Japanese Gardens—Nature in Miniature
By Awake! correspondent in Japan
LOOKING out of your window, you see the ocean, rimmed by white sands and dark green pines. Standing on your porch, you view majestic mountains complete with cascading waterfalls. As far as you can see, everything is within the bounds of your property. An unattainable dream for ordinary people? No, not if you have a Japanese garden. Duplicating nature in miniature realizes this seemingly impossible dream.
To give the effect of natural grandeur, rocks, water, plants, and sometimes sand are used. A little imagination, of course, is needed, but when the proportions are right, wonderful illusions are created. A pond represents the ocean or a lake, and the stepping-stones, islands. Large rocks become mountains, and the water flowing between rocks, waterfalls.
Trees Used in a Japanese Garden
Since green predominates in Japan’s natural scenery, trees rather than flowers dominate in the garden. Trees are not casually placed and allowed to grow wildly. Their spacing is calculated, and their growth controlled. Indeed, trees have an important role. They create a serenity that is characteristic of Japanese gardens.
Colored species of trees are used but sparingly. They add varying accents to the garden from season to season. Plum, cherry, and magnolia are used for color in early spring. In April and May, vivid azalea blossoms give a festive touch to the otherwise tranquil atmosphere. They are usually trimmed into round, smooth balls, large and small. In autumn the leaves of the Japanese maple splash their flaming red touches. Nevertheless, green predominates in a Japanese garden.
Graceful clumps of bamboos augment the Oriental atmosphere. Cypress and cedars are layered and rounded, giving substance to the perimeter of the garden. The Japanese holly (inu-tsuge) is an all-around favorite, as so much can be done with it. You may find holly cut to look like a wedding cake, a turtle, or a crane standing on one leg. Of all the trees used in the garden, though, the stately pines head the cast.
Shaping and Caring for Trees
Among the varieties of Japanese pines, the black and the red are the most commonly used for shaping. The black is called the “male” of the species and the red the “female” because of their respectively tough and gentle traits. Of the two, the sturdier constitution of the black pine makes it easier to nurture and train. Let us take the pines as an example and see how the trees in a Japanese garden are shaped and cared for.
A gardener will start his work on saplings. Examining how they are inclined to grow, he carefully coaxes the young trees into a number of popular styles. He may encourage a slanted pose that when placed over an outer gate makes a lovely welcoming pine arch. Or he may try a scheme of having the branches slope downward in a cascading effect. A formal upright stance could also be employed. How does the gardener create the desired shape and proportion?
He may plant his sapling at an angle and use bamboo poles as crutches. He attaches frames or braces and lateral bamboo poles to the tree by using rot-resistant black string made of palm bark. “The string,” explains a fourth-generation gardener, “is replaced periodically so as not to leave unsightly marks on the branches.” The poles are kept in place for a year or two until the new shape will hold without them.
Then comes the secret of training trees—pruning. “The gardener tries to find the happy medium between foliage and branches growing in meaningless wild disorder and those pruned to the point where man’s dominance is too patently evident,” says the book Japanese Gardens for Today. He aims to emphasize the most attractive parts of a tree by lopping off everything that distracts. Does he want to spread the tree out in one direction? Then he prunes the vertical branches. As a result the nourishing sap will go to the lateral branches and thus alter the shape of the tree.
However, more is required. Every spring the tips of new buds are pinched off. This leaves about one inch [25 mm] of the bud at the end of each twig so that the branch spread is controlled. Also, year-old needles are plucked off by hand in September. This results in the floating, winglike appearance of Japanese pine trees.
Pines when well cared for can live for hundreds of years. To ensure for them a long life free of disease, the gardener continually works at keeping them healthy. One unusual way he does this is by bandaging a portion of the trunk with straw matting. As winter sets in, vermin living in the tree seek warmth and therefore come down and embed themselves and their eggs in the straw. In midwinter, before warm spring days call the insects out, the matting is removed and burned together with the vermin. When the straw matting is applied full length to other trees, such as palms, it protects the trees from snow and freezing. Besides keeping the trees warm, the jaunty suit of straw also brightens up the bleak winter landscape.
The whole operation is an art not easily mastered or copied. Indeed, to care for some of these long-lived trees, it takes generations of gardeners.
Compared with more elaborate gardens in public areas, Japanese family gardens have a less formal and more intimate atmosphere. There is a never ending opportunity to mix and match greenery according to personal preference and imagination.
Using large rocks and small trees, some families create their own miniature mountain scene complete with a gushing waterfall or a quietly meandering stream. Even if the home has only a few feet of garden space tucked in a corner, the same principles of miniaturization used in planting larger areas can be incorporated. And with the help of skillfully sculptured trees, behold! the illusion is accomplished.
Wherever on earth you may live, the same principles that are used in creating beautiful Japanese gardens can bring the grandeur of nature into your garden.
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Cherry trees add color in springtime
[Picture on page 26]
Trees are shaped into various figures