Friday, 30 August 2013

Pines in the Japanese Garden


The seminal tree of the Japanese garden, indeed one only has to see a wind-swept pine in the landscape for it to conjure images of Japanese gardens. The elegance of the sparse 'clouds' of foliage is accentuated by the stature of the rugged trunk. It is a tree much shaped by landscape and climate, a tree capable of evoking the essence of landscape within itself. The pine has long been appreciated in Japan and China as being a symbol of longevity and resilience.
The lower limbs of this pine have been much extended. Ninna-ji, Kyoto.
In the Japanese garden  three varieties of Pine are most commonly featured, Pinus thunbergii  (Kuromatsu, Japanese Black Pine ) is perhaps the most widely used of the genus. A two needle pine, used as an important timber tree in Japan, which grows well in coastal areas in poor, sandy soils. It will be found shaped in myriad ways, from the loose informal, windswept styles, to the more formal upright shapes. It will be set on hillside, along the banks of mountain-streams, on lake and seashore. It is by nature a tree well suited to growing in coastal areas. With regular and meticulous pruning of the needles, to reduce overcrowding and hence the loss of lower limbs, the trees may be coaxed into any shape. Black pine is used both as a feature tree as well as being planted more extensively to create a 'forest' look.
A small gracefully pruned black pine in the grounds of Koto-in, Kyoto

A highly elaborate white pine in the grounds of Jonagu Jinja, Kyoto
Pinus pentaphylla, (Gyomatsu, Japanese White pine), a 5 needle pine often used in more formal situations, it has long been a tree much favoured by the bonsai fraternity for its short needles , which are a deep blue-green with a blue-white inner colouring, that are densely arranged. Slower growing than the Black pine it takes longer to produce large specimens for the garden. The arrangement of the 'cloud-like' formations of the branches are generally more elaborate than on other pines, and may become highly complex structures on trees that have undergone pruning over many years. More often it will be used in close proximity to architectural structures, from where its form may be appreciated, rather than being sited as part of  landscape scenery.

Pinus densifolia, (Akamatsu, Japanese Red pine), the bark of this two needle pine has a reddish hue similar to Pinus sylvestris, it grows into a medium to large tree. It is less commonly planted in the garden than P. thunbergii, and its form appears lighter and more airy. 
P. densiflora at Toji-in temple, Kyoto. A large venerable tree overhanging a pond, the gardener to the left actually has his ladders in the pond enabling him to carry out the needle thinning by hand.

There are a number of very old and extraordinary specimen pines in Japan. One of the most stunning is located at Yoshimine Dera temple south west of Kyoto. Known as the "Gliding Dragon" pine tree (Yōryu no matsu), at over 500 years old, it has been designated as a national monument. Two lower limbs have been trained to grow horizontally and the entire tree was once over 50 meters long, it has suffered from disease in the recent past which has resulted in some dieback which has curtailed its length. The limbs are supported at regular intervals on heavy wooden crutches. The supporting of limbs is commonly done in Japan, relieving the tree of overburdensome weight. All the foliage is on top of the branches and gives the appearance of a landscape scroll painting.  

Part of the Yoshimine dera pine

Not yet having become a Buddha,
This ancient pine tree,
Idly dreaming.
                           Issa