Bamboo and Pine Needles
This past week I had a chance to study with Asher Browne, a visiting Japanese Garden Designer, at Shofuso again. One of the biggest projects was a Japanese Red Pine Tree. Pines require special prep for the colder weather, and one of the important tasks is to remove old growth needles. So, grasping in clumps, they are pulled out while keeping the brighter green new growth. I believe this helps to conserve energy for the winter and encourages the new growth in the spring. The best part is it really helps to show off the tree because the limbs and smaller branches appear more prominent. While I was only able to spend a few hours on the tree, a team of three other people spent a day and a half plucking needles and trimming branches to return the tree to its graceful shape. So, for those of you wanting to keep your pines in beautiful health, now you know what is involved ;).
Our task the next day was to trim back the bamboo and prune. As everyone knows, bamboo loves to spread. Luckily our Shofuso gardener, Terry Zito, had already gotten a crew of volunteer students to help edge the bamboo along the walls by creating a continuous line of cuts (similar to a skinny trench) to end the bamboo roots. So, we were tasked with cutting down patches where growth was too thick, and to also prune the tops so they were a similar, yet not perfect in height. In the photo above, you can see I’ve pulled a stalk all the way down to my height and I’m shortening the branches at the top near the cut to help give it a softer more gradual shape. Although this was fun, I found myself moving very slowly. Asher reminded me that in Japan, gardeners are not as lenient on trainees, and normally there would be a shout to move faster. So, I found myself trying harder and harder to judge height and quickly pull down stalks. Like all things zen, knowing in your mind is one thing, but understanding with the body is another. Unfortunately the garden will soon be closed for the winter, so my body may have to wait until spring to learn more.