Topiary: Cloud Pruning as Arboreal Art

June 11, 2012 9:00 PM

BY Christine Chang Hanway

On a recent trip to Japan, our friend Jess Seaton, an avid gardener and co-founder of Toast clothing and house wares shops, saw a kind of topiary she’d never encountered at home in England: plants shaped into soft, billowy clouds.

Captivated by the way that Niwaki, the Japanese art of sculpting trees, can create calming shapes that don’t overwhelm a garden, Seaton returned home—and discovered the work of sculptor Jake Hobson. Hobson trained at the Slade School of Fine Art in London and spent several years in Japan learning pruning techniques. The author of Niwaki: Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese Way, he teamed with Toast for a fortnight of events about cloud pruning. The goal, Seaton said, was “to bring some attention to the appealing practice of cloud pruning and to Jake’s refreshing approach.” For more information on the project, go to Toast.

Photography of topiary features at Levens Hall by Nick Seaton.

Above: The collaboration between Toast and Hobson included commissioning a photo essay on cloud pruning at Levens Hall in Cumbria by the Lake District.

Above: The 17th century gardens have some of the oldest topiaries in the world, with trees holding some of the same shapes created nearly four hundred years ago by gardener Guillaume Beaumont.

Above: Hobson believes that the long blades and wooden handles of these Okatsune secateurs provide the perfect balance for detailed topiary work, while being tough enough to trim hedges. With high quality steel, riveted into handles of Japanese white oak, they’re £65 from Toast.

Above: Okatsune shears (L) or one-handed clippers for box clipping and other topiary have a spring action that makes them comfortable to use; £39 at Toast. Wakasaya topiary clippers (R) are the top choice of professional gardeners in Japan. Unlike western brands, which rely on cushioning and gearing for a smooth feel, these Japanese gardening tools have a more direct action, for a clean, efficient cut; £32 from Toast.

Above: A sturdy, open-ended, Wicker Log Basket is practical for collecting cuttings; £39 from Toast.

Above: A Linen Stripe Apron (L) with adjustable, contrast herringbone straps and single deep patch pocket; £35 at Toast. A Long Handle Metal Dustpan And Horsehair Brush with oiled beech handles can be used for sweeping cuttings without stooping down. Hand made in Sweden; £49 from Toast.

Above: In Jake Hobson’s second book, The Art of Cloud Pruning, he describes his “‘organic topiary” approach; £25 from Toast.

Above: Jake Hobson’s book covers the history and culture of Niwaki; £25 from Toast.

Above: Many of the garden’s shapes echo the surrounding landscape, rounded hills that swell and roll away to the horizon.

Above: For more cloud pruning images from Levens Hall, visit Toast. To find out more about which pruning knife is right for you, see “5 Harvest Knives: The Right Tool for the Job.”

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