しがつ … The 15th of April … A Working Day in the Garden

Since updating the “March in the Garden” pictorial
a few weeks ago,

… life has begun to emerge in the garden beds.

A few sights on the 15th of April …


The first appearance of  ‘Sum and Substance’

and the ‘flicker’ of  ‘Fire and Ice’.


The exquisite pattern of Fritellaria

New displays of Iris … in the Water Garden

にしきごい …

Kurosan ponders life’s vicissitudes
just beneath the surface of the nishikigoi’s pool …

The main task in for today is to check the health of the emerging plants …

Here, thin tines of a metal plant label are used to gently clear debris
from emerging shoots.  Used with obligatory care,
the wire is not rigid enough to cause damage in the event
that an unseen shoot is accidentally brushed,

allowing a pristine area in which to grow:

Along with cleaning the beds, old metal name tags
are being replaced by lightly laminated, wooden alternatives
– ‘softer’ and much more pleasing to the eye …

Pleasant temperature meant that my mid-day meal
was able to be enjoyed outdoors

beneath the Rhododendron …

And … An Important Message:

ひのいり … Hinoiri swims to the surface,
presenting this somewhat regal portrait …

… to remind visitors that April debris
from Acer palmatum

not only falls, colours, and pollutes the water,
but is toxic to folk like him …

He would like me to ask you to cover up fish-ponds
until the month-long drop is over …

げつめい … Anticipating the arrival of his mid-day meal,
Getsumei blows bubbles at my approach …

Feeling refreshed after tea, work continues …

From perpetual absence of comments,
to no one even visiting the site in 10 days,
our future on the Internet seems clear.

It may be, however, that one or two folk may actually
have enjoyed this visit to … The Garden in April.

With the day’s work being finished …

We will end our visit here …

Local Gardening Inquiries for 2019 …

A few thoughts from reflecting upon
inquiries that were received last year …

My meishi – (business card) …

When thinking of a Japanese Garden,
the image that (evidently) comes to the minds
of “Western” people generally, is of a red footbridge
surmounting a stream, next to a stone statue
of some description.  That is a tragedy …

an ishidorou may supplement a garden –
but if that is the predominant feature
in a visitor’s memory,
then something is woefully wrong.

つぼにわ (tsuboniwa) … The Small Garden

The key principle to appreciating the intricacy
of Japanese gardens, is to recognise
that the Japanese Garden represents a section
of the natural world, depicted on a smaller scale.

Much of this is accomplished by using perspective
within a relatively small space:

placing several larger rocks in the front of a planting bed
with smaller rocks being positioned to the rear conveys
– to the artistically minded, the impression of distance
as it would be seen in a grand landscape.

Another illusion, is to create a sense of depth
by ‘hiding’ an object, path, plant, or sculpture
behind, perhaps, a shrub or hedge …

which piques the curiosity of the viewer,
and makes them want to venture forward
and around the immediate shrub or hedge,
to see what lies behind and beyond.

Items in the Japanese garden are arranged
asymmetrically. Rather than one dominant item
flanked by two others, an off-centre arrangement
creates a sense of movement (rather than static display)
which draws the attention of the garden visitor
to the entire group as a whole.

Attention to detail in the Japanese Garden
is such that it is planted and arranged
so as to be of visual interest in winter,
as well as summer.

Care is taken to ensure that rocks placed
in the garden are not just set down on the soil,
but are placed into carefully pre-dug ‘hollows’
whose bases are then filled and the soil pressed down
to give the feeling that the rock has lain in the ground
on that particular spot, for a very long time.

Again: attention to detail –

taking great care to make the artificial garden
look entirely ‘natural’.

Trees and shrubs are carefully trimmed ( niwaki )
to display the shape of the tree form itself:
it is not merely the foliage that is of interest,
but the shape of the trunk and branches
that actually form the tree.

Planting young trees, for instance, at a slight angle
will – due to geotropism – form an asymmetrical trunk
as the canted tree again begins to grow vertically,
towards the sky.

While placing odd-numbered groups of perennials
creates a pleasing appearance if done properly,
the Japanese garden offers more –
intriguing the thoughtful mind, as well as
pleasing the appreciative eye.

