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Jake Hobson - Niwaki: Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese Way

This book is for anyone who has or admires Japanese-style gardens. “Niwaki: Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese Way” by Jake Hobson is easily the best book in English on this pristine type of pruning. The techniques are perfectly illustrated in drawings and color photographs. The author warns you: This is high-maintenance gardening, in fact that’s part of what defines this serene style, which includes bamboo and shrubs as well as trees. Anyone who appreciates plants and Japanese culture will find more than they could have imagined in this unique book. The tree-training techniques are valuable knowledge for any perennial gardener and especially fruit growers. 

This is a very skillful book on how aspects of nature (especially trees) are seen culturally in Japan. It’s extremely well-written, and the author seems to really know how to talk to those of us who aren’t in Japan and are often adapting non-Japanese plants into Japanese-style gardens. I immediately like an author who isn’t afraid to say the word “tacky” when mentioning how carefully Japanese elements should be used in gardens outside of Japan.

Here are a few examples of why I like this author's style and presentation of information:

"The distinction between bonsai and niwaki could not be more clearcut. One lives in a pot, the other in the ground --- simple as that."

"For all the variations in Japanese gardens, most gardeners strive to coax out the same thing from their trees: the character of maturity. With few exceptions, this character is achieved through training and pruning branches to give the impression that they are larger and older than they actually are."

He stresses the importance of fat trunks, which give the tree more character and make it look older. He explains the how and why of spreading branches so that they look as if nature had spread them horizontally with age.

Unless you’re very rich or have vast time, these gardens are a challenge because of the maintenance involved. “Individual [pine] trees can take two or three gardeners a whole day to prune, twice a year.”

Of the ten excellent chapters in this book, six concern individual plants or types of plants --- pines get their own chapter, and then there's a separate chapter for other conifers.  In the first chapter, "Garden Elements" I read the section on Buddhism with much interest.  The author is wrong when he refers to "The Buddhist trilogy of heaven, man, and earth."  I've been a Buddhist most of my life, and I knew this was wrong, but just to be sure, I ran it by the sensei at our local Japanese Buddhist temple, Daifukuji.  Reverend Jiko assured me that there is no Buddhist trilogy of heaven, man, and earth, it's Confucian.  The section on fengshui  is quite interesting.  The book is very fine, and quite complete, and I've only found that one error in it.

Timber Press, (800) 327-5680, timberpress.com, Portland OR, 2007, 978-0-88192-835-8, 144 pages, drawings and color photographs, hardback, $34.95

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