will look as good as the one at the beginning of this post. That one is not mine, but lives in a provincial park just around the mountain from me, next to a cold little lake. Nature has planted it up wonderfully. It's going to take some work to match her!


  1. I know a couple of wild places that have big, jagged stumps of willows that had been broken in the hurricane twenty-odd years ago. They're full of mosses and lichens; one has a fine collection of polypody ferns, the other has ferns and bittersweet nightshades. Very picturesque.

    Good luck!

  2. Thanks Kevin. It will be interesting yo what kind of plants can survive on an ancient stump - and not get eaten by the deer, the bear, the racoons, ...