Trees and flowers grow, fall and decay…
Perfectly-manicured vistas are the norm whenever you visit a daimyo teien. According to Rikugien gardener Koichi Nemoto, maintaining those lovely vistas “requires constant work, with no room for delay”.
For example, in the month after the rhododendrons have finished flowering, gardeners at Rikugien prune a thousand of the plants, while at the same time carrying out other tasks like removing new shoots from pine trees and making unexpected repairs to paths. It’s a constant race to keep up with nature.
Then there is the nuisance of trees dropping leaves, most obviously in autumn and winter, but this actually happens throughout the year. Blown by the wind into ponds and rivers, leaves accumulate at the bottom, contaminating the water, and producing an unpleasant odor, particularly during hot weather. Koishikawa Korakuen gardener Hiroshi Kimura and his team must therefore dredge the river on a monthly basis to avoid visitors being assailed by bad smells.
Each daimyo teien has dedicated gardeners on-site working throughout the year on maintaining and managing the garden. The gardens contain centuries-old trees and herbaceous plants with attractive seasonal displays, and monitoring these to ensure they stay healthy is an essential aspect of the job. For the gardeners, every day is a battle with the restless seasons, dealing with everything from weather events, such as typhoons and snow, to insect infestations caused by global warming.
Gardeners wear traditional work clothes designed primarily for comfort and convenience: a harakake apron with pockets at the waist over underwear, and roomy work trousers pulled in below the knee to avoid legs tangling in vegetation. Footwear consists of indigo blue split-toed tabi that allow the wearer to feel the ground underneath, and grip well. Then, a traditional jacket.
Finally, wrist and hand guards.
Kimura notes, “In the old days they used to say no wrist guards, no pay. I suppose wrists were easily injured.”
Garden maintenance 1
Cleaning out Ponds and Rivers
A monthly event, 2-3 times a month in summer
Despite Tokyo’s high level of rainfall, maintaining an adequate water supply to the gardens is difficult, and at Koishikawa Korakuen well water is used.
Differences in river shape modify the flow of water, and water temperature rises in shallow spots where the flow is slower. This makes the river dirty, requiring dredging of the riverbed. Carried out monthly even in midwinter, it is one of the most important jobs in the garden.
Garden maintenance 2
Annually, from April to late May
In spring, five to ten new shoots or “candles” grow out of each pine branch. To maintain the shape of the tree, these must be plucked off by hand while still pliable. Rikugien gardener Nemoto Koichi says gardeners evaluate the shape of the tree, and think about how they want it to develop. Identifying the direction in which shoots are growing, they decide which to leave and which to remove, taking two to three hours for each pine.
Garden maintenance 3
Annually,from late April to June
Trimming is necessary for the maintenance of artificial features such as hedges. It is particularly important to trim trees such as rhododendrons attractively to stop them growing too large, and to maintain a good balance with the surroundings. Each tree has its own season for trimming: rhododendrons, for example, sprout new buds for the coming spring about a month after flowering ends, so the key is to clip them in that intervening month to avoid inadvertently removing buds.
Garden maintenance 4
Annually, from October to March
Pines like the sun, so going into winter any tangled branches and unnecessary foliage are removed to give the whole tree access to maximum sunlight. First, thinning is carried out: any surplus branches are identified and cut off. Then any older needles that are changing color or dead are removed. The state of foliage on each branch is checked before pruning. A delicate job requiring a lot of patience, work on a large pine can take a whole month.