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Log Pile Habitats: Build It and They Will Come

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Log Pile Habitats: Build It and They Will Come

November 3, 2023

The artful log pile has become a frequent feature in designer schemes, from the increasingly wild gardens of the Chelsea Flower Show to heritage gardens and newly created private spaces. A biodiversity-boosting stack will provide food, shelter, and a safe haven for all sorts of bugs—beetles, spiders, ladybugs, overwintering bees, newts, and small mammals including mice and shrews. Build it and they will come.

Log piles can provide stunning sculptural elements, too, rationalizing tricky areas, creating repetition through a space, or dividing an area with an informal boundary. Neatly built and thoughtfully placed, the best of these can be more beautiful than a hedge and, not to mention, require less maintenance. Any type of wood will do—simply source logs from your own garden maintenance or tree pruning, or use a neighbor’s prunings. Just remember to avoid removing existing fallen deadwood that is already providing useful habitats.

Placed in a cool, slightly shady spot, the pile will stay moist and provide a base for moss, ferns, and woodland plants which can be added directly into nooks and crannies. A log pile that is positioned across a shady area and a sunnier spot can provide different types of habitat at once.

Above: Nigel Dunnett’s log piles in autumn with a haze of Deschampsia, as well as Euphorbia characias ‘Wulfenii’, and rudbeckias. Photograph by Nigel Dunnett.

Arguably the master of the sculptural wood pile is Professor Nigel Dunnett, whose repeated stacks often feature on his Instagram account. The hugely influential British planting designer’s one acre garden has stunning views of the surrounding Peak District and takes inspiration from the dry stone walls dotted across that landscape, as well as the wavy hedges at Piet Oudolf’s garden at Hummelo in the Netherlands. But for Dunnett, the stacks also help define and rationalize his sloping site and connect it with the hilly landscape beyond. Over the growing season, the logs become immersed in naturalistic planting, where they play a supporting role. But in winter when the herbaceous plants die back the log stacks are revealed and become a valuable sculptural feature—and a winter home to myriad species.

Above: In deep winter, the forms are revealed. Photograph by Nigel Dunnett.

Dunnett isn’t the only designer harnessing the biodiversity-boosting power of logs. They feature frequently in the designs of Tom Massey too. He created an entire boundary using lengths of logs interspersed with panels of cross-sections at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show in his Royal Entomological Society garden, a space squarely aimed at the study of insects and ways we can support them in the garden. In 2021, the designer created sculptural log walls from biochar ash logs in his Yeo Valley Organic Garden.

Blackened ash logs in the Yeo Valley Organic Garden by Tom Massey at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer. (For more on this garden, see Sustainable Gardening: Lessons from Chelsea Flower Show&#8\2\17;s First Organic Garden.)
Above: Blackened ash logs in the Yeo Valley Organic Garden by Tom Massey at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer. (For more on this garden, see Sustainable Gardening: Lessons from Chelsea Flower Show’s First Organic Garden.)
Above: The wildlife-friendly log pile can become a platform for planting. At Tattenhall Hall in Cheshire, England, all the garden’s prunings are used in dead hedges or log walls. Here, a fallen tree in a woodland area becomes the support for a vigorous ‘Rambling Rector’ rose. Photograph by Clare Coulson.
Landscape designer Edwina von Gal incorporates similar habitat piles into her designs. Taking planting right up to the piles creates more shelter and food for visiting wildlife. Photograph by Melissa Ozawa, from Habitat Piles: Turning Garden Debris Into Shelter and Sculpture.
Above: Landscape designer Edwina von Gal incorporates similar habitat piles into her designs. Taking planting right up to the piles creates more shelter and food for visiting wildlife. Photograph by Melissa Ozawa, from Habitat Piles: Turning Garden Debris Into Shelter and Sculpture.
Neatly stacked woodpile create a sculptural feature. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer.
Above: Neatly stacked woodpile create a sculptural feature. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer.

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Frequently asked questions

What is a log pile habitat sculpture?

A log pile habitat sculpture refers to a carefully arranged stack of logs, branches, and other natural materials to create a unique habitat for various wildlife species.

Why are log pile habitats beneficial?

Log pile habitats provide shelter and food sources for a variety of organisms, such as insects, amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals. They promote biodiversity and can attract beneficial wildlife to your garden.

Where can I create a log pile habitat sculpture?

A log pile habitat sculpture can be created in your garden or any outdoor space with suitable materials and enough open area for wildlife to access it.

What materials are needed to make a log pile habitat?

To make a log pile habitat, you will need logs, branches, dead leaves, twigs, bark pieces, and any other natural materials found in your surroundings.

How do I construct a log pile habitat sculpture?

Start by placing larger logs on the ground as a base, with smaller logs and branches piled on top in a crisscross pattern. Fill in gaps with smaller materials and add leaves, twigs, and bark for additional cover.

Are there any specific placement considerations?

It is recommended to place the log pile habitat near trees or shrubs, as it provides additional shelter and mimics a natural woodland environment. Choose a shady area that remains relatively undisturbed.

How long does it take for wildlife to inhabit the log pile?

The timeframe for wildlife to inhabit the log pile habitat may vary, but it could start attracting creatures as quickly as several weeks or it may take a few months for them to discover and colonize it.

Can I customize the log pile habitat sculpture?

Absolutely! You can customize the log pile habitat to suit your aesthetic preferences while ensuring it still provides beneficial habitat features for wildlife. Just make sure to maintain a loose and natural structure.

How do I maintain a log pile habitat sculpture?

Maintaining a log pile habitat is usually low maintenance. Periodically check for signs of decay or collapse and add fresh materials if needed. Avoid using chemical treatments on the logs.

What wildlife species might I attract with a log pile habitat?

A log pile habitat can attract a range of wildlife, including beetles, spiders, ants, salamanders, frogs, toads, hedgehogs, mice, and other small mammals.

Can log pile habitats coexist with a garden or landscaping?

Yes, log pile habitats can easily coexist with a garden or landscaping. You can incorporate them into the overall design, ensuring they blend naturally with surrounding elements.

Are there any precautions I should take when creating a log pile habitat sculpture?

When creating a log pile habitat, be cautious of potential hazards such as sharp branches or protruding nails. Ensure the structure is stable and won't collapse easily to avoid injury to wildlife or people.

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