The Garden is a haven from a world that has discarded
every last trace of courtesy, consideration,
conscience, or moral discernment,
and whilst multitudes may have little interest
in a quiet, serene, and peaceful setting,

it is precisely this characteristic of the garden
that makes it appealing to an ever-dwindling remnant.

While the traditional Japanese garden
may not be awash with flowers,
that does not mean that yours must be likewise:

the use of perspective and meticulous attention to detail
may be equally employed into the Rose garden,
Perennial garden, or indeed, any bespoke garden.

The man who taught and inspired me:

friend, mentor, and grandpa, John Hall
at work in the Botanic Gardens, Belfast c.1960.

A kind and extremely gentle man,
I never once saw him leave the house
without his gold watch in his waistcoat pocket,
or New Testament in the inner pocket of his jacket.

He never ceased stressing the importance of
caring for soil, or showing kindness to any animal
that found its way into the garden.

Whilst I have no memories of his beginning
to teach me from the age of three,
I do remember my first “professional” garden work
at the age of 7, clearing any stones from the beds
outside the Tropical House …
for which the foreman paid me sixpence.

He taught me to compose the garden
with an artist’s eye: Foliage and Flowers –
deep shades of green from which the reds, oranges,
blues, and purples of carefully-placed flowers
stand out as though lit by a spotlight …

I think of him every time I smell the aroma
of rich, friable soil.

One aspect of inquiries that did recur last year,
is worth clarifying here:

I am a gardener: a man who makes homes for plants,
for people who genuinely admire plants,
and appreciate the various animals who are attracted to a garden.
If you consider the area around your house as a “yard”,
or want an outdoor “entertainment area”,
I am probably not the man for whom you seek.

I do Not use machines when working in gardens.

I neither own ‘technology’ in our home,
nor use it in my work. Wheelbarrow, spade, rake, and
a selection of Japanese hand-tools are the only equipment
to supplement eye, mind, hands, and feet.

I am simply a Traditional Man,
doing Traditional Work,
using Traditional Skills.

Whether forming a large garden, tea garden,
or a ‘pocket garden’ on a high-rise balcony,

This is the work that I love.

P Livingstone
March, 2019

さんがつ … The Month of MARCH … in the GARDEN

Sights from the garden …





Hosta Krossa regal


In the Fruit Garden, along with the Raspberries,
Blackcurrant make its initial display …

… accompanied by new Strawberry shoots

and Rhubarb


A Gentle Stroll Together …

A scent to rival many Roses …

The beautiful ‘Black’ Hellebore

Another enjoyable walk through the garden … in the month of March.

P Livingstone

ことり … A Little Bird


I cannot even begin to imagine the depths of Callousness
in those miserable, conscienceless, self-centred creatures
who would not even put out food for little birds
on a cold winter’s day …

nor the type of immaturity and ignorance
which presumes that, because THEY are irresponsible wretches
too lazy to pick up any fallen food that might attract rodents,

therefore, so is anyone else who possesses
the moral conscience and empathy
to feed the birds in the wintertime.

A highly unusual fall of snow the day after
photographs from “The 1st of February … in the Garden”
were taken,

has meant that for most of February
the garden has lain beneath a blanket
of (slowly) melting snow.

At some point in the night, I awoke remembering
that I had not put away a 5-gallon pot
after planting the blackberry bush it contained
into the newly-built cedar garden bed.

Waking as usual just after 5:00,
I stumbled out into the pre-dawn darkness
of Friday morning, the 22nd,

noticed the pot in the dim light,
lying on its side beneath the large Rhododendron
and leaned forward to pick it up.

I stood up infinitely faster than I had bent down.

Having closed my fingers around
the edge of the pot – something soft
brushed the back of my hand.

We have, here, a very friendly resident skunk
along with a frequently-visiting family of Racoons
and I instantly thought that I had just disturbed
one of them who had been using the plant pot
to catch up on a bit of sleep.

Even in the darkness, however, I could see
that the blur of movement … was a bird.

I knelt and tried to gently catch him
– feeling certain that an active bird
on the ground at 6:00 am, surely meant
that the little creature was injured.

As the little fellow ran between my elbow and thigh
I realised the futility of it: I could not see properly
in the darkness, never mind also being underneath
a large Rhododendron bush.

