Pruning pine trees in the Japanese garden style is an art. Like other fine art expressions, the more you practice the better you get. And like other art forms, you must continually critique your work to see if it meets classic standards of excellence. That, too, takes practice.
While watching your pines mature, look for classic lines to emerge, a sure sign of developing sophistication. Try to abstract your gaze to be better informed. It is like when I learned to turn a painting upside down while working on it to make decisions about its structure while down-playing its content. That’s harder to do with a pine tree that’s been in the ground for years, but I’ve learned there is a way.
While contemplating the garden recently during “last light” or pre-dusk, an opportunity arose to critically critique one of the black pines on Tsukiyama, The Mountain. The sun was low and shining on the west side of the tree. This, in turn, was throwing a perfect shadow of the tree onto the surface of the tea house cedar amado, or shutter doors.
There on the side of the tea house Nature had created a classic pine tree outline, a sumi ink "shadow painting." The branch structure and leaf cloud were perfectly “drawn” across the surface of the doors just larger than life. This momentary light-induced abstraction of the tree revealed honest insight into its sophistication. It was lovely! I am reinforced to know I must be fostering this tree appropriately.
As beautiful as that pine has become, it’s still not perfect (can it ever be?) but it’s damn close. Watch for these moments. The shadow knew.