The season is turning. The air is suddenly much drier, the sky bluer, and the clouds puffy and dramatic. These late summer photos show the wildness I was able to achieve in my narrow balcony garden this year.
Above is the view from the kitchen door. There’s a tiny nursery school chair, an already fading sunflower, a last burst of blueberries, and murasaki shikibu, a fall flower that I just bought.
Below you can see the shelf full of my amateur ceramic flowerpots, which can also be seen from the living room. One pot has basil. I like how the garden path seems longer and more over-grown than it is.
I am making a new flower pot series at Shiho ceramic studio. I was inspired by the texture and glazing of another student’s bowls, and wanted to create something simple.
The vertical lines on the right-side pot connect with the drainage channels on the bottom and also provide contrast and something to grip. The left-side pot was an experiment in removing material without compromising structural integrity. A fellow student suggested this would make a good candle holder.
After they’re baked the first time, I’ll apply the glaze. Usually I leave some parts unglazed so that you can see and feel the ceramic directly.
It’s a credit to the Shiho teachers that my amateur efforts turn out look more intentional and better designed than I am capable of. I like that they encourage me to do what I want, and yet somehow always ensure that my work turns out OK. That’s evidence of great teaching!
The Nezu Museum and its gorgeous Japanese garden are a just short walk from the Nishi Azabu Juban wildness, the Kakuremino bar, and lush sidewalk garden. Many people come to the newly rebuilt Nezu Museum for its exquisite collection of pre-modern art, or the new building designed by Kuma Kengo. I am a huge fan of its garden that combines tea houses and paths in a setting that seems ancient, slightly overgrown, bigger than its footprint, and entirely removed from city life.
When I visited recently, just before closing time towards the end of a long, hot summer, I was enchanted by how the light struck this worn boat, the plants growing in its bow, and the illusion of minimal human habitation in an endless jungle. I was also surprised to see Japanese maple leaves already turning red, despite the temperature being above 32 celcius (90 fahrenheit) for many weeks.
Taken together, these four posts about Nishi Azabu Juban speak to the wide range of nature in the city: professional and amateur gardens, single plants and total environments, built and wild, public and gated, destinations and everyday experiences. Plants grow wild even in the densest cities, but how we choose to nurture them provides endlessly varied results. I am inspired by the full range of possibilities.
Coyotes have recently been spotted in New York’s Central Park, and at Columbia University. It’s funny to see these reports while I am reading Marie Winn’s charming book about urban wildlife called Central Park in the Dark, in which she chronicles her and other amateur naturalists’ obsessions with city bats, birds, moths, mice and other creatures. Her website includes “latest news”: http://www.mariewinn.com/marieblog/.
Care for cultivated plants ranges from professional pruning to amateur attention. This pine tree is from the entrance to Koishikawa Korakuen, one of Japan’s five most treasured historical gardens.
From formal gardens to native plants, different urban plants and settings require different levels of care. The pruning of a formal garden sets the highest standard. However, I am also impressed how Tokyo municipal trees are pruned by groups of trained arborists. This is in contrast to the US, where it seems that municipal governments offer the briefest training and chain saws to low-salaried workers.
The standards set by highly refined garden pruning, plus professional public tree pruning, have an impact on ordinary gardens. Perhaps it is a combination of expert technique, aesthetic style, and also on-going care for plant life, form and beauty.