Niwaki Posted on September 23, 2008

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For years the only secateurs I have used have been a Japanese pair given to me by a friend in California. They are plain grey steel, unadorned but like Japanese knives perfectly balanced and frighteningly sharp. Clipping them, in their holster, onto my belt is as instinctive as putting on boots.

You couldn’t, as far as I know, get them in this country until recently, but this summer in Dorset I came across Jake Hobson, who has made himself our domestic expert on Japanese gardening techniques and now imports the proper tools. I illustrate two of them here, my old secateurs and a life-changing pair of shears, bought from Jake and already well-used. Short sharp shears are exactly what you need for cutting back perennials or any softish growth, much faster, cleaner, more accurate and less dangerous to the fingers than secateurs.

Another Hobson introduction to this country is the Japanese tripod ladder; the kind they use for the intricate bonsai-like topiary of (principally) pine trees. Being a tripod it is untippable and wonderfully manoeuvrable into any corner – outdoors or in.

Jake worked in Japanese gardens and nurseries to learn the craft and write the clearest book I have read on the pruning of trees to produce idealized models, mannerism made marvellous as only the Japanese can. Idealized trees are known as Niwaki, the title of his book.

Niwaki by Jake Hobson was published by Timber Press in 2007 at $34.95 or £25.00.

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