I went to do my Wing Chun practice but –
never able to get the idea of the little bird
on the snowy ground, out of my mind –

kept looking out the window
into the slowly lightening gardening.

After practice, I called to the birds while
setting out their morning breakfast at 7:00 o’clock.

Normally, they arrive en masse in the pre-dawn
light – often, even standing on my feet
in their anticipation of a meal.

Sure enough, the little chap from this morning
began to move from the bushes towards me …

but, Oh, it was a tragic sight:

His wing drooped on the snow; and his right leg
was tucked against his chest. He hopped on one leg,
then fell on his chest … hopped, fell – and then stopped.

(Without pausing to focus, a hurried snap-shot
from my wife’s little ‘work camera’ … )

In the morning gloom, the first sight after my
initial clumsy attempt to catch him in the darkness –
the ‘pouring’ snow (more icy rain than snow) can be seen
as blurred streaks against the darker tree.

Wanting him to come closer, I went out,
left some crushed sunflower hearts on one of
the slabs of the path for him; returned inside,
and watched.

Large flakes of wet snow covered him.

My heart was broken watching the pathetic sight
of this dishevelled, utterly disabled little bird
hopping and falling in his efforts to reach the food,
and then find shelter beneath a blue spruce.

At least now he had food in him.

But I had to catch him, and warm him,
as well as provide shelter from the snow
and cold.

With the morning light now brightening,
I took a piece of shade cloth (a large sheet
of very fine net used to shield nursery plants)
and strung it in a ‘V’ – the net making one side,
the solid side of the porch steps, the other.

Placing more sunflower hearts on the flagstone,
I watched for half an hour as dozens of species
of bird came – clearly ignoring their regular
feeding areas for this new, novelty location:

at this rate they were going to finish the food
that I had left for the little bird to find.

I had turned away from the window to dip
the little bowl into the Sunflower bag
and was turning the handle of the door
to go back outside when –

the little shape caught my eye.

I froze and released the handle.

The little bird was standing – pitifully
misaligned with his drooping wing and
tucked-in foot … the wet snow falling on
and around him.

Wet shoes notwithstanding, I turned
and walked quickly through the hallway,
leaving quietly through the door from the kitchen.

Looking across the garden, I could see him:
still in the same position, now almost covered
with snow.

I remember actually wondering if he was dead.

The birds were exceptionally well used to me
and I reasoned that, if I began ‘sneaking around’
– far from hiding my presence, I might as well
beat a drum to announce it.

I would walk into the garden, talking aloud to
the birds – just as I always did.

“Ohaiyo gozaimasu, mina san!

Tabemono ikega desuka?”

Calling gently as always, I walked past the fish pool
(which positioned me behind him in the garden)
and only then, turned right, hoping regular movement
would allow me to approach the little shape.

He hopped. And fell.
Hopped, and then pecked feebly in the snow.

He was moving away from me … but not in any panic.
Most importantly, he was moving towards the “V” shape
of the net.

I waited as he casually paused to peck at bits
of sunflower that had clearly been spread
by the other birds.

He was in the “V”.

I stepped more directly now.
Hop. Hop. He was on the folds of the net
that lay on the ground.

He moved … into the soft, fine mesh
that now folded around him.

I moved … and the bath towel that had been
draped around my shoulders,
now gently covered him and the net.

A pull of the thin garden twine released
one side of the net from the stair railing;
another pull opposite, released it from the tree
that had held that side.

He never struggled: wet snow and ice
covered his feathers – but I now had bird,
towel, and net in my arms, held against my chest.

I took the whole package inside the house,
and carefully unwrapped net from towel
while placing the bird into a food cooler
used for giving the fish visual medical exams
twice a year.

The little bird was (literally) ice cold to the touch.

I breathed gently around his beak and set him
into the towel. Placing food beside him,
and a small plastic lid full of water,
I added a night-light and positioned a clear lid
to allow fresh air, but protection from the cold.

Wanting him to be able to hear the sounds
of the other birds, his new living arrangement
was set out on the porch, where the other birds
were enjoying their morning buffet.

I noticed – when checking on him an hour later,
that those wet, dishevelled feathers were now dry;
and he held his wing properly in position.

