August 26, 2019 (Mon.)
Although we typically look at gardens from the inside, you could say that the garden trees seen from outside the garden are another important factor determining its landscape. These trees have the important role of mediating between garden and society. For example, Japanese blue oaks have a broad leaf width and thus also have the role of screening the garden from the outside. They are often used on the sides of Japanese gardens that face public streets. Therefore, on August 26, 2019, we decided to cover the improvement cutting done on one of Murin-an’s Japanese blue oaks. The weather in Kyoto on this day was clear and sunny; we report here on work that was performed amid punishing heat.
First, take a look at this photograph below. The two trunks of this Japanese blue oak are nested on top of Murin-an’s outer wall. Left in this condition, these trunks will damage the wall and, in the worst-case scenario, perhaps fall into the street. There is thus a risk of causing great damage beyond Murin-an. Noticing dangerous situations like this is also the job of the gardener. We can see, then, how much taking care of a garden depends upon the gardener’s powers of observation.
（Blue Japanese oak trunks resting on Murin-an’s outer wall）
At a garden that is also a cultural property like Murin-an, however, large-scale improvement cutting cannot be performed based on the gardener’s observational ability alone. Permission must be obtained from either the Agency for Cultural Affairs, which is the supervising body in charge of Murin-an, or Kyoto City, to whom the Agency for Cultural Affairs transfers its authority.
Improvement cutting in this case differs from tree felling in that the whole tree is not completely cut down, but only the part where multiple trunks grow from it are cut.
According to Murin-an’s head gardener Kenta Deguchi, this improvement cutting was scheduled for August 26 after consulting with all relevant parties. Responding speedily to circumstances like this one is another customary practice when it comes to preserving gardens that are cultural properties.
And so the day of work came. The summer heat of an especially clear day is a constant drain on the stamina and concentration of the gardener’s human body. Even amid such conditions, the improvement cutting work itself is performed at a truly speedy pace.
Deguchi climbs to the top of the tree and holds down the trunk top with his left hand while cutting it with the chainsaw held in his right. When the trunk can be removed, he tears it off with one hand and then places it in a space surrounded by a safety fence.
He continues the improvement cutting while standing on top of one of the oak’s branches. When doing work like this, all this gardener has to maintain his balance with are his own legs and safety belt.
He then goes even lower down and continues working while straddling the ladder and trunk. At 9:45, he comes down to the ground, and moves on to the stage of cutting off the two trunks that have separated from one another.
In the blink of an eye, the area is covered in a blizzard of sawdust and in a mere 36 minutes, improvement cutting is finished. A blue Japanese oak trunk that had been around 7m tall has been cut down to a 10cm stump.
During each phase of the work, Deguchi changed his posture continually as he swiftly cut down the trunks. Regardless of the fact that this was work requiring speed, the overall look of the tree after being cut leaves no feeling of unnaturalness whatsoever. Even when looking to see how it harmonizes with neighboring trees, you can feel that its intensity is neither too strong nor too weak, but just right.
Moreover, this blue Japanese oak faces a public street. On the other side of the garden, there are cars and pedestrians that pass through frequently.
Therefore, clean-up also has to be speedy and progress simultaneously with the improvement cutting work.
One of Ueyakato Landscape’s garden apprentices who has come to lend support to this day’s work handles the clean-up. He uses an air blower to clump the sawdust together and cleans the outer wall with a fine whisk broom (teboki) used for gardening work. He also uses a large-sized broom to sweep sawdust off the road while also watching out for passing traffic.
The sawdust all over the sidewalk is cleaned up in the blink of an eye.
45 minutes have passed since the start of the work. For gardeners, rest is also indispensable. After having finished this amount of work, these two gardeners seemed to spend their break time more quietly than usual.
Covering this day’s improvement cutting allowed us to glimpse gardeners confronting the constraints of time and physical strength as they worked. Each one of their systematic movements was filled with a tension that conveyed how difficult this work is both in terms of labor and judgment.
When asked about this, Deguchi nods and replies,
“When using a chainsaw in a high place, after all, the slightest miss can result in getting injured or damaging the tree. It does require experience and skill. Also, unlike pruning shrubs, work on tall trees means that you yourself climb the tree so that you cannot see the whole. That does make it difficult to judge whether the tree’s shape looks how you envision it.”
–How you envision it?
It’s a matter of intensity. Whether the impression it makes is strong or understated determines, I think, whether or not the tree looks how you envision it.”
–Would a layman be able to tell the difference at a glance?
“It’s a matter of feel, so I think there would be people who might not notice the difference, but I think that a gardener would know.”
Thus, gardeners preserve gardens not only by using skills that they have forged, but also the feel for their work that they have accumulated.
As was stated at the beginning of this article, the reason for improvement cutting this blue Japanese oak was that its trunks were discovered to be mounted on top of the garden’s outer wall. It appears, however, that the garden work done at the end of August is also done for the sake of protecting the garden from changes in the environment.
According to Deguchi, the main tasks at this time of year are watering, tree pruning, lawn mowing, and weed removal. Hence, the improvement cutting for this tall tree was “done also as a typhoon measure,” Deguchi says.
“I think we’re done preparing for typhoon’s this year. I think we’re now doing okay.”
Deguchi’s words convey a feeling of relief that has finally been earned. It is this heartfelt commitment of this gardener that supports Murin-an’s landscape.