"Dwarf Trees" from Francis Hall's Journal


        Francis Hall (1822 - 1902) was an upstate New York book dealer who went to Japan in 1859 to collect material for a book (his diary would run to nearly 900 pages), and serve as correspondent for Horace Greeley's New York Tribune, which published close to seventy of Hall's articles.  Hall probably only intended to stay for one or two years, but successful ventures extended his stay.   A business pioneer who saw the opportunities for commerce in Yokohama, he helped found Walsh, Hall and Co., which became the leading American trading house in Japan.  Ethnographer, demographer, sportswriter, social observer, economist, diplomat, and participant in the turbulent affairs of the treaty port, he left an unmatched portrait of Japan in a time of rapid change.
        It is also known that he was active as an amateur photographer between May 1860 and April 1861, but only a single piece of his work is currently known of.  That image -- of Jobutsuji Temple, the home of American missionary Dr. James Hepburn -- was provided by Hall to William Elliot Griffis when the latter was looking for photographs from the period.
Francis Hall

 
      Japan Through American Eyes:

      [Saturday, January 28, 1860]   'In my room a dwarf cherry full of blossoms diffuses a fragrance like that of a hyacinth.  These blooming dwarfs are a substitute for our winter blossoming bulbs at home.

      [Wednesday, April 4, 1860]   ...I bought of [Honda Sadajiro, Dr. Hepburn's teacher] today several dwarfed specimens of flowering trees, camellias, cherry, orange, and two unknown varieties.

      [Monday, May 7, 1860]   ...In the street I saw a Hydrangea today and little dwarf pines three or four inches high.  Flowers, flowering plants, and shrubs are daily brought for sale and appear to find a ready market. 

      [Monday, May 28, 1860]   ...I have two specimens of Japanese miniature gardening.  One is a box of earth 4 1/2 by 9 1/2 inches.  It contains two cedar trees growing out of a bank of moss, a maple tree, wisteria vine, two box trees, a clump of ferns, one of cilas, and one of grass and weeds.  Under the maple is a miniature rockwork and under the vine is a miniature arbor.  A fence of bamboo partially encloses it.  The design is to represent the pleasure grounds attached to temples, tea houses, or the better private dwellings.  The little dwarf trees are all healthy, well rooted and growing.  Then I have another box 8 x 15 inches very similar except on a little more enlarged plan.  It contains two fir trees, two cedars, two climbing vines, a maple, and two varieties of plants unknown.  One of the pines is growing out of a rocken mossy bank and has been trained and treated with a great deal of pains [sic].  It is probably two or three years old and is just now putting out its young shoots of the present year's growth.  The Japanese offer a great variety of these for sale.  Some are smaller even than the smaller one I have described, while others not more than two feet long by one wide will have the whole arrangement of a Japanese niwa, or yard.  There will be the house itself and all the outhouses and sheds belonging to it, a garden with a great variety of trees and plants, a miniature lake with tiny goldfish, artificial rock work, and hedgerows with all the variety of dwarf trees and plants in a healthy state of growth.  The cost of such a toy which must have required a large outlay of time and patience may cost a dollar.

     [Thursday, February 7, 1861]   ...The wild [full-size] plums are blossoming and the Japanese are selling dwarf cherry trees in bloom and crocuses.

     [Tuesday, June 17, 1862]   ...We ride across the city till we come to the Somee [Somei] suburbs noted for their extensive gardens and nurseries and we find these indeed of great extent, for they bordered the road on both sides for at least a mile on one street and half a mile on the other.  A very considerable portion of the northernmost suburbs, as we found by this and other excursions, is devoted to growing trees and plants for sale.  We dismount and visit several of these gardens.  They are quite unlike the Chinese gardens such as the Fati or Pontinqua gardens at Canton, there is an absence of that grotesque gardening which delights in all sorts of fantastic shapes.  The Japanese gardener, though he is fond of training his tree to look like a boat or an elephant, is more fond of imitating objects of more grace and more in harmony with plant life.  In the gardens of Somee we see very little of the fantastic gardening but a great deal of skillful cultivation and a variety and vigor of growth very interesting.  No inconsiderable portion of the trees and plants are of foreign birth, though the love and proper pride of the Japanese gardener, and worthy of imitation in all lands, appears to be to make the most of the best of what is native to the country, so that by far the most interesting portion of all these gardens were the native growths.
      Hybridization and the production of varieties or sports is the Japanese gardener's delight.  There is nothing from an oak to a blade of grass that he does not manage to grow, striped, blotched, or mottled in the most curious manner.  I saw even the common thistle growing in the largest of the gardens we visited.    The general cultivation of these trees and plants in all these gardens was in the same manner as in our nurseries at home, the young trees growing in thick set rows, the choicer ones in pots.  All the varieties of the gardenerís work was going on, forcing, training, grafting, budding, as we should see it at home.  The Japanese have no greenhouses of glass, and even their winter conservatories consist of a straw thatched shed open to the sun, and their heating apparatus is the manure pit or bed of wetted rice straw.  1


NOTES

1     Hall, Francis  Japan Through American Eyes, the Journal of Francis Hall, Kanagawa and Yokohama 1859-1866 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.  Edited and annotated by F.G. Notehelfer), dust jacket notes and pp. xii, 60-61, In my room quote from pg. 114; I bought of quote from pg. 47.  James Curtis Hepburn was the physician and missionary scholar who created the system of romanizing Japanese that still bears his name (caption of portrait, pg. 30); In the street quote from pg. 166; I have two specimens quote from pp.176-177.  We do not know how long he had these box gardens or if he attempted to bring them back to the States with him when he finally left Japan in July 1866.   Note that Hall mentions the health and growth of the plants.  Were the "tiny goldfish" in the niwa arrangement living or artificial? The wild plums quote from pg. 300 and We ride across quote from pg. 430.  The gardens of "Somei" are those of "Su-mae-yah" mentioned by Robert Fortune.  The Fati gardens are mentioned by both John Livingstone and Fortune.  Hall did associate with both Fortune and Philipp Franz Von Siebold.

       Bennett, Terry  Photography in Japan, 1853-1912 ; (Tokyo and Rutland, VT: Tuttle Publishing; 2006), pg. 57 and photo with caption 'Fig. 56. Anonymous, "Portrait of Francis Hall," ca. 1880. Hall Memorial Library, Ellington. This image, taken from a watercolor portrait, appears to be the only known likeness of Hall.'


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