Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Some Thoughts on Pruning



Pruning in the Japanese garden is carried out for three main reasons:

 1. to shape the plant material with the end of maintaining an overall balance and proportion of all the elements within the garden space.

2. to allow the designer to fully integrate the plant material into the composition of the garden, to be able to use the plant material as ‘building blocks’.

3. to maintain the health and vigour of the plant material, by encouraging renewal through the production of new growing shoots.

In the Japanese garden there is a balance in relationship between all the component parts of the garden composition (rocks, water, gravel, space, etc). The designer seeks to establish an underlying unity and smooth transition from one element to the next. Visual harmony is very important,  as this will communicate itself to the viewer of the garden. Essentially with pruning the garden creator works with the plant itself, observing the way the plant develops in the space it occupies and looking to marry this with his or her intentions for the garden as a whole.


Pruning in the correct manner increases the health and vigour of the plant, be it tree or grass. The prime biological function of the plant is to grow and expand, in order to propagate the species. The plants therefore draw up energy through the earth and release that energy into space. Thus it is precisely this energy that the garden designer is working with as his ‘raw material’, as a plant seeks to grow toward light and into space. Generally in the pruning of larger specimens,  such as trees and shrubs, the purpose is to thin the crown, or open the crown in order to allow light and air to penetrate into the plant form. By controlling the distribution of branches making up the crown of the tree and allowing light and air to circulate the lower branches can be maintained in a healthy state.


In the use of trees, the line of the trunk is revealed through the control of the disposition of the foliage pads. Tree trunks will often be shaped to describe an ‘S’ shape, this is considered to be both balanced and yet also to express a dynamic form. The foliage is gathered together and arranged into pads or ‘clouds’ of foliage. An important consideration in the development of these pads of foliage is to observe and maintain a clean horizontal line to the base of the pad. Therefore any growth emerging below the pad is pruned away. The top part of the pad can take a billowing or rounded shape. The arrangement of foliage pads directly over one another is to be avoided.
the overall form fits within an asymmetrical triangle
Overall the tree or shrub should be shaped to fit within the outline of an asymmetrical triangle. Sometimes the lower branches are deliberately extended, as one progress up the tree the length of the pads will shorten from the main stem. This allows light and air to reach all the pads of foliage.


The three main types of branch or shoot that are pruned out are:

1. crossing branches.
2. branches growing back toward the main stem.
3. branches growing directly up or downward.

Some planting may never need shaping at all, ie grasses, they will be selectively thinned from time to time. Other plants such as azaleas are clipped after flowering into tightly mounded forms. Where they are planted in association with rockery stones,  then the plants may appear to hug and support the stones. In this way the planting is used to augment and support the placement of the stones. The relationships between the rocks creates the ‘skeleton’ of the garden, and the planting provides the flesh on the bones of the garden composition.

Planting provides texture as well as colour. Colour is a transitory or fleeting moment in the life of the plant. The value of texture is that is may be used as a constant value (in the case of evergreens) in the composition. Against this background, seasonal effects can be played off.  Leaf size is important too, small leaves in the background planting increases the sense of depth to a view, and likewise large leaves in the foreground compress space, drawing them closer to the eye. Through these means the perception of space can be subtly manipulated by the garden creator.