Cloud pruning – the art of taming nature no2

In 2008, when designer Tom Stuart Smith turned up at Chelsea Flower Show with his 30 year old hornbeams for his brilliant Laurent-Perrier garden, we knew two things – who would win Best in Show and cloud-pruning had definitely arrived.

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Cloud pruning is a form of topiary in which trees are trained into shapes resembling clouds.

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It originated in Japan where it is known as ‘Niwaki’, or ‘garden tree’, and is quite commonplace there, being trimmed with special one-handed shears known as harkaribasam.

However, in the west,  it provides a very striking focal point in the garden, even in the smallest of spaces, providing more interest than the more commonplace topiary balls and cones. It looks good when floodlit against a courtyard wall for instance.

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It differs from the more common topiary plants in that it is not symmetrical.

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Suitable specimens include Ilex, Phyllyria, Myrtus, even Laurel and Leylandii though fast growing specimens will require a lot more attention.

You can buy ready pruned specimens but they cost hundreds and often thousands to buy, because you are paying for years of skill and growth.

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If you want to try cloud pruning yourself, start with a reasonably sized specimen, about 2m, and observe its natural habit before you cut – you are looking for natural gaps which you can exploit and use canes to train branches horizontally. An amazing guide to this art can be found in Jake Hobson’s “Niwaki : Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese way”.

So cloud pruning

  • is a plant trained into cloud shapes
  • originated in Japan (‘Niwaki’)
  • is not symmetrical
  • makes a striking focal point
  • can distract the eye away from an eyesore in the garden
  • requires patience if you create it yourself

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So if you’d like to create a talking point in a mundane part of your garden, a cloud pruned specimen may be the answer.

A cloud pruned plant adds interest to the terraced area of this Show Garden.

A cloud pruned plant adds interest to the terraced area of this Show Garden.

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