A Growing Art

The slow movement, a cultural shift toward decreasing life’s pace and savouring the moment, has been gaining followers around the globe. The practice of tree shaping complements this lifestyle choice, as the shaping can only happen at the rate the tree grows.

Shaping living trees is known by various names including arborsculpture, biotechture, grown furniture, and tree training. Distinct from topiary, where only foliage and smaller branches are pruned into shape, tree shaping involves the branches, roots or even trunks of growing trees. Functional suspension bridges made from the aerial roots of fig trees in the state of Meghalaya in northeast India are the oldest known living examples of woody plant shaping. Tree dwellings have been around a long while too. In medieval times, Franciscan monks meditated in simple tree-rooms.

Grow on, try it
What you’ll need:

  • Pliable saplings. You can propagate your own from cuttings, but for an immediate start, choose unbranched saplings six to eight feet tall. Grape vines, plum, willow, fig and maple are popular choices
  • Stakes
  • Tree tape, wire, string or twine
  • A sharp knife
  • Secateurs and later, a saw

Investigate designs online or visit local tree shapers for ideas and tips. Consider variables that will impact on your first attempt, such as growing space, available resources, and current skill level.

You can create a living artwork in as little as an hour, by simply bending and trimming branches into your desired shape. Use stakes, cable ties or whatever else works for you to hold branches in place. These supports will also serve to train subsequent growth and can be removed or repositioned over time. Try weaving branches together to enhance strength while enriching the visual effect.

Frames can be made from timber, wire, or metal to support and train a tree until it maintains a desired placement without support. Control and direct growth by pruning.

Dedicated tree shapers use grafting to facilitate branches, trunks or roots fusing together naturally. Visit a nursery or check out a gardening book at your library to learn what grafting technique will suit your project.

This article was originally published in Issue 7, Audrey Daybook – Empowered Women.