Frequently horticulture staff and volunteers hear visitors ask a lot of the same questions. Today we will answer one of the questions heard frequently in the Japanese garden.
A lot of visitors ask if the short scotch pine in the Japanese garden are bonsai. Although the conservatory houses a large collection of bonsai, there are no bonsai in the Japanese garden. The trees in the Japanese garden have some similarities to bonsai but one obvious difference. Bonsai trees are grown in pots, whereas Japanese garden trees are grown in the landscape. Trees in Japanese gardens are pruned similar to bonsai but the root growth is not restricted resulting in larger trees of a similar style to bonsai.
The scotch pine and mugho pine in the Japanese garden are pruned similarly. In spring the new growth or candles on the trees are shortened to reduce growth and stimulate the development of buds on the trees for future growth. The trees are otherwise pruned to remove verticle growth within the pads of foliage to maintain definition between each branch or foliage pad. The branches at the tops of the trees tend to be shorter so that lower branches should have more foliage than the top of the tree. The resulting branches could be reminiscent of steps toward the top of the tree. The shorter branches have a functional purpose in addition to the aesthetic appearance. Shorter branches at the tops of trees allow more sunlight to get to lower branches. In pine trees, when lower branches do not get enough sunlight they die. Again evergreen trees and shrubs grown as bonsai can be pruned similarly but are grown on a different scale.
Japanese garden trees are grown on a human scale. The trees tend to be shorter but not so small as to compare to bonsai.