"Dwarf Trees" from Florence Du Cane's
The Flowers and Gardens of Japan

        Florence Du Cane (  ? - ?  ) was an English woman who spent at least one year in Kyoto and some time in China.  In addition to the following work, she also wrote The Flowers and Gardens of Madeira (1909) and The Canary Islands (1911), all three of these being illustrated by Ella Du Cane.  The notes on the plates in John A. Todd's The Banks of the Nile (1913) were done by Florence and, again, the illustrations were by Ella.
         An estate named Mountains, on a hillside site near Maldon in Essex, England, became the home of Lady Du Cane and her two daughters in the last decade of the nineteenth century.  Around 2-1/2 acres of Mountains' approximately 50-acre domain were extensively gardened.  At the start of the twentieth century, Lady Du Cane's two unconventional daughters, Ella and Florence, travelled overseas extensively, and unchaperoned, painting what they saw and making copious notes. One result was The Flowers and Gardens of Japan, which became a bestseller and was reprinted several times.  The Japanese garden at Mountains was furnished with both ornaments and plants brought back from the daughters' travels.

        The Flowers and Gardens of Japan (1908):

      A landscape garden may be of any size, from the miniature scenes, representing pigmy groves, and mossy precipices, with lilliputian torrents of white sand, compressed into the area of a china dish, to the vast gardens with their broad sheets of water and majestic trees which surround the Daimyo castles of old or the Imperial palaces of to-day; but the sense of true proportion must be rigidly adhered to.  Large rocks and boulders are out of place in a small garden, and small stones in a large garden would be equally unsuitable.  The teachers of the craft have been most careful to preserve the purity of style.  Over-decoration is condemned as vulgar ostentation, and faulty designs have been regarded as unlucky, in order to avoid degeneration in the art.

