9 Nov 2013

A Capel Moment: Japanese Niwaki Pruning

Cloud pruning in Japanese Garden

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!

Acer and Juniper

15 comments:

  1. There is a managed housing estate near us where they have loads of shrubs all along the roadsides and the maintenance company has gone to a lot of trouble to prune them very carefully - which is unusual in such places (they normally just hack them about). I'm not sure whether they wouls qualify as Niwaki, but the end result looks pretty much like clouds - or perhaps a line of rolling hills.

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    1. It probably depends on the type of housing, Mark. Some flats near me have paid careful pruning of their gardens each year whereas, here at York Rise, I have to forbid the maintenance gardeners to go near any shrubs that I've pruned! They tend to bring hedge cutters and only do square shapes - Oh! maybe they ARE echoing the landscape!! I think I prefer the sound of rolling hills! Have a look at Jake Hobson's site, they could be Ornamental Topiary.

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  2. That acer is gorgeous. I'd not thought about cloud pruning something like a Pieris, but now I come to think about it have one that is almost there already. It will be a fun thing to try!

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    1. Acers really are the most fantastic shot of autumn colour but, as we know, deciduous. I bet the leaves would make pretty good leaf mould though! Would love to see your Pieris if you give the cloud pruning a go!

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  3. That Acer is a stunning colour and the texture contrasts so beautifully with the Juniper. I've never tried cloud pruning, just box balls and cubes and yew cones, I'll have to have a wander round the garden and see if anything catches my eye.

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    1. Have a look at Jake Hobson's work, Pauline, and I'm sure something will inspire you! Sometimes a bit of shaping is all that's needed to bring the look of a garden bang up to date again. Yes, I love the contrast of colours and textures in that combination as well. I'm hoping next week to make it into the woodland area where there are the most stunning trees at this time of year!

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  4. Great color of acer. I have never seen the real acer. Prunning is a complicated activity... art, patience, focus, concentration and carefully handed.

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  5. What glorious colour Caro. I bought some Okatsune snips from Jake's company a few years ago and funnily enough have been eyeing up the secateurs in the new 'Niwaki' catalogue which arrived in the post earlier this week. Was really sad to read today of the fate of the escaped wallaby :(

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  6. The acer is stunning but I must admit I love the natural shape of plants and shrubs.

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  7. I love the colour of acers. Funnily enough, we were looking at them today in a garden centre, I think one may make its way home with me one of these days.

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  8. What an interesting, and informative, post. And colourful autumnal pictures. Flighty xx

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  9. Beautiful acer, made even more beautiful by the juniper, that's an inspired combination, and proves that conifers have their place. I find cloud pruning fascinating, though I am not sure I would have the patience to keep it up. Maybe in a couple of years when I have got to grips with the garden. It is a wonderful look though.

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  10. Your timing was perfect Caro, to catch the Acer looking like that just before the leaves start to fall. And you're right, the juxtaposition between looks gorgeous!

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  11. Beautiful combination of colours indeed, and a lovely - and well shaped - acer.

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  12. What an interesting post. I imagine it's very skilled and not as easy as it looks. Oh my.....the colours in that Acer....to die for!xxxx

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Caro x

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