Hedging, Plants, Ross, Trees

You may not be entirely familiar with the word “niwaki”, but I’m almost certain you’ve seen its results before. And if you HAVE seen it before, I’m almost certain you thought to yourself, “man, that’s pretty cool” – or words to that effect, anyway.

niwaki

The word is Japanese in origin, and simply means “garden tree”. While the literal translation may fall foul of your expectations, the implications of the term are decidedly diverse. Niwaki (pronounced ni-whack- ee) represents the Japanese art of tree trimming; in the land of the rising sun, gardens are viewed more as themed landscapes than as simple outdoor spaces. Through niwaki, gardeners can create shapes, forms and moods from their greenery to establish a unique atmosphere.

Perhaps the most famous forms of niwaki are cloud trees – you’ve probably seen them amongst the cherry blossoms circling the outskirts of the world famous Himeji castle. The foliage of a cloud tree is trimmed, pruned and shaped to match the appearance of – yup, you’ve guessed it – clouds. Cloud designs are usually meant to invoke a feeling of peace and tranquillity, but given their use amongst some of Japan’s great pieces of architecture, can also denote status and elegance.

Himeji Castle

Niwaki artists also use their tools to manipulate the tree bark, using grizzly and gnarled carvings to make them look older or as though they’ve been struck by lightning. At its core, niwaki is an expressive art; a gardener reflected in their foliage, if you will. It’s an appealing concept that has not only woven itself into the fabric of Japanese culture, but has been exported across Europe as a symbol of elegance.

Of course, the laymen among us are nowhere near capable of creating such displays on a towering pine tree or trimming a cloud-scape into any old oak. It takes a seasoned student of niwaki to attempt floral architecture on that scale. For beginners, specimens such as the Ilex crenata can present a sympathetic beginning to a lifelong hobby. These plants generally come with predetermined clouds, balanced on short but strong branches that require little maintenance. Thanks to their slow growth speed, crenata only truly require trimming up to three or four times a year. This sort of plant is perfect for niwaki newcomers to practise precision and delicacy in their trimming. Think of it a little like paint by numbers; the structure has been built for you, allowing you the freedom to practise the basics.

As your understanding of the breadth and depth of niwaki develops, along with your trimming technique, the challenges will naturally grow larger and greater. Seasoned niwaki artists can establish the design of a pre-ordained llex crenata in self-grown trees, taking ownership of every branch and bud to sculpt their perfect arrangement. Professionals are hired during the winter months to maintain forests and public displays, stripping discoloured needles from pine trees and using ropes to adjust the angle of branches.

Bonsai tree

For many, niwaki needn’t be a career but simply a hobby; a form of expression akin to writing or painting. What starts with an aesthetic appreciation of the skill may progress to owning an atmospheric table-top bonsai tree, and sometimes culminates in an entire garden designed from the roots to create the perfect outdoor setting. Niwaki represents the purest and most romantic form of gardening to millions around the world, and it’s easy to see why. There must be fewer senses of satisfaction greater than standing in a fully grown garden in which you have influenced every leaf, branch and bud.

If you have an interest in niwaki, drop us a comment below and tell us about it!

Ross at PrimroseRoss works in the Product Loading department and gets to see all the weird and wonderful products that pass through Primrose. Ross is a life-long Southampton fan and favours jazz music, reading and a quiet place to enjoy them.

See all of Ross’s posts.

Garden Tools, Gardening, Ross

Copper Tools Collection

Origins

The first metal tools ever forged were likely made from copper. As a building material, copper was far softer than stone, but that made it far more malleable and easier to shape for different tasks. Copper was soon replaced by bronze, however, which is a far stronger material. Combined with the experimental designs created with copper, the bronze age gave rise to new forms of tools that could perform a number of different, specific roles.

Original smelters added arsenic to copper to create bronze, but the toxic fumes emitted by the arsenic during smelting affected the eyes, lungs and skin. Tin was the next point of interest; the bronze alloy created by a 90% copper – 10% tin composition was stronger and easier to cast than copper alone. When polished, bronze would also break out in a golden sheen that mimicked the look of a true golden tool. Tools and weapons created in copper soon became as much about prestige and status as practicality.

Copper Hand Tool

Viktor Schauberger

The most famous advocate for bronze tools was the biomimicry experimenter and naturalist, Viktor Schauberger. Born in Austria, Schauberger was a forester who rejected academic training to remain in the woods and mountains to run his own experiments. Although most of his inventions centred on different uses for water, his great exception was his copper tool project.

After years of experiments and observations, Schauberger concluded that cultivating soil with copper instruments would be more beneficial to the Earth and lead to healthier plant growth. Primarily, he believed that using metal tools, which decay and rust far quicker than copper or bronze, was incompatible with the process of plant growth. How could one justifying using a decaying tool to help make a plant grow? He also surmised that growth best occured in cool conditions – heat, he argued, was primarily used to decay or kill, rather than to invigorate. Iron tools, with a greater frictional resistance than copper and bronze, increases the temperature of the soil during use. Bronze, however, stays cool.

Finally, Schauberger concluded that iron, as a sparking metal, depleted the electrical charge of rising groundwater, leaving less for the plants. Copper and bronze are non-sparking metals, meaning that groundwater retained its electric charge as it rose. His observations may have seemed wild conjecture to some, but in the late 1940s, fourteen trials across eight crops proved his theories correct. Seven crops were cultivated with a traditional steel plough, and the other seven with a copper plough. Results were consistent across the board – crops cultivated by copper bore larger, healthier yields with fewer pests.

Copper Tools

If you wish to run your own garden experiment, Primrose has launched a range of beautiful copper tools that will surely stand the test of time. Although aesthetically pleasing, these tools are made from high-grade, work-hardened bronze that will make light work of your gardening tasks whilst helping cultivate the soil with beneficial copper trace elements.

Copper Weeder

Ross at PrimroseRoss works in the Product Loading department and gets to see all the weird and wonderful products that pass through Primrose. Ross is a life-long Southampton fan and favours jazz music, reading and a quiet place to enjoy them.

See all of Ross’s posts.