As these still and quiet days continue, there are now eastern spot-billed ducks that fly to Murin-an as a rest stop. They’re usually here in the early morning, but today they were also here lazily taking their time in the afternoon. They always moved in pairs and you could sometimes see them looking for food too. These ducks’ characteristics are their yellow beak tips that stick out on both males and females. Since female ducks often look alike, this is one way of telling an eastern spot-billed duck apart.
Needle pruning for the Japanese black pines (kuromatsu) in front of the reception window has now finished. As part of their training, our gardeners worked under the instruction of Murin-an’s head gardener while completing a day’s work of disposing of old needles, clipping slender branches and plucking needles by hand, working two gardeners to a pine tree. “It’s tough to pluck while also considering overall balance so things don’t look artificial,” they said, and accordingly, they faced their pine trees and worked with looks of concentration in their eyes. The plucked needles brought a brighter feeling to the front entrance of Murin-an’s main house.
The gardenias that bloomed white flowers in June now bear fruits that have turned scarlet. These distinctive fruits are used for their naturally yellow pigmentation. In Japan, there is a dessert called Kuri Kinton made of candied chestnuts and sweet potatoes that is turned yellow by boiling yellow pigment from gardenias and dissolving it in broth. By fermenting their protein degradation, gardenia fruits are sometimes used as a natural blue pigment too. Green and yellow-green dyes can also be created by mixing together the yellow and blue colors and even red pigments can be extracted from these fruits. Hence, they are commonly used to create many natural dyes.
On December 18 (Wed.), we held our last kimono class for the month. After a lesson on how to wear the kimonos, our instructor taught students many things they need to know for the New Year’s season, including how to sit in seats, move their legs while moving up and down the stairs, and how to handle the hanging straps on trains. We shall continue holding these kimono wearing lessons covering things like basic kimono movements next year too.
We pruned the black pine (kuromatsu) in front of our reception window. Gardeners pluck pine needles by relying on the sensations in their fingertips. As they approach the tree’s canopy, there are many side shoots coming out of it, so they strike a balance by choosing the healthy-looking branches. To reduce the burden on the tree, they quickly pluck the needles that they can reach with their hands while keeping their feet on the ground and then repeat the work as they adjust their body positions to different places. In areas where the tree’s side shoots overlap in complex ways, they sometimes pluck needles while staying in very difficult positions. They continue this process as they move downward from the tree’s canopy.
On December 14 and 15 (Sat./Sun.), we held weekend guided garden tours at Murin-an. Our participants were interested in the garden’s ambience and the details of its creation, so we made these into our tour content as we strolled around the early winter garden. These guests not only took an interest in the garden they saw with their eyes, but also the one they heard with their ears, and were particularly fascinated by Murin-an’s moss.
On December 13 and 14 (Fri. and Sat.), we held tea ceremony lessons on the second floor of Murin-an’s main building. The temperature has grown much chillier since Thursday night, but we could feel the warmth coming from the iron kettle nearby during step-by-step lessons in how to behave at a ryurei (table and chair) tea ceremony. For lessons in bonryaku temae (a simplified version of the tea ceremony), our instructor carefully showed students how to remove one’s tea cloth (chakin) from a cylindrical tea bowl (tsutsu).
To the side of the garden path, there are shrubs with little black beads closely packed together on them. Now’s the perfect time to see the fruits on these Japanese euryas. Sometimes there are little green beads on the tips of their branches. These are buds for the spring that have already borne fruit. Japanese euryas have both male and female species, and the males are the ones without black fruit.
Another name for the Japanese black pine (kuromatsu) is omatsu, meaning male pine. This name is given to it because both its needles and branches are tougher and firmer than that of the Japanese red pine (akamatsu). Here are some pictures of our head gardener removing its needles by hand and clipping unnecessary branches with pruning clippers, just as you would for a red pine. When plucking these needles, pine sap from the removed areas comes out and slowly hardens as it comes into contact with the air. This is a defense reaction not unlike the scabs of human beings. Pruning and caring for trees while taking care not to damage them significantly is part of this work.
The haigoke moss (hypnum plumiforme Wilson or “carpet moss”) that grows in Murin-an like a green carpet is very soft and thus there are areas of it where the dead leaves that get stuck in its gaps cannot be removed with a whisk broom. In these places, we remove each leaf by hand, one at a time. In the area around the Shinto shrine-style fence (tamagaki) where the grass lawn changes into moss, there are parts where haigoke moss grows straight upward, so we check the moss’s growth condition as we work.