Topiary in Japanese Garden?

rusten(z10)August 21, 2004

While developing a serene garden that adapts some of the best elements from many styles, I became interested in a form of topiary where full size trees (or possibly shrubs?) are trimmed to resemble Bonsai trees.

In other words: the unique look of a miniature Bonsai tree but in a full-grown specimen. These are often in Japanese-themed landscapes/gardens and other serene backdrops.

I assumed this was a form of topiary; however, IÂm looking for advice on whether it has itÂs own unique discipline/terminology. IÂm also wondering whether anyone has advice on the best plants to use for this purpose (IÂm in zone 10, South Florida). I had thought about using Ficus and trimming to this style; however, IÂm concerned about their evasive roots and whether it might look unnatural  also, I think there may exist a tree that grows more natively in this style, possibly not requiring as much sculpting by a person.

If anyone has any idea of the terminology for this technique, or where I could learn more, I thank you in advance. I apologize if this is a simple question; I searched the forum prior to posting and couldnÂt find an answer.

Thank you for any suggestions!


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Rusten, There is a Japanese term for it, but it's not topiary. I'm familiar with bonsai, having dabbled with it many years ago. Some trees have a natural growth that with a bit of shaping may resemble bonsai shapes. You need to familiarize yourself first with the shapes used in bonsai. The broom style is quite similar to cloud type topiary. There's a formal upright, informal, windswept, etc. YOu need to review the shapes, learn the technique of sculpting the plants - and lastly, this is going to be a high maintenance type of job since you will need to keep a plant in shape. Once you understand the shapes, you can look into the trees & shrubs in your area and so see which would work. Oaks, Elms, Maple, Pines are commonly used in Japanese gardens, and so are azaleas.

There's a Japanese and a bonsai forum in GW. I suggest you post a question to find out what the term of the technique is called and then proceed to do your research on the subject.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2004 at 12:09AM
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Rusten, not quite sure about the correct terminology. I hear more about the techniques and less about the names and such. But I do know that the guidelines/rules and techniques differ vastly from those of topiary. Topiary usually focuses on the overall, outside appearance. Trees trained for the purpose of a Japanese garden have each branch meticulously placed and trained individually so that they may, with the other branches, form a tree so that with the other trees, they may form a landscape.

For styling/pruning techniques, I would first go to the library and pick up as many bonsai books as possible. Each bonsai book goes over the rules/guidelines differently (even if just by a slight little bit), so it's good to get more "opinions" on the matter. I visit the bonsai forum very often, and they dislike when people ask very basic questions. So it's a good idea to get a basic understanding first, then for specific questions (maybe dealing with a certain branch structure in which you don't know what to keep, etc) go to the bonsai forum.

For use in the garden, I would go to the Japanese landscape design forum. Again, it pays to do your research. Read over books on Japanese gardens, be wary, however, of recent books on "zen" gardens that are created to catch the recent hype on zen gardens. Books that are all pictures are nice to look at, but more information comes from text (with diagrams, of course). After you think you have a basic understanding of the placement of elements within a Japanese garden, you can go to the Japanese Landscaping forum with more specific questions. The Japanese Landscaping forum and the Bonsai forum are very similar in the sense that usually, the less specific the question, the less responses. The more specific the question, the easier it is to answer and thus more responses will be made.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2004 at 8:56PM
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artemiss(7 AL)

I posted a similar question on the Bonsai forum and found out that this style of bonsai is called 'niwa-gi'. Bonsai refers to planter-grown specimens and niwa-gi means dwarfed specimens in the open ground. I plan to turn a young bald cypress in my back yard into a niwa-gi.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2004 at 8:14AM
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In China (bonsai was in China long before it went to Japan, and became "bonsai") a bonsai can be up to 20 feet tall, and still fall into that class of art because all the same techniques apply (such as root pruning to keep the tree in the size container you want and to slow growth). If it is not in a container, it would more simply be called a "garden tree", and would typically be a major focal point in the garden. Because you're talking about growing the the tree in the ground, and not in a pot, it would really be quite different from anything bonsai, other than style. In bonsai, the usual aim is to style the tree so that it at least represents it's much larger counterpart in the wild, and possibly one that has grown under the most severe conditions, so has taken on an interesting form, and is actually a form of topiary. You are talking about doing this with a tree in the ground, so in all practical purposes, you, too are indeed creating a topiary. You are forcing a plant to look quite unlike what it would naturally look like. All you need to do is study images of the style you are going for, and study the tree you intend to force this style on (or is that "let the natural tree" out?. Anyway, the usual tree this is done to is either a Japanese black pine, or the five needle pine, both of which lend themselves quite well to the formation of "clouds", and I beleive also will do fine in Florida.

Also, my Japanese neighbor says that a key difference between a western gardener and most eastern ones (if those terms still apply...)is that while a westerner will turn a shrub or tree so that the side with the most foliage faces out, an easterner will turn the shrub so you can best see the trunk and branches from the front, and even remove foliage for a better view. That is very simple, but it does give you some idea of why Japanese "topiary" looks so different from it's western counterpart...

    Bookmark   September 27, 2006 at 8:42PM
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