Tree shaping is the practice of training living trees and woody plants into artistic shapes by carefully orchestrating how the tree and the branches grow. Techniques such as grafting, bending, creasing, framing, weaving, twisting, braiding, pruning and ring barking are employed to archive the unnatural shapes.
Tree shaping is a form of living sculpture, sharing a common heritage with other artistic horticultural and agricultural practices, such as bonsai, espalier, and topiary, and employing some similar techniques. A unique and distinguishing feature evident in many examples of the work is the purposeful inosculation of living trunks, branches, and roots to form artistic designs or functional structures.
Artist Peter Cook seated in his living garden chair
Tree shaping has been practiced for at least several hundred years, as demonstrated by the living root bridges built by the ancient War-Khasi people of the Cherrapunjee region in India. These are being maintained and further developed today by the people of that region. Early 20th century practitioners and artisans included banker John Krubsack, Axel Erlandson with his famous circus trees, and landscape engineer Arthur Wiechula. Contemporary designers include artists Peter Cook and Becky Northey, who call their work "Pooktre", arborist Richard Reames, who coined the term "arborsculpture", and furniture designer Chris Cattle, who uses the phrase "grownup furniture".