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.
Cloud pruning is a form of topiary in which trees are trained into shapes resembling clouds.
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.
It differs from the more common topiary plants in that it is not symmetrical.
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.
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
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.