Sunday, June 11, 2017

Visiting Japan--Pruned Trees and Shrubs

Gardens vary across the world. Of course. So travel leads to looking at home differently too.
park, Tokyo
Flowering cherry in Toyko park
In mid-April, I visited northern Japan (tour with Pacific Horticulture link, previous blog).

We started in Tokyo, admiring the centuries-old gardens to be found among the skyscrapers.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Tokyo
I also visited the Nezu Museum (link) and strolled the beautiful paths in its garden.

(The camellia was put there by someone before me.)
Then we went to the Omiya Bonsai Museum in the Omiya Bonsai District, Saitama Prefecture. (link) The bonsai were very attractive, some incredible. A few were 500 years old, usually "only"100 years in a pot however. Then you think about the amazing consistency needed for several generations of people to care for these fragile plants.

Bonsai, Omiya Bonsai Garden, Japan

I don't have anything for scale in the photos. These stood about 3' tall. Most were kept outside, the climate in Saitama, just north of Tokyo, being mild.

Bonsai, Omiya Bonsai Garden, Japan
Bonsai, Omiya Bonsai Garden, Japan

Very beautiful living works of art. 

Seeing the bonsai made me conscious after that of how often the Japanese pruned their trees into graceful shapes. (Look carefully in the first three photos.)

They shaped the trees by their homes,
shaped trees

big old shrubs in a park,

well-pruned shrubs

these individual shrubs or small trees, camellias I think, at the edge of an orchard of flowering plums,

pruned shrubs
Pruned shrubs, I think they are camellias
and all the plantings by the house:

I'm not sure if I like the look or not. Part of my hesitation is my love of wilderness: a perfectly round plant is not a bit natural. On the other hand, some of the pruning imitates and accentuates natural forms.

I liked the look of this tree, from the coast at Matsushima. Natural? Hard to know.

Matsushima, Japan

But I also liked this, even though it is clearly pruned

As I write this, I wonder if there are at least two goals in pruning, either to make it "like a beautiful wild plant" as in bonsai, or to make an attractive, balanced shape, whether or not it occurs in nature. Sometimes both can be attained in the same plant, but not always.

trees, Rinnoji Temple Garden, Japan
Do you like this look?
Having returned from Japan, I now see all my own shrubs and trees as unkempt.

 I located my book on pruning and started reading it. I pay a tree service to prune my trees periodically, but the goal is structural soundness, not an artistic shape.

Pruning does appeal to me because successful pruning requires careful understanding of how each plant grows. The act of pruning needs to be thoughtful, almost meditative, since if you make a mess, it will be visible for months if not years. (Been there, done that).

Again, travel makes one see home with new eyes

and think philosophical thoughts about humans and nature. Do we want wild and natural? In the garden? Or carefully arranged and trimmed? Or something else?

Much of Japanese pruning is to make a tree look like the best of wild trees. For example this bonsai:

Bonsai, Omiya Bonsai Garden, Japan

The product of decades of careful pruning. And stunningly beautful. 

Comments and corrections welcome.

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist
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  1. In 1974, I had the good fortune to live with Michiko Watanabe and his family in Yono, Saitama-ken. His garden of Bonsai was extraordinary. Thank you for bringing back good memories!

  2. I admire the art of bonsai, although despite my interest in all things plant-related, I've yet to take on the challenge of molding a specimen as such artists do. It's a long term commitment to be sure. However, as you indicated, it does make one look at what's in one's own garden with a different eye.