By far the number one challenge we have when setting up one of our shows at the Japanese Gardens is one of flow. Does the movement of an individual tree flow to the left or the right? What does this mean and why is it important? Flow is a term to describe the overall direction that the tree moves toward. In other words, which direction does it lead your eye to? In a normal display, the flow leads you naturally to the accent plant, and that planting points your eyes back up to the tree. In a shohin display with multiple trees, the flow leads you from one tree to another on the stand.
There are several elements that contribute to flow; trunk movement and direction, main branch position, direction of crown, and overall foliage mass. Where we run into trouble is when we have conflicting elements within the design of the tree. Frequently, the main branch goes in one direction, and the top goes in another. This is the most fundamental rule – The apex must move in the same direction as the main branch. The trunk may or may not move the same way, but these two elements – the main branch and top - must agree. The movement can be very subtle, but you can still spot it in balanced tree styles like formal upright and broom.
Obviously, the main factor contributing to movement is the trunk. A slanting trunk is pretty obvious, but most of our trees fall into the informal upright category, where they start one direction and switch to another. The other factor is foliage mass. Where this is located and how strong it is can sway an otherwise balanced tree.
I encourage you to take a look at each tree in your collection and give it a good evaluation to see which direction it’s moving in, and more importantly, that all the factors agree and are in balance. Doing so will improve each tree and make it feel much more harmonious. We don’t have enough space here to talk about how to make corrections; we will have to leave that for another time. Have fun with your trees.