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This British Gardener Doesn't Build Furniture — He Grows It

Remember the end of "The Giving Tree," when the tree has nothing left to give her favorite boy except her stump to sit on? Some people think that's a heartwarming end to a story of selfless love, while others read it and think, "I could make a tree into a way better seat than that." Gavin Munro is the second kind of person.

From Seed to Seat

In 2006, Gavin Munro began work on a project that had been on his mind for a long, long time. He started growing a forest full of chairs. When we say that he'd been thinking about it for awhile, we mean it — the seed had been planted (pun intended!) back when he was a child wearing a neck brace to straighten his crooked spine. If a stiff frame could train the human body to grow in a certain way, then surely the same concept could work for growing trees. But it turned out that things weren't quite that simple.

In his first attempt at growing trees you can sit on, Munro made the understandable mistake of starting from the bottom. He'd plant four trees in close proximity to each other, the idea being that these would be the legs, which he'd graft together to form the seat and back. But when the little saplings turned out to be too competitive to thrive so close to each other, he realized he needed to take a new approach. Now, he grows the chairs upside-down, and guides a single tree branch into the seat it's destined to be.

It's not just chairs growing in Munro's grove. He's also mastered the art of cultivating tables of all different sizes and shapes. Spiraling light fixtures have also turned out to be a (relatively) affordable offering, starting at about $600. The high price point is understandable. Remember, it takes about 10 years for a tree to make it from tiny sprout to polished, right-side-up chair.

A Tradition with Deep Roots

A few gardeners have tried their green thumbs at growing furniture from a seed, some of whom helped to inspire Munro's own journey. The most notable of these was "The Chair That Grew," planted by John "Dammit" Krubsack in 1904. Given the trouble that must have gone into crafting the high-backed beechwood throne, Munro says he fully understands where Krubsack's nickname must have come from. And then there was Dammit's immediate successor, Axel Erlandson. Erlandson wasn't so much interested in furniture as art, though, and the incredible latticework patterns he coaxed out of trees almost defy belief. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could pass on some of his techniques — it's a loss that Munro feels keenly.

Axel Erlandson's Gilroy Gardens

Written by Reuben Westmaas January 5, 2018

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