Review of The Art of Creative Pruning by Jake Hobson

The Art of Creative Pruning: Inventive Ideas for Training and Shaping Trees and Shrubs

by Jake Hobson


Reviewed by Caroline McCullagh

61ZwnRM9CeL._SX423_BO1,204,203,200_My first comment about this book was that some people have w-a-a-ay too much time on their hands. My second comment was “Wow!”

Hobson has created such an interesting book that he made me want to find out about something that had, until then, seemed a little silly. I came away with a new respect for this field. I may even try some creative pruning myself.

This is not your grandmother’s book of topiary. The focus is on gardens created in the latter part of the twentieth century. They are represented in photos taken in France, Belgium, England, Japan, South Korea, and even California and South Carolina. It’s difficult to explain the impact these photos have. Some of them amaze you, and others make you laugh out loud. Many of these artists with pruning shears have wonderful senses of humor.

The variety shown goes from simple trees that have been trimmed to develop multiple trunks to hedges shaped like Russian nesting dolls or boxes rolling down a hill.   There’s even a large sofa, easy chairs, and a coffee table—green and inviting. It’s hard to understand that they are cleverly shaped bushes.

Balls, mushrooms, onions, cubes, and spirals seem to dance through the pages.

The abstract shapes are just as breathtaking.

There’s an old joke about how to do sculpture. You just chip away (or prune away) everything that doesn’t look like what you’re trying to make. But how do these artists see these shapes in the trees and shrubs? I don’t have that kind of eye, but I’m glad that some people do.

Hobson includes clear instructions and simple diagrams for trying some of these shapes in your own yard. The one caveat is that most of the plants he shows are on estates that probably have twenty gardeners. You may have to curb your enthusiasm and try to prune creatively on a smaller scale.

If you’re determined to prune, you might also read his book Niwaki: Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese Way.

You can check out his interesting website at

The Art of Creative Pruning has photos on nearly every page. It includes references for those who want further reading about the gardens shown. It’s published by Timber Press. You can see their impressive catalog at

Coincidentally, the same day I received this book, I happened to catch an episode of California Gold on our local PBS station. California Gold was one of the late Huell Houser’s many iterations of his ongoing love affair with the state. This particular show was done at the Gilroy Family Theme Park (formerly known as Bonfante Gardens), the current home of the Circus Trees. What? You never heard of them? Me either, but I’m glad I know about them now.

In the 1920s and for the next 40 years, Axel Erlandson creatively pruned sycamore, box elder, ash, and Spanish cork trees into fantastic shapes unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Nineteen of the original 74 trees were moved from the Santa Cruz Mountains property, where they were created, to Gilroy. You can check them out at, and you can see many of Houser’s shows on