      Arranged in rows on wooden platforms will be the object of our visit to the nursery garden -- the dwarf trees -- whose fame has spread throughout the world, and who seem to share with the cherry blossom the floral fame of Japan.  When first I visited the country I went prepared to be disappointed with the dwarf trees; I had seen inferior specimens shipped to Europe no doubt because of their inferiority, pining away a lingering life in a climate unsuited to them, deprived of all care and attention; for an idea prevailed in England when they were first imported, that these tiny trees, the result of years of patient training, required no water, and either no fresh air or else were equally indifferent to the fiery rays of the summer suns or the icy blasts of the winter winds.  A visit to a garden in their native country will soon reveal that such is not the case. The trees are not coddled, it is true, but the proper allowance of water, especially in their growing season, is most important, and they are impatient of a draught; though many seem to stand the full rays of the sun, the best specimens had generally some light canvas or bamboo blinds, arranged so that they could be drawn over the stands during the hottest hours of the scorching summer days.  I have heard these trees described as tortured trees; to me, good specimens never gave that impression, their charm took possession of me, and a grand old pine or juniper whose gnarled and twisted trunk suggested a giant of the forest, and yet was under three feet in height, standing in a soft-coloured porcelain bowl, gave me infinite pleasure.  I could see no fault in them, they are completely satisfying and give a strange sense of repose.
      Their variety is infinite, from six inches in height to as many feet [sic] ; pines, junipers, thujas, maples, larch, willows, and among the flowering trees, pink and white plum, single and double cherries, tiny peach-trees, smothered by their blossoms, pyrus trained in fantastic shapes, all will be there in bewildering choice of beauty.  I have heard of a single treasure, a weeping willow, only six inches in height, the reward of years of patience, for which the price of 7000 yen (£700) was paid; probably to our eyes it would have no more value than a humble "dwarf" which, in consequence of some slight imperfection, would not fetch more than sevenpence.  In a perfect specimen not only each branch, but each twig and each leaf, most conform absolutely in direction and proportion to the same unbending laws which govern this art, as well as its sister arts of landscape gardening and flower arrangement -- laws which a writer says were 'the iron rules laid down by the canons of taste in the days when Iyeyasu Tokugawa paralysed into an adamantine immobility the whole artistic and intellectual life of the country.'  So in every garden there will be failures as perfect works of art, but beautiful in our eyes, which fail to see any difference between the perfect specimen with its boughs bent down by the weight of the laws which have trained it and priced it at some hundred yen, or the 'failure' by its side, beautiful and wonderful, with all its imperfections an exquisite and dainty thing, priced at as many pence.
      Perhaps one of the best opportunities for buying these imperfect trees, which are still admired and readily bought by the Japanese themselves, though not to be treasured as works of art, is at the sales which take place at night in the streets of Kyoto on certain days of the month.  The plants are arranged on stalls down each side of a narrow street, and the intending purchaser has to fight his way through a dense crowd to choose his plants.  No lover of dwarf trees should miss attending one of these sales, and perhaps the uncertainty as to whether the plant is in good health, or the bowl containing it is broken, adds to the excitement of bargaining with the stallholder; every Japanese loves a bargain, and the transaction is eagerly watched by the crowd, and the 'foreign devil' will gain their admiration if he can hold his own against the rapacity of the salesman.  As the plants vary in price, from a few sen to two or three yen, one can afford to carry off a sufficient number to ensure having some, at least, that will be a reward for one's patience.  On the 1st of April the best night-market of the year is held.  The stalls will be covered with tempting  little flowering trees, their buds almost bursting and full of promise of lovely blossoms to come -- sturdy little peach-trees, their branches thickly covered with soft velvet buds just tinged with pink; drooping cherries wreathed with red-brown buds; slender pyrus trained into wonderful twisted shapes; little groves of maple-trees, their scarlet or bronze leaves just unfurling, or miniature forests of larch, shading mossy ravines with rivers of white sand; ancient pine-trees spreading their branches over rocky precipices rising from a bed of pebbles; sweet-scented daphnes, golden-flowering forsythias, and early azaleas in porcelain dishes, which are round or oval, square, shallow or deep, and of every shade, from white, through soft greys and blues into a deep green.  Every plant is a picture in itself, and the difficulty lies in deciding, not which to buy, but which one can bring oneself to leave behind.
      Siebold, who visited Japan and wrote the Flora Japonica upwards of sixty years ago, thus describes the dwarf trees:--
      'The Japanese have an incredible fondness for dwarf trees, and with reference to this cultivation of the Ume, or Plum, is one of the most general and lucrative [sic] employments of the country.  Such plants are increased by in-arching, and by this means specimens are obtained which have the peculiar habit of the Weeping Willow.  A nurseryman offered me for sale in 1826 a plant in flower which was scarcely three inches high; this chef d'oeuvre of gardening was grown in a little lacquered box of three tiers, similar to those filled with drugs which the Japanese carry in their belts; in the upper tier was this Ume, in the second row a little Spruce Fir, and at the lowest a Bamboo scarcely an inch and a half high.'" 
      The Japanese still love their dwarf trees as much as they did in the days of Siebold, and the trade in them has received additional impetus of late years, as great numbers [sic] are exported annually to Europe and the United States, where I fear they are not treasured as works of art, but are only regarded as curiosities.
      At different seasons of the year the nursery gardens will be gay with the display of some especial flower.  Early in May the gaudy-coloured curtains and paper lanterns at the gates will announce, in the bold black lettering which is one of the chief ornaments of the country, that a special exhibition of azaleas is being held.  It is scarcely conceivable that any plants bear so many blossoms as do these stiff and prim little azalea-trees; the individual blooms are small, but their serried ranks form one dense even mass, flat as a table, for no straggling branches are allowed in these perfectly grown plants.  Every shade is there, an incredible blaze of colour, all the plants the same shape, all practically the same size, and all in the same shaped pots, the only variety being in the delicate hue of the faience pots or the vivid colouring of the blossoms.  The pots are arranged in rows or stages under the blue and white checked roofing, which seems peculiarly to belong to flower exhibitions; the effect cannot be said to be artistic, but there is something very attractive about the little trees, which are visited by the same crowd of sight-seers, who seem to spend their days in 'flower-viewing' and quiet feasting on the matted benches, the latter being inseparable from these flower resorts.
      Other flower exhibitions will follow in their turn -- great flaunting paeonies, brought with loving care from the gardens near Osaka; and then the last and most treasured flower of all, the chrysanthemum...

