"Pigmy Trees and Miniature Landscapes" from Brooklyn Daily Eagle

      "Pigmy Trees and Miniature Landscapes" (1884):

       "In some ways the Chinese and Japanese gardeners are the most successful of any in the world.  They can control and direct the growth of plants to a degree that seems really marvelous until the principle upon which it is done is known, when, as in many other matters, it becomes quite simple.
       "The Chinese have such a strong liking for the grotesque and unnatural that the handiwork of their gardeners is not as pleasing as that of the Japanese gardeners.  The Chinese understand the dwarfing of trees; but their best work is in so directing the growth of a tree or plant that it will resemble some hideous animal which is only fit to exist in a nightmare.
       "The Japanese, on the contrary, are remarkable for their love of what is beautiful and graceful, and, consequently, ugly forms find no favor with them.  Every Japanese has a garden if it be possible; but, as space is valuable in Japan only the very rich can have large grounds, and the family in moderate circumstances must be content with a garden often smaller in area than the floor of one of our hall bedrooms in a narrow city house.
       "Nevertheless, that small garden must contain as many objects as the large garden, and, of course, the only way of accomplishing the desired result is to have everything in miniature.  It is no uncommon thing to see a whole landscape contained in a space no greater than the top of your diningtable [sic].  There will be a mountain, a stream, a lake, rocky grottoes, winding paths, bridges, lawns, fruit trees, shrubs and flowers, all so artistically laid out as to resemble nature itself.  In the lake will swim wonderful, filmy finned gold and silver fish, and not infrequently the tall form of a crane will be seen moving majestically about the tiny landscape.
       "This seems wonderful enough; but what will you think when I say that almost the same landscape is reproduced on so small a scale that the two pages of St. Nicholas, as it lies open before you, can cover it!  In this case, a tiny house is added; delicate green moss takes the place of grass, and glass covers the lake where the water should be.  Counterfeit fish swim in the glass lake, and a false crane overlooks the whole scene, just as the real crane does the larger landscape.  The mountain, winding walks, bridges and rocky grottoes are in the little landscape, and real trees bearing fruit, or covered with dainty blossoms, are in their proper places.
       "These tree are of the right proportions to fit the landscape, and they are, consequently, so tiny that one is tempted to doubt their reality, and more than one stranger has slyly taken the leaves of [sic] fruit between the fingers in order to make sure that the dwarfs do truly live and are not like the fish and crane mere counterfeits.  These miniature landscapes have been successfully brought to this country, and on one occasion a lady of San Francisco used one of them as a centerpiece on the table at a dinner party, greatly to the wonder and admiration of her guests, who could scarcely be convinced that the almost microscopic apples on the tree were genuine fruit.
       "And now comes the question -- how is the dwarfing done?  The principle is simple.  The gardener merely thwarts nature.  He knows that, to grow properly, a tree requires sunlight, heat, moisture and nourishment from the soil.  He takes measures to let the tree have only just enough of these to enable it to keep alive.
       "To begin, he takes a little seedling or cutting, about two inches high, and cuts off its main root.  He then puts the plant in a shallow dish, with the cut end of the root resting against a stone, to retard its growth by preventing nourishment entering that way.  Bits of clay the size of a bean are put in the dish, and are so regulated in kind and quantity as to afford the least possible food for the little rootlets which have been left on the poor little tree.  Water, heat and light are furnished the struggling plant in just sufficient quantities to hold life in it without giving it enough to thrive on.  In addition, any ambitious attempt to thrive, in spite of these drawbacks, is checked by clipping with a sharp knife or searing with a red hot iron.
       "After from five to fifteen years of such treatment, the only wonder is that the abused tree will consent even to live, to say nothing of bearing fruit. -- St. Nicholas" 1


1     Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 3, 1884, pg. 9.  Of course, the Japanese "are remarkable for their love of what is beautiful and graceful" only because this parallels the aesthetic sense of the West more closely than does that of the Chinese.

Cf. another article in St. Nicholas twenty-five years later.

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