"Dwarf Trees" from Reginald J. Farrer's
The Garden of Japan

        Reginald John Farrer (1880-1920) was an English naturalist and plant explorer who grew up in Yorkshire.  There, he made a famous rock garden which included specimens collected from the European Alps.  He lived in Japan for eight months in 1903, renting a traditional house with garden.  He also made a brief excursion over to China and Korea while there.  A decade later he went to the Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Gansu for two years.  His 1919 two-volume The English Rock Garden is still the classic work on that subject, popularizing the then underdeveloped art.  He wrote in a characteristic flourish prose.  After the World War, Farrer collected in Burma near the Chinese border.  It was during his second year that he became ill and died there. 1

Reginald Farrer

        The Garden of Asia (1904)

      ...A Japanese nursery garden is a revelation.  There, on benches, in rows, sit tortured [sic] trees in their bowls or pans of faience (earthenware decorated with opaque colored glazes). Their perfection is a marvel of patience, requiring years for its accomplishment.  Sometimes one man will give as much as thirty years' attention to a single little cherry tree.  Each curve, each leaf, each twig has its direction and proportion regulated by the most rigid and immemorial principles, and to have any value in Japanese eyes, a dwarf must conform absolutely to 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.  The effect is of course exquisite in its elaborate and rather morbid [!] beauty.  But it must be said that there are many dwarfs -- very many, who go for low prices, owing to the imperfections of their development.  They have a bough or a bend that is not prescribed.  Consequently the Japanese will but them -- indeed, with pleasure -- but will not admit their claims to be works of art.  Naturally he will buy them, as even so they are beautiful, and their price brings them within range of everyone's ambition...  However, these Japanese trees that fill the gardens are wonderful with all their imperfections, and the untutored savage eye of the West entirely fails to see any difference between a perfect specimen ten inches high, three centuries in age, and thirty pounds in price, and its neighbour of equal height, of five years' growth, and five shillings' value.  They are all dainty.  They are of every kind.  There are cherries, plums crowded with blossom; chimonanthus, kerria, magnolia, azalea, with gnarled and twisted trunks; and, in their season, the right number of leaves in the ordained place, and a few flowers of the proper shape, borne precisely where they ought to be borne.  These little trees, so different from the inferior specimens sent over here [Europe] to charm inferior European taste, convey a feeling of perfect contentment.  They are completely satisfying.  One can see no fault in them anywhere.  They give the eye rest from fault-finding.  Consequently, in looking at them one has a strange sense of repose.  Their impeccable curves give the same quality of the same soothing appreciation that one receives from the impeccable curves of a paragraph in Jane Austen [sic].  There is nothing either to add or to remove.  So criticism can go to sleep, and the soul have complete leisure for enjoyment, whereas, in all other pleasures of this diverse world, however keen they be, the faculty of criticism always remains alert and fatiguing.  These trees are a lesson in satisfaction.
      But the garden has many other things.  Besides the long rows of benches upon which the trees are staged in their sizes -- from three inches in height to three yards [sic] -- there are many buildings whose paper shutters are slid back to reveal the cool matting, the alcove and picture of convention.  All round each room are little pans containing gardens of different sizes.  Here is a mossy precipice of enormous height, down whose face a waterfall foams, while, from its crannies, great gnarled trees peep timorously.  All this is in a pan six inches by eight.  Or a stretch of park is shown in a tiny pot.  Ancient twisted planes, with knotty boles, are dotted over its rise and fall.  They are complete and venerable, rounded into the perfection of maturity.  Or, through a gorge of terrific rocks, whose summits rise to heaven in fantastic pinnacles, the eye looks away into the stretches of distance, beneath a mighty bending Thuja, which casts its dense shadow over the gorge, towards a far-off prospect of the Holy Fuji, rising above the lower hills of his pedestal.  This garden is somewhat larger; it is at least two feet by one, and the cone of Fuji is of white, glazed earthenware.  Or perhaps a mossy stone upon a sandy bed mimics a famous mountain seen from a river's margin; or a knot of trees, a pathless forest.  In every case it is the incredible perfection of long-meditated proportion that gives the unerring effect of immensity.  Not all gardens are so elaborate.  Some merely contain a clump of Adonis amurensis, or a wet green rock of quaint shape, from whose cranny springs a tuft of grass; or, possibly, even a mere bare stone of some coveted shape.  For the Japanese canon attaches a vast importance to stones and their shapes, so that often a common pebble, indistinguishable to the untaught eye from millions of its cousins, is painfully sought, and purchased for even more than a hundred pounds, while the garden that cannot find the precise configuration of stone to suit its scheme must remain incomplete for years, until much search has discovered the rock, and much money purchased it.  One river in especial is famous for these precious stones.
      The toy gardens are generally, like the larger ones, imitations of some famous landscape.  But almost invariably the stone is there.  And the creator's instinct for proportion does the work.  There are three wee, pink plum trees, pollarded and covered with rosy blossom; there is also a clump of bamboo an inch in height, and a tiny golden bud of Adonis amurensis.  These grow on a promontory that ends in a titanic rock, on the very shore of the sounding sea.  And, indeed, so marvellously are these things placed and fitted, that it would be hard, were there no disturbing surroundings, not to take this garden for what it represents.  Looking into it one seems to be indeed gazing through a wild and rosy jungle down to the headland and the roaring surf.  One false touch would set the whole conception ajar.  But the Japanese never are guilty of that false touch. 

      Now all Japanese gardens, as Aristotle says of all arts, are a mimesis.  They aim at a reproduction of some corner of nature, some aspect of nature.  The Japanese is not a lover of flowers and of gardening in themselves, so much as for the effect of a combination.  He is of no use as a practical gardener for growing normal plants in their normal health.  He brutalises them, ignores their wishes, and harries them to death.  On the other hand, he is unsurpassable when it comes to distorting, torturing, and tweaking into fantastic byways the plain courses of nature.  It is not the plant he loves.  It is the effect that the plant enables him to attain.  He touches the highest point of artificiality.  But he must never be called a good gardener.  The true gardener cares far less for the freakish or abnormal possibilities of a plant than for the plant itself, as an individual, requiring the closest attention, and brilliantly rewarding a loyal devotion.  A true gardener is the humble slave of nature [sic]; a Japanese her contemptuous tyrant.  Accordingly, the Japanese garden is a paradise of stones rather than of blossom.

      Here are tiny paradises [for sale during Matsuri (festival) at a florist's stall]: little aged, trees, plums, cherry, or peach, according to the season, towzled bunches of white or rosy flower; or twisted pines ready for planting, or blooming azaleas of three inches height.



    Jellicoe, Sir Geoffrey and Susan Jellicoe (consult. eds.) and Patrick Goode and Michael Lancaster (exec. eds.)  The Oxford Companion to Gardens (Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 184-185.

      Photo from http://www.bbc.co.uk/insideout/yorkslincs/series3/gardening_shotgun_yorkshire_reginald_farrer.shtml.

2    Farrer, Reginald J.   The Garden of Asia, Impressions from Japan (London: Methuen & Co., 1904), A Japanese nursery garden quote from pp. 17-21; cf. same in "The Gardens of Tokyo" by Reginald Farrer, pp. 379-80 in Macmillan's magazine Vol. LXXXIX, March 1904; Now all Japanese gardens quote from pp. 22-23.; cf. with J.J. Rein; Here are tiny paradises quote from pg. 208.

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