"Elfin Trees" from  Harper's Bazar

      "Elfin Trees" by Cornelia E. Bedford (1900):

     In the endless variety of curious things Japanese, their dwarf trees have aroused much interest.  The Japanese have a great love for gardening, and, just as they do everything – even to the arrangement of flowers – carry on this work as a thoughtful, harmonious art.
       Along with their effort to make some flowering plants, noticeably the lotus, of extraordinary size, they have a wonderful way of stunting trees, so that they seem almost toy baby trees.  This takes many, many years, sometimes hundreds, to accomplish fully the design of the one who starts the training of a dwarf tree.  He will conceive some fanciful idea – like a waterfall beating on a tree at its base, or a tree growing down and beautifying with green the surface of a cliff – something unusual or freakish that he has noticed in the actual country; sometimes he will fancy a banner outstretched in the wind, or an eagle sailing in the sky; then he will take a tree, a new tree, and try to twist and train its living substance to grow into a representation of the design.  At his death the design may not be at all developed; but the work is handed down to his son, to his grandson next, and on, many generations, with this traditional teaching, having their share in the development of a tree twelve, eighteen, or twenty-four inches high.  It can readily be seen why a single specimen may cost several hundred dollars.

     This development of design is frequently effected by exposing the root, which can be done only at the rate of a quarter of an inch a year.  In the trees having this root exposure, part of the age may be found by measuring the root.
       Grafting is an important feature of Japanese trees.  As many as eight varieties of maple have been seen in one of these dwarfs.
       To speak of some actual examples of these miniature trees, one delightfully poetical little larch has grown around in a loop so as to represent a moon with fleecy clouds drifting over its edge.
       Another is a pine, whose roots are exposed and grow higher than the trunk.  They bend over before the trunk begins; and it – contrary to the laws of pines – is made to grow down instead of up, and gnarled instead of straight.
       Neagari is the term given to a plant with exposed roots.  Another of this kind, a pine also, simulates an arch.  A rock is fitted in another and the roots trained to fasten themselves to it.  One tree of the rather familiar variety, the Thuya obtusa, with roots exposed and trunk S-shaped, has been trained in the pyramidal or conical form known as Jikkei, or Jikka.  This shape is intended for the centrepiece of a garden.

       Then there are curious representations of objects, like the spiral or corkscrew, a spider, a grasshopper, one portraying the long-armed and short-legged man of the well-known Japanese legend, and storks.  An especially interesting stock is formed by two trees of the Thuja squarrosa, the two trunks standing for the legs of the bird, and low branches from one tree representing a tortoise at the stork’s foot.  Both these creatures are emblems of longevity.  A pine in the shape of a flag is said to be four hundred years old.
       One illustrating a poetical fancy must be mentioned.  A tree is imagined to be growing below a waterfall that wears away the earth covering the roots, and these come into evidence, while the wind and the water from the fall drive the foliage of the tree back from their pushing.  This idea is combined with that of a tree outreaching over a river or body of water.  The picture designed long since by an artist gardener, and slowly painted in brown and green, has come into the possession of an American.
       Again, a dwarf tree shows the unusual but not altogether infrequent sight of a forest tree that has had its trunk blown sidewise by the tempest, has then attempted “from the fall to rise again” and produce another straight trunk, has again fallen sidewise, again struggled to straighten itself, and so on.  As Conder says, in his fine work on Japanese gardens: “The force of character displayed in less frequent rather than in commonplace types is to the Japanese mind one of nature’s chief charms.
       “The gardener’s model pine-tree is not the ordinary pine-tree of the forest, but the abnormal specimen which age and tempest have moulded into quaint and unusual shapes.”
       The ingenuity of the trainers has produced too many varieties of form to tell or perhaps know all of them.  To appreciate these curious little growths it is as necessary to know the motif as it is in the comprehension of Wagner’s music.  The trees shown in the illustrations are in the garden of Mr. J. H. A. Klauder, of Philadelphia. 1


1     Bedford, Cornelia E.  "Elfin Trees," Harper's Bazar [sic], Vol. XXXIII, No. 58, Aug. 11, 1900, pp. 915-917.   Note: In the original article, these twelve pictures are at the top and bottom corners of the three pages.  All are set in frames similar to those surrounding the above first four pictures. For the sake of appearance here the pictures have been grouped at paragraph breaks.  Josiah Conder's book is Landscape Gardening in Japan (2 volumes, 1893).

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