Whimsical Gardens (Part I)


OK, first things first.

 I’ve made it into The Finals of “The Homies”! (YAY!!)  Thanks to you!

Now  I need your help just once more to win.

I’ve already fallen behind (BOO) but voting is even simpler this time.

Just click HERE

and you’ll see this:

Screen Shot 2013-02-09 at 1.30.12 PM

Easy peasy.

omg-can you tell I never got picked for any sports teams??

And now, without further pestering, the post;

editorials-garden-of-delights-carolineTim Walker

I don’t know about yours, but my garden looks like a dog’s breakfast right now.

Other than a few wildly optimistic blossoms on my pear tree that never grow pears (the eager date who shows up way too early-sweet, but it’s like never going to happen)

 I’ve got nada. Zilch. Strike out.

Not only that…but more of this happened …

IMG_2876My last big willow bit the dust.


Willow trees in Southern California are undoubtedly beautiful but let me tell you-they need a lot of supervision and attention.

They grow super fast, uproot easily, turn your back and they attract pests, and don’t look so great for a few months every year.

Basically, they’re the teen-age boys of the tree world.

So now I have about 10 of these wonderful stumps sitting around and I’m trying to decide what to do with them.

The Silver Lining is a dead tree turns into a beautiful ______ (Fill in the blank-don’t worry, this isn’t another contest 🙂 )

I’ll put a few back in the garden as stools but I’d love to hear your suggestions on what to do with the rest.

I  love pretty much everything with a touch of whimsy, but particularly in the garden.

Nothing more boring than spaces that take themselves too seriously. Life’s too short.

Screen Shot 2012-11-04 at 10.03.20 AMAnna Williams

Screen Shot 2012-11-04 at 10.03.30 AM


Screen shot 2011-06-24 at 12.54.17 PMboth images via Pinterest

One of the reasons why I love gardens that incorporate “rooms”, no matter how small, is that they allow you to come upon hidden surprises, which is often the best way to add a sense of whimsy to your outdoor spaces.

l1090996One magnificent example of this is the incomparable Ninfa Gardens in Italy, which contains several ‘rooms’ as well as the pristine Ninfa river running through it.


L1040414Another is the garden created by Japanese silent film star Denjiro Okochi, located in the Sagano district of Kyoto, open to the public yet not wildly busy.

A stroll through the small, stunning gardens ends with a steaming cup of Macha in the tea house.

L1040410Speaking of teen-age boys…my younger son kicking it at the Okochi gardens.

Screen Shot 2012-11-04 at 9.59.57 AMMoss gardens or simply allowing any ground covering to rule also add a lovely sense of whimsy.

IMG_2849a fuzzy pic of my ground cover

Screen shot 2011-06-27 at 10.24.49 PM

Manolo Blahnik

I wish these were in my garden

 One of the most effective ways to create a whimsical effect is to place items normally found indoors, outdoors…

L1100410This “room” at “Lunuganga” in Sri Lanka (more of this garden and house in an upcoming post-It’s truly beyond)

L1100422Some of the arches are mirrored, some are not. How flipping genius is that?!

L1100418See me??

Screen shot 2011-06-27 at 6.01.47 PMChanel

Garden-MirrorOf course outdoor mirrors can be applied in much smaller gardens and apartment terraces

120119515032177572_Nijg0ekB_bboth pics via Pinterest

I’ve used mirrors outside in many outdoor scenarios.

Which I can’t show here.

Because  I’ve got “Save It For A Book” Fever now.

Screen Shot 2012-07-07 at 2.15.00 PMGiambattista Valli 2012

L1100455Another glimpse of “Lunuganga”


The very best thing about applying whimsy to the garden is that it’s utterly boundless.

And almost inevitably, you’ll get a helping hand from Mother Nature.

Whether you wanted it,IMG_2876or not.

Happy Grammies, Downton Abbey (almost over :() and to those of you on the East Coast-stay cozy!




  1. I’d just commented a congrats thinking the voting was over with but goodness no, it’s still going on…so I just voted, best of luck!!
    The whimsy’s you’ve shown made me smile…and Ninfa was just beautiful, made me desperate for spring…our garden looks like gray dog food right now….need some greens. And yes, saw you…what a trip that must have been..brilliant use of mirrors. Garden folly is always so enchanting.
    Sorry about your tree. Here in the Northwest people carve amimals out of every stump they can get their hands and chainsaws on…maybe a cute critter or three might be fun, and whimsical.
    xo J~

    • thank you Jessica, great idea too-though a carver I am not.
      omg-just the thought of it makes me want to run to the first aid cupboard.

