The Garden Refined: Perfecting the Vision Through Expert Pruning

By Pete Putnicki

Shaping pines is one of the most important tasks undertaken by expert gardeners each November. Photo: Aurora Santiago.

Shaping pines is one of the most important tasks undertaken by expert gardeners each November. Photo: Aurora Santiago.

This month, long-time Japanese Garden consultant, Masa Mizuno, will be here with his team of expert Gardeners to assess and prune in the Japanese Garden. This annual visit is an important and anticipated part of the maintenance cycle of the Garden.

The main focus of the work we will be performing is the fine pruning of the pines, maples and other specimen trees and shrubs. Fall pruning is the most important part of proper specimen tree maintenance, it is the time when critical decisions will be made with regards to individual pieces and the key relationships that define the aesthetic of this Garden. We will be thinning and shaping the pines, refining the fine branch work and managing the shapes, forms and scale of each tree, branch by branch to perfect the vision of the Garden. Maples will be thinned and shaped, trunks, branches and twigs, to create and maintain the lacy, beautiful pieces that we see here. It is though the careful, regular application of these highly refined techniques, year after year, that a Garden like this is built and maintained. The hours of painstakingly detailed work that separates a good Japanese Garden from a collection of plants. As Garden designer Juki Iida said, “it is easier to build a Garden than to maintain one”.

In addition to, and perhaps more importantly, this is an opportunity to assess the Garden. A chance to make critical, crucial decisions about scale, composition, plant health and the over-all appearance of the Garden. Now is the time when we make decisions about the Garden, how it is functioning, how it is communicating to visitors, and how it will develop in the future. The Garden is a cherished institution, but also a dynamic living thing; balancing respect, a thorough knowledge, and taste is a crucial and difficult task, and we all strive to help this Garden to excel.

Masa brings a lifetime of experience and years of connection with our Garden. He has been consulting and working in this Garden for decades, and his experience, skill and training have been a wonderful asset to us. The team, including former Senior Gardener Jim Thomas, also bring decades of invaluable experience and institutional knowledge. The exposure to this depth of knowledge, this wealth of experience and understanding is an enormous and truly unique value to the Garden, our staff and volunteers.

I have had the privilege to work with Masa and his team, both here and at other local Japanese Gardens, for several years. The skill development and education that I received is among the most influential and important experiences of my career.

In addition to this important and serious work, this late-fall visit is also a chance for us to reconnect with friends and colleagues, to spend some quality time in the Garden, to focus and really be in the Garden. It has been and will continue to be one of my favorite times of the year here.

Pete Putnicki is the Senior Gardener for Seattle Japanese Garden and a contributor to the garden’s blog.