      At the end of the year may also be seen the dishes being prepared with a combination of plum, bamboo, and pine which will be found on the tokonoma of almost every house throughout the empire at the New Year, bringing good luck and long life to the inmates.  Sometimes the combination will be merely a flower arrangement, but usually it is of a more lasting nature, and a little plum-tree covered with soft pink buds, a tiny gnarled old pine, and a small plant of bamboo, will be firmly planted in the dish, a rock and a few stones may be added for effect, and the ground mossed over to suggest great age.  Occasionally a clump of some everlasting flower, such as Adonis amurensis, is used instead of the plum.
      It is probably in the nursery garden that the traveller will first see one of the toy gardens called Hachi-niwa -- dish gardens -- where a perfect landscape and a well-known scene is accurately represented within the limited area of a shallow china dish, varying size from six inches in length to two feet.  Here we have another art, for the making of Hachi-niwa is almost as much trammelled by rules and conventions as its fellow-arts of flower arrangement and landscape gardening, and the same unbending law of proportion is the first consideration.  Just as the landscape gardener chooses the scene which his garden is to represent, in proportion to the size of the ground which the future garden is intended to cover, so the maker of a Hachi-niwa must choose his scene in proportion to the size of his dish; or, as his choice of dishes may be infinite, varying from a few inches upwards, and being in shape round or oval, long and narrow, with square or rounded ends; so having decided on his landscape, he may then choose his dish.  As I had been much attracted by these little miniature gardens, each in itself a perfect picture, I determined to learn something of the manner of their construction and to try and grasp a few of the principles of the art.  I had heard of a gardener in Kyoto who was a great master in the art, a disciple and pupil of one of the Tokyo professors, who might tell me what I wished to learn.  On my first visit to his house he looked incredulous at the idea of a foreigner wishing to study the art of Hachi-niwa.  Thinking I could only wish to purchase a ready-made garden to carry off as a curiosity, he appeared decidedly reserved, and reluctant to impart any information on the subject of their composition.  A friend who accompanied me, and was more eloquent in his language than I was, assured him that I was in earnest -- not merely a passer-by, but one who had already spent many months in his country; then his interest awoke, and he asked me to return the next day, when he would have all the materials prepared and I could choose my subject.
      Many a happy hour did I spend making these little gardens and learning something of their history.  A certain paraphernalia is necessary for the construction of these miniature landscapes, and the requisite materials include a supply of moss of every variety -- close cushions of moss to form the mountains, flat spreading moss to clothe the rocks, white lichened moss to carpet the ground beneath the venerable pine-trees, which in themselves are especially grown and dwarfed, till at the age of four or five years they will only have attained the imposing height of as many inches; leaning and bent pines for the scenery of Matsushima [a small bay northeast of Sendai filled with hundreds of small pine-clad islands] or the garden of Kinkakuji [the Golden Pavilion] , groves of tiny maples for Arashiyama [an extremely beautiful spot believed to contain within its limited area all the beauties of nature, including large pines interspersed with innumerable maples and cherry trees] , and pigmy trees of all descriptions.  Finally, there are microscopic toys to give life to the scene -- perfect little temples and shrines, in exact imitation of the originals, modelled out of the composition that is used for pottery, baked first in their natural colour, then coloured when necessary and baked again; coolies, pedlars [sic] , pilgrims in endless variety, less than an inch in height; bridges, lanterns, torii, boats, junks, rafts, mills, thatch-roofed cottages -- everything, in fact, that is necessary in the making of a landscape, down to breakwaters for the rivers, made like tiny bamboo cages filled with stones, such as exist at every turn of rivers like the Fuji-kawa.  The necessary implements consisted of chop-sticks, the use of which is an art in itself, a trowel suggesting a doll's mason's trowel, a tiny flat-iron for smoothing the surface of the sand, besides diminutive scoops for holding only a few grains of sand, a pair of enlarged forceps for placing the moss, little fairy brooms about two inches long to sweep away sand which may have got out of place, and a sieve of like dimensions to sift white powder for a snow scene, and, finally, a fine water sprayer to keep the moss damp and fresh.
      When the selection of the dish has been made -- the regulation kind being of white or mottled blue china, in size twelve inches by eight, or eighteen inches by twelve, about one inch deep -- and the scene decided upon, damp sifted earth will form the mountains and the foundations in which the rocks are embedded; the hills are carefully carved and moulded into perfect shape; crevasses, down which a torrent of white sand will flow, to represent a river, or a mountain road running through a gorge of terrific rocks, are marked out.  Then will come the firm planting of the stones, toy temples, houses, or bridges; the position of the trees is carefully weighed and considered; and last of all comes the sand -- sand of a deep grey colour for deep water, lighter in colour for the shallows, yellowish sand for the ground or roads, snow-white granite chips for water racing down from the mossy mountains or dashing against the cliffs, coarser shingle for the beach in sea scenes; and the correct use of all these sands is a history in itself, as all the different coloured varieties come from the different rivers of Japan, and to use the wrong sand to represent water or earth would be an unforgiveable crime in the eye of the master. 
      To show that great men have turned their attention to these little toy gardens, no less an artist than the celebrated Hiroshige, whose colour-prints of the fifty-three stages of the journey on the old Tokaido road, along which the Shoguns, in days gone by, travelled with all the pomp and state due to their rank, from Kyoto to Yedo, are well known and prized by all lovers of these prints, evidently considered these scenes so suited for the making of toy gardens, that he designed a special book in which the fifty-three views appear as Hachi-niwa.   The book is now, unfortunately, scarce and difficult to obtain, but I had the delight of seeing the whole set of views in real life, each in its little dish.  My teacher told me that the first Exhibition of Hachi-niwa ever held in Kyoto would take place at the Kyoto Club, where the various competitors would exhibit different views, and a prize would be awarded, from votes by ballot, to the best in the collection.  Needless to say, as soon as the doors, or rather the sliding shoji, of the club were thrown open to the public, I hastened to study these perfect little works of art.  Round three white-matted rooms they stood, each dish on a low black wood stand a few inches high, raised on a dais only another few inches from the ground, so that to view them properly it was necessary to kneel in adoration before them.  I was asked to vote for the three I liked best, and never did I have a greater difficulty in deciding.  At first a view of Kodzu attracted my attention, with its pine-clad cliffs, deep-indented coast line, stony beach with a moored junk, and stretching away in the distance an expanse of pale blue sea, in the offing being a fleet of fishing-boats with sails not more than half an inch in size bellying in the breeze.  This seemed to me perfection; every ripple on the water was marked in the sand, the crests of the waves white, the shadows a deep blue, and the reflection of the junk in perfect outline -- a marvel of neatness and ingenuity.  But to the Japanese this did not appeal; they condemned it for its very perfection; any one, they said, could make such a scene who had sufficient patience and neat fingers; whereas the view of Kanaya appealed to them as having something grand and yet simple in its conception.  A river of white sand threaded its way through the mossy plain, and in the distance stood the little mountain village nestling at the foot of a range of mountains carved in stone.  This was awarded the prize, and I was glad to think, had been made by my teacher.  Such an exhibition I had expected would be principally visited by women and children, as I heard that the making of Hachi-niwa was a favourite occupation for the ladies of Tokyo, but here in Kyoto they found interest in the eyes of the "grave and reverend seigneurs" who gathered in groups about the rooms.  I saw all the members of the club, politicians, writers, poets, the greatest in the land, engrossed in discussing the merits or demerits of toy gardens, and I could not help thinking that here was a country indeed where "small things amuse great minds."

