Garden Photo of the Day

Syd’s Hugel Garden

Turning fallen logs into a beautiful garden

A garden planted on a mound with logs at one end. A small building is visible behind.

Today we’re seeing a beautiful garden created by Syd Carpenter. We’ve visited her home garden before (Last Summer in Syd Carpenter’s Garden), and today she is sharing a cool project she recently completed.

I am a sculptor and a gardener. Gardening plays a very large part in my art, and my own garden has been an endless source of form for my sculptures. Last year I, along with my husband, Steve Donegan, also an artist, was invited by the Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia to design a garden in an underutilized area of the museum grounds. The emphasis on the development of this garden was on sustainability, with use of on-site materials a priority. It was suggested that I might create a “hugel,” which is German for mound or hill. It is an ancient raised-bed technique that makes use of fallen trees and other compostable materials. Fortunately, there were several fallen trees available for the project. My design includes two curving hugels that undulate across the site, surrounded by a pattern of log tiles. Each hugel is about 45 feet in length, with a maximum height of just under 6 feet at the highest point. The plants I selected are drought tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant, and have four seasons of interest.

A garden planted on a mound with logs at one endThe mounded soil is built up over stacked logs, and here some of the logs were left exposed to show how the hugels were built.

pathway next to a garden made of pieces of log slices laid flatLog tiles form the pathway around the hugels.

logs piled in a low moundHere’s how the hugels began, with putting in the logs and other base materials.

Mounded gardens with small plants just placed in themThe hugels built and newly planted.

Sliced sections of logs being placed to form a pathThe log tiles going into place.

A mounded garden full of flowers and colorful foliageThe finished project in June is grown in and blooming. The yellow flowers are Achillea ‘Moonshine’ (Zones 3–9), their color echoed by clumps of the yellow-leaved Carex ‘Evergold’ (Zones 5–8).

A shrub with clusters of small pink flowersRich pink flowers of Double Play spirea (Spiraea japonica, Zones 3–8).

Mounded garden with flowering plants growing on itThe height of the hugels allows layers of plants to be displayed without the ones in front obscuring the ones in the back. At the top of the mound, a big clump of borage (Borago officinalis, annual) with blue flowers makes the mount feel even taller.

Looking down a path between two mounded garden bedsA final view of this inspiring planting. I love that they used fallen trees to create something exciting and beautiful.


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View Comments


  1. runfortheroses 06/21/2021

    Great work, Syd. The log tile path, wow! Museum quality, to say the least! Love the creativity and the hugel components are incredibly cool.

    1. sydneyleigh 06/30/2021

      the log pavers really added excitement to the garden

  2. nwphilagardener 06/21/2021

    Having had the privilege of participating in the group planting of the project, the organization by Syd and Steve was brilliant. Before mulching, the mounds were covered with a loose burlap which was peppered with numbered stakes. These coordinated with hundreds (thousands?) of plugs in numbered trays for the volunteers to insert. Mulch was distributed carefully that same day.: a heroic effort accomplished efficiently without confusion!

    1. User avater
      treasuresmom 06/21/2021

      Thanks for the explanation. Helps me understand more about it.

  3. Jay_Sifford 06/21/2021

    Fascinating. Congratulations!

  4. Rebeccazone7 06/21/2021

    Seems appropriate on the Solstice to feature a newly created approximation of an ancient raised bed. I love the contrast with the plantings especially with the light colored grass.

  5. gardendevas 06/21/2021

    Bravo! A splendid project, beautifully done. I did a modified hugel hillside recently with fallen tree and branches.

  6. CTpat 06/21/2021

    Incredible work, and a lovely result. How well do hugels last? I know stumps of cut trees rot eventually and the dirt on top collapses. Does having the logs on their sides counteract this?

    1. sydneyleigh 06/30/2021

      It will be at least a few years before these hugels settle into the ground , leaving behind a slightly raised bed. Then we will berm it up again with more logs and earth.

  7. janeeliz 06/21/2021

    WOW!! It is awesome ! A unique work of garden art...beautifully designed and planted.

  8. User avater
    treasuresmom 06/21/2021

    Love this!

  9. Dusanka 06/21/2021

    Amazing, with all our fallen ash trees this makes sense to try. What is the least size hugel mound that would be effective?
    On the paths how thick are the cut logs and what options do you recommend for in between space?

    1. nwphilagardener 06/21/2021

      You can see from one of the photos that shows Syd herself that the floor "tiles" are about 6" thick. What's so engaging when you are there is seeing groupings of small tiles -obviously cut from the same tree limb because of the unique pattern and coloring of the slices - as a constellation around the larger trunks slices with bark looking like corrugated teeth on a gear. In lieu of grout is simple gravel to allow rainwater runoff. The installation is on the crest of a hill so the natural drainage will help the pathway last a while.

      1. sydneyleigh 06/30/2021

        Anything thinner than 6 inches and it becomes unstable

    2. sydneyleigh 06/30/2021

      We dug a trench About a foot deep, filled it with logs and stacked more logs on top. We piled about 4 inches more or less of lesves and other compostables on that. Then we put a jute net over that to prevent erosion, finally covering with 6inches of soil. The plugs just took off growing immediately.

    3. sydneyleigh 06/30/2021

      You can make a hugel any size. It depends on what kind of garden and how you want it to look. Too tall and you can’t tend it.

  10. wittyone 06/21/2021

    This is just gorgeous. It's a great use of materials that would otherwise just go into a landfill. A good way to give some variation to a flat level space without the use a backhoe. I would think that some very real planning has to take place beforehand to get a lovely result such as this, but you could just start out small and work up to larger installations. What fun to experiment with this technique.

    1. sydneyleigh 06/30/2021

      I had a pretty detailed planting scheme but I have done some editing in the last few weeks which is to be expected. I didn’t realize the top of the largest hugel was getting so much wind. So seeds sown up there did not germinate. My borage grew so large and fast that it toppled over on to other plants and was removed. I replaced it with a more well behaved sage berggarten.

  11. User avater
    simplesue 06/21/2021

    I'm so impressed with the plantings and path, and so intrigued by the hugel and like that it's created with fallen trees.
    Wow- just beautiful, and such an accomplishment!

  12. btucker9675 06/21/2021

    Stunning and inspirational garden!

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