Niwaki are inspired by the natural Japanese landscape and nature in general and they naturally blend into artificially created garden projects. These might not be just woodland-like hills, rivers and waterfalls, but also cliffs or seacoasts.
The term niwaki bears the way these woody plants are grown, shaped and looked after. Literature sources describing them repeatedly over many centuries as “…those that have been pruned into the right shape of a tree” say it all. Clearly defining the difference between a normally grown woody plant and a shaped tree, be it in a ground or a pot, this simple sentence exactly and uniquely captures the nature of niwaki. It is a plant that was shaped by a human hand into the desired shape, but still has to be cultivated.
The history of niwaki only began with the early days of Buddhism. At those times Japanese gardeners inspired by their Chinese peers wandered off to the mountains for the first time to look for trees suitable for gardens. Those had to be not only interesting but also small enough to be taken out of the ground and transported back to the valley. At the same time, they had to be robust so that the newly build garden would look old immediately after being completed. After rooting in successfully in the garden, the trees were pruned and shaped. At the same time, gardeners did not remove any distinctive features (such as gnarls, wind-twisted branches, dead parts) that evoked the signs of struggle with natural elements. It was also important for niwaki trees planted into specific garden to bear features of trees growing freely in the nature (exposed to mountain condition, shady wood, open plains or near bodies of water).
From the very beginnings, Japanese gardens were built to evoke the image of a normal landscape. Yet, the trees that gardeners needed for this were quickly becoming scarce. Then they had no other choice than come up with various pruning techniques, many of them mimicking the impacts of natural elements forming the trees in mountain ranges and at the coast. It took several centuries to develop such techniques. Gradually, specialized nurseries were being founded (and new ones are still emerging) with the aim to “produce” and maintain trees of a specific size and the desired unchanging character.
It is also important to note that Europe also has many growers who create niwaki trees and work with such plant material that is used to our climate.