      Th[e] practice of disbudding is also occasionally carried out with old specimens of dwarf plum-trees when it is considered that a wealth of blossom would hide the growth of the little tree, which be careful training as after years of patience rewarded the owner by conforming to the desired shape laid down by the canons of art.  These little trees are in great demand at the close of the year, for hardly a house in the land is without a tiny tree of ume, to bring luck at the opening of another year; so during November and December, when their pale-pink buds are fast swelling, they are tended with the greatest care, brought into the sun during the day, plentifully watered at sundown, and sheltered from all cold winds.  Thus they flower sometimes as early as New Year's Day, to the intense pride and joy of their owners.

      The finest pot-grown peach-trees I ever saw were in China, their gnarled stems looking truly a thousand years old, their branches trained and bent or merely drooping like a willow, covered with the clear pink blossoms.  The trunks of these fine old trees may have been three or four feet high; but in Japan it is possible to procure a little plant for perhaps 25 sen (about sixpence) whose branches are so tightly packed with blossoms it is impossible to see a trace of even the bark between them -- a perfect little tree in a delicate green or mottled blue porcelain pot.  I could not help thinking what pleasure such trees would give in England, but apparently it is only the Japanese who know the real secret of growing them, the exact shoots to leave and which to cut away, to ensure this wealth of blossoms.  I felt in England my little peach-tree would only flower here and there, and its beauty would be lost.

      The nursery gardens are gay with splendid specimens of the much-prized dwarf maple-trees, and every lover of these little trees will have a few plants of momiji in his collection.


1    Du Cane, Florence The Flowers and Gardens of Japan (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1908), A landscape garden quote, pp. 4-5; Arranged in rows quote, pp. 58-64.  The writer referred to in the second paragraph is Farrer ; At the end of the year quote, pp. 64-71; The practice of disbudding quote, pg. 118;  The finest pot-grown quote, pg. 125; The nursery gardens quote, pg. 220.  See also examples of Yoshishige's Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido as Bonsai [sic] ( Tokaido Gojusan-eki Hachiyama Zue ) from 1848, some sixty years previous to the above observations.

Information regarding Mountains estate is from Kathryn Bradley-Hole  Lost Gardens of England (London: Aurum Press Limited; 2004), pg. 119.

       Now digitalized here and here.

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