  2. Oh my gosh! Rooting for you! Wish I could tweet everyone at the Grammies to vote for you! Wishin’ and a hope’n!

  3. Slim Paley you are the best, Unfortunately, voting for you in the survey requires a password and entry and I don’t like doing that…sorry Why do they make it so complicated? you do have my vote in every way. And ps I would love to see more of your personal style your home, garden etc. You are a great traveler bringing us all zinging and enlightening photos and quips Especially Shree Lanka .Thank you for this. P

    • Hi Peg. I can guarantee you there’s NO spam or unwanted email generated by voting in this contest.
      I have participated for 3 years (3 YEARS-boo hoo!) and never have I received a single email from Apartment Therapy, even when I finished in 2nd place in 2011.

  4. I Voted!
    First thought for stump reuse is a classic place to chop wood. But when I saw your photo of the stump collection again… place them artfully (and securely into the ground) – spaced so that you can leap (with just enough effort to make it seem challenging) from one to another.

    Whimsy and core strengthening garden detail.

    (that last photo…) How do I create a reclining pot head for my garden?


  5. Slim, on a mission to get you to Number 1 on the Homies. In the meantime, I want that stone chair!!! Gorgeous post.

  6. I voted. Enjoy your blogs every time they hit my “inbox”. Best Home Design & Inspiration is such a blah category. You belong in a category all to yourself, which nobody can equal, but as that is not available, just everybody vote, vote, vote.

  7. Hello, inspiring pics, pity I only have a courtyard that is a glorified lightwell!

    But you know the blue plaques in London where they say, someone lived worked died here! Maybe for one of the stumps you could do that and say jack and his beanstalk were here but now cut never to return. Kids and adults with a sense of fairy tale might find that fun! Or perhaps I am very immature…I like gardens with a sense of being a portal where fairies might appear.

    Re the pics, they might be from the blog manger? Not sure but has that feel.

    Off to vote now! X

  8. Just revoted. And that Sri-Lankan wonder…must…know…more…am…breathless! Remi and I have a dream to use a few ruins as a basis for building our house amidst some olive grove…I said dream! Heehee.

  9. Very annovying that you have to have their app to vote–but i did it for you. Don’t like opening my fb account to these apps as we all know they start sending all kinds of unwanted stuff.

    • You don’t have to have their app to vote. I don’t have their app. and I’ve never received a single thing from Apartment Therapy. Not in 3 years.

  10. Slim, The stone chair looks very similar to one I saw while visiting Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, PA, outside of Philadelphia. I recall a stone sofa as well. Very fun. BTW, I voted for you….

  11. Stumps set up like the striped “stumps” in the Palais Royale garden—and one could be sliced into fantastic cutting boards to share with friends. Maybe even with a happy (me) reader. Do so enjoy your lovely blog.

  12. I have seen stumps made into planters for succulents, just carve out some holes and fill with succulent soil, makes a beautiful artsy piece. Love the gardens, I would like to live in them.

  13. Love the “green” of it all!
    Logs: Take a hanging wire basket, (removing chain/hanging wire), fill it with sphagnum moss, turn it upside down place on one end of the log, (I use thin wire to hold moss and basket in place.) Now, stuff succulent cuttings or pieces of living moss into the wholes and voila – green mushrooms! Keep watered until they take off – cluster all shapes and sizes under a tree in the shade, very interesting and you have something to do with all those old baskets……love the blog.

  14. Slim,
    Like Sandra, I’ve seen wonderful stepping stones from stumps. I’ve also noticed thin-cut stumps used as chargers/place mats, stumps are very popular right now. Oh how I wish I could grow moss like the moss found on the stone lady, who by the way, was watching you take her picture! Sorry about your willow trees…I always feel sad when a tree has to be taken down.
    I voted and I’ve looked at the other contenders…if anyone takes the time to actually visit your site you’ll win! Good luck.
    Have a good week.

  15. I voted for you of course! I too love mirrors in the garden. How did I not know Downton was 2 hours last night. What a treat! Best of luck Slim!

  16. Love the post, as always. Have cut similar stumps into slabs and used as cutting boards, and/or trivets……sand, oil tops, polyurethane the bottoms…still have ones from 30 years ago when I lived “in the woods” and off of the land; also make them into inside tables…..I can’t figure out how to add a photo to my comment (suggestions?) so will email separately. Voted!

