This un-usual, modest and compelling book is an important addition to a growing (no pun intended) genre of writing concerned with the “how to” of grafting, shaping and shaping the growth of living trees.
Peter “Pook” Cook and Becky Northey, a husband and wife Australian team are among the world’s leading, and certainly Australia’s most famous, practitioners of this art.
The book details their “discovery” of what has become for them an all-consuming pursuit. From 1996 their “tree shaping” work has concentrated on the single species Prunus Cerasifera myrabalan, the wild plum endemic to Queensland. With interesting amateur scientific trial, error and noted observations, their work with this species has evolved to a very particular craft-like achievement, accomplishment and mastery.
For instance their chapter on light and pruning, though I question the reliability of a chlorophyll + light = growth formula related to square meter foliage area, contains the brilliantly observed bonsai master’s trick of lowering and hiding a foliated branch in shade to slow down the growth and raising and exposing the foliage to light to thicken a branch. The pages that explain tree branching, and how to get two shoots to come from the same place on a branch, are genuine wisdom. I have never seen, much less attempted, the miniature grafting they practice upon toothpick size new green growth.
Of particular significance is their concentration upon the “shaping zone,” which they define as their principle working area. Manipulating and guiding this flexible new growth at the tip of a branch allows for the signature Pooktre style of “drawing” the stick figures and frames for which Pook and Becky are known. Working with this new green growth the diameter of a match stick, speaks to the patience and amount of time they devote to being there with the tree on a daily basis. Working in what seems a laboratory of labor, the authors describe at one point in the book a window sometimes of as little as one day in which to perform a crucial bend or curve in a project.
This book is as complete a guide as a person will need to achieve similar success, given as the authors say, the individual can plant and care for a tree. My one caveat is concern about replicating the same results away from the Queensland locale and climate and with different species. As the authors freely acknowledge, “[trees] get up to all sorts of antics and it takes years to learn one species quirks.” Apple trees in Washington State in the United States, are as different a kettle of fish again as a Guava tree in Northern Thailand is from the Plum in Queensland.
That said, what Pook and Becky have achieved and written about the wild Plum in this book are invaluable lessons and observations that will be much appreciated by anyone wanting to work with trees. A debt of gratitude should be offered for the hard won wisdom, tricks of the trade and short cuts they so generously offer. We hope they share again in the future as much about the Sycamore, dogwood, and Oak, and in as delightful a fashion!
Dan Ladd has worked on tree grafting projects in temperate zone North America for 33 years. He has done botanical architecture tree grafting projects nationally, a few examples being the UC San Diego Art Gallery in LaJolla California, a project with the Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Melon for the City of Pittsburgh, two pieces for the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville FL as well as many others for Museums, Science Centers and private commission. He has and continues to: teach lecture and consult. The scope of his work may be accessed at his website danladd.com