Seed catalogs began arriving in early December. For anyone who digs dirt, seed catalogs are backyard paintings waiting to happen. Gardeners are planning, plotting and dreaming of spring. We pore over catalogs looking for the newest varietals and plotting where we’ll place our seedlings. But this year there’s something else to look for where they sell bundles of yearling trees: chairs. Yep, I’m looking at my catalog for a chair … maybe a set of chairs. But chairs from a seed catalog? You betcha. If I can plant willow trees and train them just right, maybe they’ll turn into dining room chairs. It’s simple enough: four legs, a seat, two arms and a back. But from trees?
Sure, a chair can be made from dried lumber, a table saw, sander, scroll saw, planer, drill press and router, and ... well, OK, we get the picture. To make one chair that is too expensive to buy at $2,000. will cost you three times that in tools, years to practice on cheaper stuff, plus the hardwood. But grow a chair? That makes no sense at all.
While looking for a Christmas gift, I found a British magazine with a feature story about someone actually growing chairs. It shows photos of chairs planted all in a row, neatly shaped trunks (where the chair back is connected to the root-system) and showing the pruned arms and grafted seats and legs. It’s all kind of hard to believe unless you are a gardener who has pruned or trained branches (espaliering) to produce specific directions for tree limbs to grow.
Ever think you could wait a few years and just grow the thing? Yep, grow it; plant a tree that turns into a fully-grown chair.
At first I thought the story was a joke. But the photos showed the process. It’s craftsmanship. It’s art, and it’s gardening. It’s creative and wonderful. I wish I’d thought of it.
Many of us know about pollarding in order to lower the height of a tall varietal. (Lombardy poplars, for example). Espaliering is another type of pruning for tight spaces, used to direct limbs of trees where they get the most sunlight in the least space. Espaliering is used to keep fruiting trees close to a fence line while still having spring bloom and fall harvest. Grafting uses a parent tree and a scion grafted onto the tree trunk or limb in order to balance or change growing directions.
According to the magazine’s example, willow whips can be grafted onto healthy willow tree trunks, shaped or pruned, and another graft added to that one in a year, and the entire contraption can be grown into a usable chair. One of the photos shows a chair hanging right side up, and you can see a well-formed seat, arms and legs and back. It just needed pruning to cut off the still growing willow twigs and leaves extending beyond the legs.
I’ve grafted and espaliered. I’ve never double-grafted anything ... and didn’t know it was possible to grow living furniture. It makes me wish for more space, more sun and more time. Next spring I resolve to try my hand at growing something besides flowers, trees, shrubs, weeds and veggies. It may not be a chair, but maybe I can grow a ladder; Or a lamp, or coffee table … or maybe an abstract sculpture.
If anyone has an item for this column, please contact Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.