Introducing Living Tree Chairs: Outdoor Furniture of the Future

Introducing Living Tree Chairs: Outdoor Furniture of the Future

The Irresistible Appeal of a Living Tree Chair

Something magical happens when you sit back in a Bower & Branch™ Living Tree Chair. Held securely in the arms of a sturdy Tree, watching the leaves fluttering in the sunlight above you, you’re transported to a simpler time—to those carefree childhood days spent playing in the woods near your home and climbing Trees. You feel the worries of your adult world slip away.

Though we live in an increasingly virtual reality, witnessed largely through our machines and devices, we still long for real, organic experiences and connections with nature. Living Tree Chairs speak to this universal desire, bringing Trees from the periphery of the yard into your personal outdoor living space where you and your family and friends dine, entertain, play, or unwind. More than simply something pretty to look at (though, like other Trees, they too offer lovely blooms and fall color) Living Tree Chairs extend an invitation to interact with nature in a tactile, fun, and radically new way. They encourage us to rekindle the intimate relationship with Trees that many of us forged as children, and they encourage today’s kids to develop that same connection.

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How are Living Tree Chairs made?

Unlike other patio chairs, our Living Tree Chairs aren’t mass produced in a factory somewhere, but are trained by hand at the nursery by our skilled growers over a period of several years. Beginning at a young age—when Trees are most pliable—each Tree is carefully guided and pruned to take the desired form. This process doesn’t harm the Tree in any way, but merely redirects its growth. Think of a Tree in the forest with a kink in its trunk or a branch that veers off at an unusual angle. Trees are quite adaptable. When one path to growth is blocked, they will usually grow readily in another direction.

Where branches grow, expand, and rub against each other, they eventually fuse in a natural process known as inosculation, or “self-grafting.” This phenomenon also happens in the wild. What inosculation means for your Living Tree Chair is that the branches will graft themselves together and will become one strong, sturdy unit. Unlike with ordinary patio furniture, the joints won’t be attached with screws that rust or come loose, but will be bonded for life with “nature’s glue.”

Certain species of Trees are more receptive to this kind of training than others. Good candidates have easily bendable branches (in youth) and can withstand repeated pruning. Thin-barked Trees are especially prone to inosculation, so that is a quality we look for as well. Sycamore is famously cooperative on all of these accounts, and not surprisingly our Sycamore Living Tree Chair is among the first Living Tree Chairs to debut from the Bower & Branch line. Red Sunset® Maple, Eastern Redbud, Heritage® River Birch, and Snow Fountain® Weeping Cherry are the others that we will soon unveil to join us in this remarkable collaboration between Tree and Man. The largely unexplored world of live furniture has lots of exciting new opportunities, and we have been working for several years to determine which Trees hold the most promise.

How do Living Tree Chairs work?

Your Bower & Branch® Living Tree Chair comes to you ready to be incorporated into your outdoor living space. Once planted in the landscape, it will hold at least 250 lbs.; many are capable of safely supporting 300 lbs. or more in their first year. After one year of growth in the landscape, there are no weight restrictions.

For up to three years after planting, the stakes on the back of your Living Tree Chair may need to be kept in place and adjusted as the Tree grows. These stakes are for keeping the Tree Chair in the proper position while the branches continue to thicken up and aren’t needed for weight-bearing reasons. Even without the stakes, any Bower & Branch™ Living Tree Chair you buy is strong enough to hold nearly all who wish to sit on it as soon as it is securely in the ground.

If you need help in maintaining your Tree Chair, reach out to our Plant Whispering Team to assist you with any questions you may have.

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How do I use Living Tree Chairs in the landscape?

Trees that can perform multiple functions really earn their keep in the landscape, especially on today’s smaller properties. Living Tree Chairs offer not only shade, wildlife value, and beautiful foliage, flowers, and bark, but they also provide the best seats in the backyard! Use one as a destination in a quiet garden sanctuary where you can go to get away from it all. Or, do as the founder of Bower & Branch, Don Eaton, did and plant a trio around your patio to create in time a living patio canopy. Living Tree Chairs also make good structures for hanging landscape lights to illuminate late evening summer get-togethers.

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Where did the idea for Living Tree Chairs come from?

When Don Eaton was a boy, one of his favorite Trees was an old Sugar Maple. It had a big root just high and flat enough to form a perfect seat. He didn’t know it then, but the idea to shape Trees into Living Tree Chairs was born.

Of course, Tree shaping (or “arbortecture,” as it is sometimes called) didn’t originate with Bower & Branch. This practice goes back to ancient times, when people imitated what they saw happening in nature. Since Trees are biodegradable, no one knows where Tree training first occurred, but several examples that are probably hundreds of years old are still alive today: living bridges made from the aerial roots of Banyan Fig Trees still span rivers in India. In the U.S., Wisconsin banker John Krubsack grew the first known Tree chair from Box Elder Trees in the early 1900s. After growing the chair for 11 years, he harvested it and used it as an indoor chair.

In 1947, Axel Erlandson opened his “Tree Circus” in California, showcasing the amazing works of living Tree art he had created, including the “Basket Tree,” which features six Sycamore Trees woven together in a honeycomb pattern. Some of Erlandson’s works are still on display at Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park in Gilroy, California.

Who’s shaping Living Tree Chairs and making other Tree art now?

Peter Cook and Becky Northey in Australia are probably the most highly acclaimed Tree-shaping artists in the world today. They form live Trees into elaborate figures, furniture, and furnishings, calling their craft “Pooktre.” They have created a forest of Tree characters on their own property, and they design a handful of works for private buyers each year.

In England, Gavin Munro of “Full Grown” fashions living Trees into chairs and other furnishings, which he then harvests, finishes, and sells to the public. Munro in turn was inspired by another Englishman, Christopher Cattle, who specializes in stools grown from Trees. In Oregon, Richard Reames teaches the art that he calls “Arborsculpture” and has written a book on the subject.

But no one in the world is doing what Bower & Branch is doing. No one is growing Living Tree Chairs in quantity and making them available to the public for planting in their own landscapes. You’ve probably never seen anything like this before. Living Tree Chairs are novel and unique, innovative and fun, and you will surely be the first among all your friends and neighbors to own one.

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The future of Landscaping

What we’re doing at Bower & Branch is bold. Our Living Tree Chairs may make people smile, scratch their heads, or laugh out loud. We know we’re taking risks, but we’re willing to take those risks if it means that more people learn to appreciate, get engaged with, and experience the wonder of Trees.

We believe the future of landscaping will be enriched by a more intimate connection between people and the natural world. This is a connection we long for, and we see it happening already. We want our landscapes to be not just something to look at; we want to interact with the living things that inhabit our surroundings. We now garden for wildlife as much as for ourselves, appreciating the birds, mammals, butterflies, and all the creatures big and small that share our space. Many of us have stopped spraying pesticides, realizing that we aren’t separate from the natural world around us, but part of it. And a great many people (particularly younger gardeners) have taken to growing edible landscapes, welcoming the interaction with nature as well as the work that it entails.

The Living Tree Chair may be one of the more lighthearted expressions of this yearning to get back to nature, but we believe it’s in alignment with the spirit of the movement. It’s fun, but also interactive, innovative, and practical. This is the future of landscaping. Are you ready for the future?

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