I have recently joined the Pinterest bandwagon and enjoy pinning and re-pinning interesting garden ideas on my board “Plantspiration.” That’s “plant” + “inspiration,” not “plant” + “perspiration,” although based on some of the great garden ideas I’ve come across, the latter is probably also true.
When I’m avoiding doing something I don’t want to do, I often enjoy exploring the gardening section from the Pinterest iPhone app
that crashes all the time. Recently I came across a picture that really upset me. It was a picture of a tree pruned to be a chair. It’s called “pooktre,” but my immediate reaction was to call it “tree torture.” An artform, yes, but I have a hard time with it.
Rather than immediately starting TPAP (Trees and People Against Pooktre), I stopped to think if I was overreacting. I had to ask myself, “Is there any difference between pooktre and bonsai or a Ficus benjamina with braided trunks or an espalier?” In terms of the basic idea – specific pruning (and, in this case, also grafting) to produce a desired effect – the answer is no. But I feel very differently when looking at a beautiful bonsai specimen or enjoying the sight of that braided ficus while anxiously sitting in the doctor’s waiting room than I do when looking at pictures of kids hanging in trees that were grown to look like stick figures of people with crazy hands and hair.
Am I being too much of a tree purist to appreciate this very time-consuming pruning and grafting process? Am I being narrow minded, or just logical? Part of me feels guilty for putting down the hard work of the people behind pooktre, but most of me feels disturbed and sad for the trees. To each their own, right?
Now I ask you, what do you think about pooktre. Is it tree art or tree torture? I look forward to hearing what you have to say.
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In just a few days I received many, many great responses on here and on various LinkedIn groups! Wow! Thanks everyone for your perspectives and insights.
So my conclusion: After all the feedback, I do believe my gut reaction was just as I originally thought…a bit extreme. Is pooktre different than other forms of topiary or pruning? My answer is still no. Is the tree healthy? According to most people who responded, the answer is a resounding yes (right species for this kind of manipulation, lush canopy, appropriate mulch, constant attention, etc.). So while pooktre is distasteful to me, it’s no different than not liking any other type of pruning technique that does not harm the tree. It’s not to be confused with topping (which is a fineable offense in my town, and a pretty expensive one at that).
Now, as an art form, do I like it? Definitely not. But is it an artform? Of course. So is Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain,” although others may say it’s just a urinal. Not everyone enjoys or appreciates the same kind of art. If you like pooktre and you didn’t know it existed until reading this post, then I’m glad I was able to introduce you to it.
While people had some great responses, the one that struck me the most was by Alan Bryant, owner of Alan Bryant Gardening Services in the UK, on the Proper Pruners LinkedIn group: “[A] question you need to ask yourself is: does it encourage the owner to use their garden more. For some, gardening becomes merely an exercise in religiously maintaining the previous owners garden. Likelihood is that such owners are disinterested in a garden they rarely use. What a waste. I always encourage owners to ‘own’ their gardens, by truly making them theirs.”
There it is…the “Aha!” moment. This really made me think about pooktre from a different perspective and allowed me to appreciate it for what it is. Those kids in that picture above are having a great time hanging in the tree. Not many children can say they have a tree in the shape of a person in their yard! I know from my own childhood (see my Family Bonds post) that experiences like this can lead to a life-long love of nature and gardening. I hope it does for those children.