"Dwarf Trees" from Dorothy Graham's
Chinese Gardens

      Chinese Gardens (1938):

      With patient care the Chinese dwarfed their pines, twisting the branches grotesquely.  A tree hoary enough to be a veteran of the forest remains a miniature, growing in a celadon bowl.  The process of stunting is a secret [sic], but it is known that alcohol [sic] is used.  The branches are wired into tortuous positions and finally, when the growth is fixed, the wires are removed.  The needles are clipped by men who have made a protracted study of this art.  It may take a day to thin the needles of a dwarfed evergreen, or a week.  The appearance of age is always emphasized, suggesting that the tree has been distorted by tempests.
       Ming scholars collected these trees, paying large sums for rare specimens.  Today in Shanghai, when exhibits are held, the prices mount to two or three thousand dollars.  Many of the trees are more than a hundred years old and their histories are recorded, in order to identify their previous owners.  Occasionally one comes upon a spruce with delicate overtones of blue that was in the possession of the statesman Li Hung-chang, or the Empress Dowager.  Japan followed China in an appreciation of these grotesque stunted trees.  In Tokyo an industrialist has acquired specimens that are valued at five hundred thousand dollars.
       Less well known to the Occident are the small fruit trees which have been gnarled and twisted into amazing shapes.  The contrast between aged bare boughs and the wealth of early buds delights the Chinese.  They anticipate spring by bringing these scented trees into their houses while the snow is still upon the ground.
       Later, as summer approaches, they perfume their rooms with minute white roses intricately looped in a trellis which they call the Tree of Fragrance.
       In the autumn they bring to their courtyards the maple trees, a few inches in height, and watch their foliage reddening with the nip of frost.  Or they savour the pungent odour of citrus fruits growing on dwarfed decorative trees -- tangerines, oranges, kumquats and pumelos.  They espcially enjoy the aromatic fruit known as Buddha's fingers, which has the colour and texture of a lemon, the form of a crippled hand.  This fruit is usually cut from the tree and arranged in pyramids on plates of white porcelain.  It is placed on the scholar's table, beside the ink-stone and writing-brushes, for the fragrance is believed to be conducive to clear thinking. (pp. 86-87)  1


1      Graham, Dorothy   Chinese Gardens, Gardens of the Contemporary Scene; An Account of their design and symbolism (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1938.  From Section VI Ming, Chapter II The Ming Cult of Flowers.   There may be other mentions in this book which RJB briefly had a chance to look at.  This is the only reference I have seen to alcohol being an ingrediant in the dwarfing process (other than the gardener imbibing before/while shaping).  The needle thinning timeframe is consistent with modern accounts. Who was the Tokyo industrialist?  Is the Tree of Fragrance Serissa foetida, the Tree of a Thousand Stars?

This is said by Craig Clunas in "Nature and Ideology in Western Descriptions of the Chinese Garden," pg. 32, to be the very first book on the subject in English.

Is the author the same as Dorothy Graham Edson, or possibly a relative?  Per www.amazon.com, other books by "Dorothy Graham" include Through the moon door, the experience of an American resident in Peking (1926), Lotus of the dusk: a Romance of China (1927), Brush strokes on the fan of a courtesan: Verse fragments in the manner of the Chinese (1927), Candles in the sun: A satire in pastels (1930), and The China venture: a novel (1931).

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