He spent that first night warmed by the night-light.

The following morning, surrounded by birds
that arrived for their daily breakfast,
I slid the lid back and gently turned the container
on its side:

still unable to fly, he was now able
to walk around the porch –
standing on his leg,
rather than falling to his chest.

While birds flew into the porch
to eat alongside him;

others paused to stare in amazement …

… before joining them in the morning meal.

His second day was spent
hopping about or watching the garden
from the comfort of a hand towel
which we had formed into a ‘nest’
in his own little box, from the security
of the covered porch.

We watch him, feed him, change his water,
and welcome his company until such times
as he is able to fly away.

[ At 6:03pm on Monday, 25th, I heard a rapping on the window:
turning my head to see, my little friend was standing looking in
– from the top of the tiny table that was supporting the 3’high net
that was keeping him from leaving the porch until he could fly.

He now had the strength and ability to gain “lift” and,
as I opened the door to the porch, he flapped his wings,
flew in a steady arc, and disappeared into the hedge
30 feet away.

At least now, he was able to lift himself into the hedge
or trees, away from predatory mammals.


He has shown up for breakfast Every Morning since –
(in fact, he is the first to appear, in the pre-dawn gloom,
at half-past six) – I even found him on the morning of
the 2nd of March, standing in the covered porch
staring up at the door … yes … Waiting.

Seen throughout the day, he stops for lunch at around noon;
and again after three, for a late-afternoon meal.
He is – as I write this update on the 18th of March
– clearly determined to live in our garden). ]


My wife and I had had a television in our home
from 1996 to 1999. But we could not stand
the vulgarity, viciousness, vacuity, and
constant normalisation of moral depravity
that it delivered in everything
from ‘dramas’ to ‘documentaries’.

We both felt immense relief when returning home
after discarding it in the town dump –
Our household felt … clean … once again.

The garden has never failed to provide me
with hours of mindful (not mindless) entertainment;
it has edified my mind by obliging me to learn about,
observe, and understand the plants
with which I am working;

it demands the exercise of patience, gentility,
and common sense – thinking always about what a plant needs
– and not what I want.

Anyone who gardens out of appreciation for its flora
and wildlife – (as opposed to neighbourhood posturing;
or competing in some vanity-driven gardening competition) –
will share that same sentiment.

Gardening cultivates everything that is
contrary to modern mentality:
empathy, selflessness, and attention to detail.

Even, sometimes, when it is covered in snow.

Everything that I value in this life
is found in, and nurtured through, the Garden:

the joy of caring for fragile life;
a serene setting for a quiet cup of tea;
the peace of a home without ‘technology’;
the simplicity of a Plain Life indoors … and,

– in a world where human beings feel no shame
in being vulgar, crude, and vicious –

a personality which becomes easily obsessed
with the need to show tenderness
and compassion

to a little bird.

P Livingstone

にがつ … The 1st of February … in the GARDEN

Hinoiri ひのいり basks in the sunlight
beneath the reflection of blue sky
and overhead branches reflecting from
the surface of heated water on a cold day.

New Cedar fence boards were used to construct
four new beds for Strawberries, Raspberries,
Blackberries, and Rhubarb …

… but cold nights leave a hard frost
which means that even strong morning sunlight

requires until almost mid-day
before the soil is softened enough,
to allow any plants to be introduced
into the waiting loam of their new garden beds.

Stronger sun, however, does warm the earth,
which releases the first shoots of Galanthus …

and Crocus …

and brings the first buds to the trees …

However cold the nights, the nishikigoi
bask in the comparative luxury
of their heated pool – in water kept
some 40 degrees Fahrenheit warmer
than the air in which I am standing
to compose this photograph.

Here, hinoiri and kurosan pause

moments before hitting the surface of the water
to let me know that the fish are waiting
for their breakfast …

Whilst the temperature is forecast to drop
below freezing for the next week,
not one of them – in a pool four-fifths covered,
will be the slightest bit aware
of anything but the blue sky above

– and my blue finger-tips
that deliver their three meals every day.

Still – (clearly able to sense my foot-fall
as I close the back door of the house) –
there is something remarkably heart-warming
about approaching the water

to find seven waiting faces
looking up 
in rapt anticipation.