In mid-summer, the morning glory provides color, shade, and privacy on my one meter wide (3 feet) apartment balcony. The smaller jasmine leaves provide a nice contrast. Also on my green curtain are Edo morning glory (vs the Okinawa one above) and cucumber.
Tokyo is always under construction. Yet it is uncanny to see the building cranes echoing the hundreds of grave stones and wooden memorials below. The site is the former Harajuku Danchi public housing, which is being replaced by luxury apartments, directly above from Myoenji temple and graveyard. The temple has some very lovely, old trees. I wonder what type of landscape the new building will offer its neighbors.
I like this before and after photo set. It shows an apartment building green space that sits between the ten story building and its two story neighbors, homes and a plumbing supply business. It borders a small street that is mostly pedestrian.
The garden has a mix of flowering vines, bushes, bulbs, and a row of pine trees that were probably planted 35 or 40 years ago. The utility pole support is borrowed infrastructure for training a vine upwards.
The photo above was taken October 24, 2011, and the one below November 23, 2011. Above you can see all the fullness of summer: lush foliage, pink and red flowers at every height level, a blurring of the boundary with the neighbor’s garden.
A month later, the 3 story tree has been heavily pruned, which lets light in during the cold months. All the plants have been cut back, and you can see the wall separating the properties.
The maintenance is a mix of semi-professional gardeners hired by the apartment building and a retired couple living in the garden apartment. Although far more restrained in winter, the garden continues to bloom in every month, no doubt because of their efforts.
These bright flowers have popped up all around my apartment building. They look like spring bulbs but they bloom in early September, with the petals closing at night. I like how they are next to the Joystep, the ubiquitous Tokyo contraption for turning a sidewalk curb into a ramp.
The balcony garden in late summer is chaotic. A variety of perennials and annuals, flowers and vegetables, seasonal and year-round plants form a green curtain that provides some shade and cooling for the apartment. The long and narrow space also includes the air conditioner, washing machine, and clothes line.
Spurred by the energy crisis post-Fukushima, there’s been a notable increase in the number of mid-rise office and retail buildings with green walls. In an over-built city, vertical surfaces are the largest potential area for gardening, farming, and habitat creation.
Tokyo has far more vertical surfaces than roof areas, and we are only at the very beginning of creating an urban forest.
I have been following this topic for a while, and have watched this idea spread from notable public spaces like Suginami’s ward office (world’s largest green curtain) to apartment balconies, flower shops, and now commercial and retail spaces. This wide distribution across Tokyo and across building types is very exciting to see.
Some questions I have include:
- What types of plants can be grown vertically and for what functions: aesthetics, habitat, scent, seasonal change, food?
- How can green walls enhance innovative architecture and place-making?
- How can vertical and roof gardens connect buildings, neighbors, and wildlife?
- What is the impact on heat island effect, global competitiveness, and quality of life?
The answers will come from experimentation and diffusion. The photos, from top to bottom, are four green walls I’ve recently seen:
1. Hasegawa Green Building in Shiba Koen
2. Office mid-rise in Shinjuku Gyoen-mae (2 photos). The company that created and maintains this green wall is called Ishikatsu Exterior (石勝イクステリア).
3. Oimachi retail building near station.
4. Daimon office building.
I bike to school on Yamate Dori, one of Tokyo’s modern ring roads. It’s currently under construction and rather ugly: a freeway underground, a 6 lane road on the surface, sidewalks torn up, new and mostly undistinguishable apartment buildings. On this ride from Nakano to Shibuya, one of the highlights is glimpsing the stairs leading up to this tree-filled shrine. I stopped and found out that it is Yoyogi-Hachiman shrine. I haven’t made it up the stairs yet, but it beckons as an inviting escape from the more functional, profane city racing by it.
This is the view from my apartment building lobby on a rainy spring day. Because of energy conservation, many lights are turned off. This increases the contrast between indoors and outdoors.
I walk through this lobby every day, and rarely think about it or consider taking a photo. Recently, I participated in the Xerox and City photo workshop at Vacant, led by Hirano Taro and organzized by Too Much magazine as part of their Romantic Geographies series. We were asked to take photos of our breakfast and then our trip to the workshop in Harajuku. It made me think more about spaces that become automatic or ignored.
Tokyo residents are more aware of energy use and lighting now. Many parts of the city are less brighly lit: from billboards to train stations to residences. By lowering our lighting, we are more attuned to natural cycles, and more sensitive to the boundaries between private and public, indoor and outdoor, personal and shared resources.
If you blink, you would miss the brief bloom of these lovely purple bulbs. There’s a large patch of them along the entrance to my apartment building. The flowers are very delicate, and the leaves plentiful and verdant. I don’t know their name, but they seem to be very resilient. The entrance garden is divided between professionally trimmed hedges on the left and this large area on the right cultivated by residents and nature.
Update: Horticulturalist Jason wrote to tell me that it’s Bletilla, the easiest ground orchid to grow. It’s native to East Asia. The large patch in front of my apartment seems to require very little care. In Japanese, it’s simply called “purple orchid,” シラン。
I love this multi-petal and super-pink cherry tree growing outside my apartment building. At night, it is magical against the clouds and electric power lines. I like that the tree has been trimmed into a lollipop shape. The sight of the petals pooling up in the gutter is also strangely captivating: so pink and so transient.
Fortunately, once cherry trees have finished blooming, there is a burst of spring flowers: azalea, dogwood, lilac, iris, jasmine, and soon roses.
There are many types of cherry trees blooming in Tokyo. I like this very pink one outside a Nakano apartment building.
Urban nature has a beauty that is amplified by its proximity to quotidian activities. This late blooming, pom-pom cherry is in the final stage of blooming. Behind it is a 1970s apartment building with futons and bedding hung outside the window to air out. It finally feels like spring this week. It is this unlikely combination of temporality and permanence, beauty and function, people and plants, the sublime and the ordinary that make Tokyo such a lovely place to live.
Recently a mejiro bird has been visiting our apartment balcony early in the morning. The mejiro is tiny, bright green, and sports a white ring around its eyes. This bird is particularly attracted to nectar, and seems to enjoy the pink camellia outside our kitchen. What great company to have during breakfast!
This winter has been extra cold, with a number of snow days. Well, snow has fallen as well as sleet. But rarely does it accumulate. One night last week the roofs were dusted in snow.