  17. Forgot to say that I love the sprightly (adjective: lively, spirited, active, energetic, animated, brisk, nimble, agile, jaunty, gay, perky, vivacious, spry, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!) photo of your son!

    • It’s Dymondia margaretae or Silver Carpet, Ann. It gets a tiny yellow flower (which I don’t love-not mad for yellow in the garden) but it grows like crazy.

  18. For the stumps… this is what I would try…
    Cut them different heights if they aren’t already… paint one of the tops vermillion red or cobalt blue depending on your preference.. then, clump them together in the garden … instant instillation… will either look fabulous and everyone will think you have had some incredibly serious landscape designer in… or… you think I need my head read…:)
    P.S Voted!

  19. Voting taken care of. I also stumbled you. I also lost a huge pine tree during the latest winds. I’d been told that the tree was dead, but it leaned over the hillside with such grace i could not remove it. Well, someone else took card of that. Sorry I did not make stepping stones out of the slices of the tree trunk. Oh well, Love the gardens. Was not aware of them. Thanks.

  20. I voted! For you, naturally! Slice the stumps into 1/2 to 1 inch to make rustic placemats for your home in the snow. I saw them @ Z Gallery a few years ago loved them but as I live in Florida they seemed inappropriate.

  21. If they were sturdy enough, you could put a nice sized piece of flat rock on it to use as a garden table! Good luck, going to vote!

  22. Voted! Hope this is THE YEAR! Those stumps look very heavy; use them like kettle bells for a workout. The Lumberjack Lady Workout? It could spread coast to coast and be all the rage. : )

  23. I’m loving all the great ideas for my willow stumps! I’ve got some thinking to do now, for sure. Thank you!!

  24. Hmmmm, well I am feeling a little” ver-stumped”….Our willow was a very sad lost, it broke my heart losing grandma willow,she grew old ever so gracefully……. they take sooooo much water, not a very good choice for southern california, however, she was loved.. when the girls were little, they loved dancing in-between her long wispy braided branches…i too have taken a liken to lichen and such, i used to go to the wholesaler to purchase boxes of moss to create moss garden spheres, and was so excited when we re-located for a bit to New England, where our property wetlands were filled with the most beautiful lush pillow emerald green moss. I would go out in my long, white night gown with a machete and hack away in the early morning mist and fog (insert visual imagination here)….back to your stumps go here: http://www.in5d.com/the-healing-tree.html and of course this tree hugger will vote for you!

    • P.S. can you please post the the video of your performance from the above website “clearing negativity with trees” 🙂

  25. Voted for you Slim ….good luck.. i think everyone’s suggestions for the stumps v clever. Loved the Japanese garden but then I have alwasy had a yen for traditional Japanese houses and gardens

  26. Those garden rooms are stunning! wow! And of course, VOTED! (for you!) As for the tree, maybe take one and have it sliced into serving platters – they can coat it with food safe varnish and it would be lovely. Good luck with the voting!

  27. Cutting the stumps into different heights is a lovely idea, as Vicki suggested. We did that with a tree in our old country garden, and then put the different-sized stumps in a corner of the kitchen garden, so we could use them to sit on. They were unobtrusive, and beautiful – and perfect when we needed a rest from weeding!

  28. We just had to cut down our “grandfather oak”…a little over 90 feet tall 🙁 The straightest part will become a “slab” table top and seven of the “many blocks” now surround our fire pit. Also, we used mirrors on the lower portion of our eight sided cupola on the cottage…increased the view significantly! franki

  29. Ninfa has been on my bucket list for many years now, seeing your beautiful photos makes me even more determined – I am really looking forward to Whimsical Gardens Part 2,3,4,5…….!

  30. I’m sorry to hear of the loss of your willow! We have three enormous willows and they’re gorgeous, although they make a big mess. They’re struggling now with drought in our area. Hope they stay strong. We’ve had to cut willow branches down that made stumps big enough for stools around a fire pit. The bark will eventually fall off but the wood underneath has a beautiful patina. Paint and varnish the tops in any color you wish! Love the idea of slicing them thin for garden path “stones.”

  31. Love your blog, thank you. A project on my list is to make a tic tac toe grid using straight-ish branches on a stump and use rocks and shells to play – my granddaughter will love it. Julie Benson

Would love to hear from you!