Arborsculpture, Solutions for a Small Planet
Review by Dan Clost...

Gentle Reader, I have just finished reading an inexplicably interesting book; Arborsculpture, Solutions for a Small Planet by Richard Reames. I consider myself a hard-nosed nurseryman more rooted in biology and commerce than in a philosophy of nurturing the self through some imagined atunement with non-sentient organics. In this instance, trees. I confess I also have a reversion towards deliberate manipulations of nature for either self-promotion, i.e., "Look what I can do, clever chap that I am."

Before a pillorying mob can assemble, let me also add that I do believe in a connection with this good earth that sustains us. Every one of us has a deep abiding need to belong to the land, we just don't always realise it. Sometimes the travails of my daily work draws the cynic out of the heartwood and causes me to look at things with a jaundiced cast.

Such was my state of mind as I started Arborsculpture. So naturally, I started at the back of the book.

Reames' last words are "Imagine the world you want to live in, and make it so." This happens to nudge up against bits of my philosophy so the jaundiced cast began to lose some of its yellowing tones.

As an aside, GR, when I read a book for review I find myself very interested in the motivations of the author. Many want to share their experiences, impart knowledge and wisdom, or assist in the success of their readers. They do this because they have a passion for the subject. There are some who write solely for profit and this is not necessarily a bad thing; however, I find such efforts usually lack soul. They become textbooks not teaching books.

It is Reames' passion that drew me into his work. In his words, "This book was written to advance the concept that life in all its forms, particularly tree life, can improve the environmental situation on earth. If we can develop respect for all the forms of life and find the common ground where all will thrive. This will be our solution." This is the kind of statement that tells me the author deeply believes that what he is doing has great meaning and impact. It gets my attention.

Simply put, arborsculpture is the art of causing trees to grow into desired shapes or forms both functional and artistic. It is achieved, practically, by bending and grafting primarily the trunk or trunks until they accept their contrived forms. Mind you, you need to add a bit of patience, a year or two, and it does help if you acquaint yourself with some bits of horticultural knowledge.

The book contains a brief history of the tree and its importance in societies and cultures over time, a quick listing of the "superlative" categories such as biggest, oldest, slowest growing , etc., an exceptionally lucid bit on evolution, a history on shaping which includes coppicing, pleaching, and topiary, descriptions and biographical sketches of arborsculpture pioneers, a section on techniques and finally a nice explanation on "how to grow a chair."

It is fascinating stuff and I can see this becoming a trend in the urban landscape.

Would this be a good or a bad thing? I dunno- depends on the motivation I suspect. I also suspect that the tree will shape the shaper and draw him or her into the more elemental aspects of their existence. And that is a good thing.

Richard Reames has done us all a service with this book. Some of us may choose to experiment with this art form, some may not. However, none of us can put this book down unchanged.

Arborsculpture, Solutions for a Small Plant, Richard Reames, USA ISBN 0-9647280-8-7, First printing, April 2005,

Author : Richard Reames
ISBN : 0964728087

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