Friday, 5 December 2008

The Art of Arborsculpture

Do you have a green thumb? Then perhaps arborsculpture is for you. It may not be a word that is familiar to you – it does not yet appear in any dictionaries, but it is a combination of art and gardening which is quickly growing in popularity.

Arborsculpture is the art of growing and shaping the branches of tress (and other woody plants) in to shapes never intended in the wild or even in the garden. A combination of pruning, grafting and bending, it is used to make living plants in to something either useful or ornamental. The results can be quite stunning.

You could even end up with living furniture, if you gave the time! Arborsculpture is for the tenacious and patient. It takes a significant amount of time to see the fruits of one’s labor and there can never be a one hundred percent guarantee that the finished work will be as you intended – nature will sometimes have her way despite us!

Plants have the ability to be joined together through grafting and arborsculpture relies heavily on this. Woody plants are also able (with some persuasion) to retain a shape they have been forced to assume when they grown new layers of wood over the original soft bark.

A part of the tree is deliberately wounded by the removal of bark. It is then joined on to a similarly wounded tree and the two parts bound together. Where the contact between the two plants is maintained securely they will grow together. This may mean that they are ‘braced’ for a year or more. As with teeth, this is done to overcome the natural resistance of the wood to grow where it will.

However, when the new layers of wood grow it acts as a kind of natural cast and keeps the plant in the shape in to which it has been bent. Once the new wood has grown the brace can then be removed.

Pruning may also be required. This helps to redirect the growth of the stem. If a plant is pruned above a leaf pointing to the right then new growth will be produced that points to the right. In exactly the same way a cut above a leaf growing left will encourage growth in that direction.

To grown an arborsculpture will depend on a variety of things. Firstly the size of the tree that is destined to be sculpted must be taken in to account as does its growth rate. Something relatively simple can be done in around an hour and the ‘cast’ can be removed in a year. Other larger projects can take anywhere up to a decade from start to finish. It could be argued that the art project is never finished as while the tree is alive it will continue to grow! You might even end up with a new, living, home if you do things correctly!

With a great deal of patience and hard work, not only ornate patterns can be produced. Even ‘everyday’ items can be formed from trees by the manipulation, bending and merging of their tissue. While many may prefer to leave nature to its own devices, arborsculpture allows those with the time, inclination and energy to express themselves through something living in a way which at the very least demands to be described as eye-catching!


Anonymous said...

I love trees and plants. These are truly bizarre, yet beautiful. I once had a Bonzai tree with a Celtic love knot. But wouldn't you know, I killed the poor

Richard Reames said...

Lots more shaped trees @

There is even a book on the subject.

blackash said...

The peace symbol tree is the only tree that has been Arborsculptured, in this group of photos. Arborsculpture is one man's method of shaping trees. It is an instant, and inferior method of shaping trees. This peace tree shows the classic hallmarks of Arborsculpture. Uneven and stunted growth.

blackash said...

Hi this is Becky form Pooktre
Arborsculpture relates to Richard Reames's method of shaping trees.
At Wikipedia there was a consensus that a neutral name was needed for the artform, and Tree shaping was decided upon.

You may be also interested in visiting this website which shows photos from all the different tree shapers from around the world.

griseum said...

Arborculture is a generic term that does not refer to specific style or method. The word was originally coined by Richards Reames but is now used all over the world as a generic term to describe tree shaping by various methods. A Wikipedia article called "arborculture" was changed to "tree shaping" largely through Beckey Northey's efforts. Indisputable evidence that "arborsculpture" is a generic term can be found on the "talk page" of the Wikipedia article on "tree shaping."