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Niwaki: Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese Way

Niwaki: Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese Way

by Jake Hobson

Over the years, Japanese gardeners have fine-tuned a distinctive set of pruning techniques that coax out the essential characters of their garden trees, or niwaki. In this highly practical book, Western gardeners are encouraged to draw upon the techniques and sculpt their own garden trees to unique effect. After first discussing the principles that underpin


Over the years, Japanese gardeners have fine-tuned a distinctive set of pruning techniques that coax out the essential characters of their garden trees, or niwaki. In this highly practical book, Western gardeners are encouraged to draw upon the techniques and sculpt their own garden trees to unique effect. After first discussing the principles that underpin the techniques, the author offers in-depth guidelines for shaping pines, azaleas, conifers, broadleaved evergreens, bamboos and deciduous trees. Throughout the text, step-by-step illustrations accompany the instructions, while abundant photographs and anecdotes bring the ideas surrounding niwaki vividly to life.

Editorial Reviews

Asian Reporter
"While Niwaki definitely has what it takes to impress serious garden nerds, there’s also plenty here for the rest of us … Niwaki is [Hobson’s] first book; let’s hope it’s not his last."
From the Publisher
“More than a pruning manual, Hobson's guide encompasses the cultural implications of niwaki, an artistic custom integral to the gardening legacy of Japan.” —Booklist

“Any gardener would be fascinated, not only by the pruning and training techniques, but the background information about Japanese culture which the author weaves throughout the book.” —Washington Gardener

“Of as much interest as the practical cutting points are the bits of history and lore woven into the chapters that stress the spiritual underpinnings of this ancient art.” —Seattle Post-Intelligence

“Definitely has what it takes to impress serious garden nerds, [but] there's also plenty here for the rest of us. . . . Niwaki is [Hobson's] first book; let's hope it's not his last.” —Asian Reporter

“Detailed drawings of the pruning methods, as well as numerous photos of Japanese examples, make this an eminently practical guide.” —SciTech Book News

“Easily the best book in English on this pristine type of pruning. . . . Anyone who appreciates plants and Japanese culture will find more than they could have imagined in this unique book.” —West Hawaii Today

“Has wonderful illustrations and very specific directions that should prove useful to anyone who has garden subjects that need pruning.” —Capital Times

“More marriages have gotten in trouble over the 'correct' way to prune shrubs than probably any other gardening task. We can't save your relationship, but we [can] suggest Niwaki: Pruning, Training, and Shaping Trees in the Japanese Way.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer

Product Details

Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
9.38(w) x 10.94(h) x 0.69(d)

Read an Excerpt

I first went to Japan with the support of a travel award. I had just graduated from the Slade School of Art in London, where I had been studying sculpture. It was 1996, and I spent one month travelling around the country, ostensibly to study the cultural phenomenon of hanami, the cherry blossom season, and the effects it had on people. What I found there, while exploring the temples and parks in search of cherry blossom, was the gardens. At that point in my life I had no interest in gardens or gardening, and I was completely unaware of what Japanese gardens looked like, but I found them fascinating and I vowed to learn more.
The following year I was back, this time with a job teaching English. For a year I spent all my free time exploring, visiting as many gardens as I could, all over the country. During this time I pieced together what it that so attracted me to these places: it was the trees.
I had grown up in the countryside, and over five years at art school in London I had directed my energy into studying the relationship we have with nature and our environment. The gardens I saw in Japan, and the trees in them, touched me profoundly, and I sought to learn more. I was fortunate enough to meet the Furukawa nursery workers in Osaka, who kindly took me on as a trainee and introduced me to the world of niwaki. Once back in England, I started translating what I had learned into my work into British gardens. I found people interested in what I had to say, and soon realized that although Japanese gardens were well documented, there was very little literature on the trees themselves. Writing this book is my attempt to rectify the situation, and to share some of my experiences.
Most of what I have learned has been passed to me by a handful of people in Japan. I owe enormous thanks to Motokazu Furukawa, the entire Furukawa family and everyone I met while working at Furukawa Teijuen. Special thanks also to Futoshi Yoshioka, of the Asuka Noen nursery, for taking so much time and sharing so much with me, and to my brother-in-law, Haruyasu Tanaka (a gardener in Osaka) who has been especially helpful in clearing up some of the mysteries I have encountered along the way. Back in England, the support of Angus White at Architectural Plants, where I worked for six years, has been fantastic, and the shared knowledge and enthusiasm of my friend Jari Eikenaar has been invaluable.
Most of all, for her patience, I want to thank my wife, Keiko. What started off as pleasant garden visits soon turned into fanatical tree-spotting sessions (as they do), with Keiko as my translator, quizzing unsuspecting monks, gardeners and passers-by. Back in England, she might have thought her role was over, but the writing of this book has rekindled her responsibilities. For someone with no more than a passing interest in gardens, she has been patient, helpful and understanding, far beyond the call of duty.
Many thanks are due to Allan Mandell, Jari Eikenaar, and Edzard Teubert, for kindly providing photographs. All the remaining photographic illustrations in the book are my own, many taken long before the idea for a book had been born. I use an old Nikon FE2, normally with a 35mm lens. I never use a tripod or flash, and always regret not taking better pictures. I have tried, wherever possible, to avoid using well-known gardens as examples, as they appear in many beautifully-illustrated books already, and there are so many lesser-known ones still to discover.

Photographing trees is difficult. Catching blossom and autumn colour of course depends a good deal on luck, but the feeling you get from a tree is virtually impossible to capture completely, isolated from its physical setting and reduced to two dimensions. Technical skill, knowledge and appreciation of light all help, but ultimately some shots turn out better than others.
The hand-drawn illustrations are also my own. Despite my art school training, they are not perfect, but they serve their purpose well enough. There is no attempt to achieve realistic botanical impressions, nor should the scale ever be taken too seriously, and the sketches of trees before and after pruning do not always match up. Above all, readers who use these drawings (as I hope many will) should understand that every tree is different, and the drawings are simply a guide from which to work.
Regarding the use of Japanese: I have used the Hepburn system of transliteration, without the macrons over long vowels. In my mind this makes for a more pleasant read, but to those readers proficient in Japanese, I apologize for this simplification. I list people’s names in the Western, rather than Japanese way, with given name followed by family name, and all Japanese plant names are taken from a Japanese book called Nihon no Jyumoku, or Woody Plants of Japan (Yama-kei Publishers 1985).
Finally: I arrived at gardens and niwaki by an unusual route (as so many do). I have never studied horticulture, and know nothing much about Western gardening techniques. I have nothing to say about herbaceous borders, roses or lawn mowing. All that I have needed to know, I have picked up along the way; crucially, I have been able to decide for myself what is important (and true), and what is not. This has left me open to influences that some people find difficult to accept as gardening in the conventional sense, but without which there would be no book.

Meet the Author

Jake Hobson draws upon years of experience with Japanese gardens and landscaping. He spent a year at a nursery in Osaka, and in 2004 started his own business—Niwaki, which distributes Japanese garden tools. A keen observer of the artistry of gardens, Hobson recieved his bachelor's degree in sculpture. He lives in the UK.

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