Saturday, 26 October 2013

Pruning And The Japanese Garden

In the Japanese garden much of the work that goes into the maintenance of the garden is concerned with pruning tree and shrub material, as well as maintaining the garden in a spotlessly tidy state. For a garden composition that relies heavily on the strengths of balance and proportion it is important that the relationship between forms be defined and maintained. It is the normal practice in Japan when constructing a garden, to create the garden with all the plant material at its optimum size. Therefore the work of developing the garden subsequent to the construction phase is principally concerned with maintaining and developing the plant forms, usually pretty much as they are when planted. This is achievable to a great extent because such developed and mature material is available in plant nurseries, albeit at a price. 

The practice of pruning is concerned with three main areas ; 

1. Maintaining the health of the tree.

The predominance of evergreens in the Japanese garden means that pruning will be an important consideration for the health of the plant. By far the preference is to maintain an open crown structure, this is particularly noticeable in tree pruning, though the same principal applies to some shrub pruning. The aim of this is to allow light and air to circulate freely around the plant. Maintaining an open crown will also mean that the lower branches will be retained as the plant grows older. Where the normal development of the crown is allowed, there is a natural tendency for the spreading crown to exclude enough light to lower limbs, thus resulting in limbs being shed, or atrophying. Weak limbs or diseased parts of a plant must be removed from the plant. It is important that as part of the overall presentation of the garden to the viewer that the plants should be seen  to be healthy and vigourous.

Regular pruning will encourage the development of new shoots on the plant, thus maintaining the vigour  and extending the longevity of the plant. A consequence of regular pruning at close quarters is the the bark of the tree or shrub will quicker take on an appearance of age which is deemed a desirable characteristic. Azaleas, which are a commonly used material, are pruned immediately after flowering which allows the plants the summer to regrow new shoots and set flower buds for the following spring. Sometimes different coloured varieties of Azalea japonica are planted together and clipped into single forms, thereby giving a mottling effect when in flower. The regular pruning which removes the dead flower heads encourages more buds to appear.

In trees and some specimen shrubs certain types of branches are pruned out. These are branches growing back toward the main stem or trunk. The plant form is encouraged to develop laterally, radiating out away from the centre, this helps in the creation of the characteristic ‘pads’ of foliage. The desired shape for a branch to take resembles the hand held out, palm upwards, with the fingers lifting slightly toward the tips, and the whole hand held just below the horizontal. This style of pruning is known as sashide . It is possible to achieve a rounded form in outline for large shrubs by this method, without simply resorting to clipping the ‘outside’ of the plant. The resulting form gives both a sense of solidity and lightness, which may be an advantage for a composition in  restricted spaces, in such a situation a solid form may appear too heavy, and overwhelming. In forming and maintaining pads of foliage attention needs to be given always to the underside of the pad, keeping a clear edge and thus open space to the top of the pad below.

In gardens where the garden creator has taken a more naturalistic approach, as opposed to say a more mannered style as in a karesansui ('dry landscape' garden)then pruning will also be necessary to allow variations in light and shade. Trees will need their canopies thinning to allow light to reach the floor of the garden, and so prevent the loss of lower limbs of trees which may be considered necessary. This also will help maintain the circulation of air which is important in maintaining the health of plant material generally.

2. Maintaining the  plant material in a suitable proportion to the garden composition.

The Japanese garden is a delicately balanced creation, where every consideration is given to harmonise the relationships between the elements of the garden. If the arrangement of stones in the garden forms the ‘skeleton’ of the garden then the planting will come as the ‘flesh on the bones’. Ideally neither one element or another should dominate, all the various components of the garden should be placed in such a way as to give equal status to each. 

The arrangement of the planting will follow the same rules as the placement of stones, that is by asymmetrical triangular composition. Trees are generally the key planting elements, and for traditional gardens the pine tree reigns supreme in this role. Where the plant forms have been highly developed into intricate shapes, then these plants will be placed in prominent places in the landscape where they may be seen to best effect. Just below the summit of hills or mountains, near waterfalls, at the entry point of a river to a lake or sea, on islands and promontories, and so on.

The garden creator will need to use his/her discretion in finding the optimum height and spread for the plant specimens. This will depend upon the nature of the composition, the site itself and the scale of the garden. A balance will need to be struck between the use of plants for specimens and a secondary role for planting in supporting the arrangement of stones. In this latter mode one sees primarily azalea japonica  clipped into well defined shapes, flowing about and linking together passages of rock arrangement. The effect of planting used in this way is to soften the hard texture and nature of the stone by a close conjunction with the soft lushness of the plants. In karesansui  arrangements it is probably better to limit the number of different types of plant used in the arrangement, rather than relying on the uniformity of texture of the plant material to calm the eye. 

Finding the point where a balance exists between the elements of the composition will always be a matter for fine judgement and discretion. There is no substitute for experience in developing this faculty. It is therefore important to study the works of master gardeners to see how they have arranged plant material.

3. Developing an aesthetically pleasing form of the plants.

In some gardens particular plants have the role of being focal points within the composition. They will appear at key points in the garden where the eye of the viewer can rest on them. Think of the garden composition as being a series of sentences, in this way key features in the composition act as punctuation marks dividing the flow of words, introducing stops and rest points for the eye. It is usual to think of a garden composition being read sequentially by the eye of the viewer, therefore one needs to introduce rhythm and movement, and so pauses in the flow of the melody. In this sense it is important to see the garden as a whole, not simply as a series of tableaux somehow linked together.

In this sense some plants will stand out as specimen pieces (often being 'cloud pruned' in distinct layers of foliage), and other plant material will be used to create flowing forms that serve to link elements of the composition. Both are important, specimen pieces may draw more attention to themselves, but the linking swathes of foliage are equally important in that they allow the eye to move smoothly from one area of the garden towards the next. In Japan azaleas are often used to create the flowing shapes that may hug the rock placements, whereas pines are very often used as specimens standing out from the masses of foliage.

Japanese garden design is very much concerned with subtly exhibiting the idea of flow or movement. What appears to be static and settled is actually a moment of time caught as if in a photograph. Change is occurring in plant material all through the year, from season to season plants change; some may flower and create bright areas of colour in say spring or autumn, but it is also important to recognise the more subtle changes in leaf colour too. Young spring growth can have a wonderful vivid and fresh range of greens which lift the spirit of the viewer. The forms of plant material will vary too according to their patterns of growth, a stand of bamboos or grasses can be very sensitive to the movement of breezes, whereas the tight clipped masses of azalea or box plants, create smooth textural masses which seem to flow. The viewer reacts however subconsciously to all these variations, it enriches the visual response to the garden. Consider too introducing contrasts in leaf form and textures too to a composition. Placing large leaf plants in the foreground and contrasting that with smaller leaves in the background will enhance a sense of perspectival depth to a composition.

Plants are the mainstay of any garden and the many subtle uses of plant material will enhance the experience of the garden, always seek to create a unity of purpose to the plant material within a garden, else the garden space becomes a space where plants are simply displayed. The use of plant material beyond the confines of the garden itself (where this is relevant) will also link the garden to the wider landscape. Plants are  living growing and developing materials that offers the garden creator an amazing potentiality to create and experiment. Look carefully at the individual characteristics of the plant material and follow that potential, observe how the plants respond to the particular environment and work with that. It is as if the garden creator enters into a dance with the material he or she uses, it is a dance that has so many subtle nuances and aspects, part of the miracle of Nature itself.

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