9 Nov 2013
A Capel Moment: Japanese Niwaki Pruning
There's so much autumn colour around this week but still, on my way to the library, my eye was drawn to the intense red of the Acer japonicum leaves against the red bridge in the Japanese garden. Moving into the garden for a closer look (and photo!), I was struck by the intense concentration of the gardener carefully pruning and shaping the Juniper into neat layers with one handed shears.
Cloud pruning, as it's become known in the western world. This is when branches of a young tree are trained and cut to resemble cloud layers as it grows. In Japan, pruning (Niwaki) is to enhance the plant and work with nature, often echoing the shapes of the landscape - all traditional Japanese gardens have clipped shrubs or trees but they're not necessarily pruned in cloud layers. It's a style that lends itself very well to English gardens; in my mother's garden, I've pruned and clipped an extremely unruly Forest Flame (Pieris) bush in this style, as well as a Choisya ternata. It's a lovely thing to do and the results are stunning.
I stopped to watch and soon a conversation was struck up. The gardener had initially trained at Capel but then spent time over the years in Kyoto learning the art of Niwaki. In Japan, I was told, it takes years to learn the art of pruning and is taught by having a master gardener as a mentor. We talked a little about Jake Hobson who has mastered this art form and taken it on into 'Ornamental Topiary' to be used in English gardens. At Capel, small trees in this particular garden are cloud pruned to enhance the Japanese ambience. Elsewhere in the grounds, ornamental topiary has been used to shape a Cotoneaster lacteus and Osmanthus x burkwoodii into a mushroom shape. Really eye catching and, of course, small semi-shade loving plants, eg Arum italicum, Geraniums and ferns, can be grown underneath.
But, cloud pruning aside, here's what really caught my eye: the juxtaposition of the brilliantly red Acer leaves next to the glaucous (blue/green) scale needles of the Juniper. Even on a gloomy, grey skies kind of day, the colour in this planting combination was stunning!