This two color, pink and white azalea, is one of my favorite spring flowers.
Azaleas bring back memories of the East Coast in the US, particularly the mid-Atlantic region where I grew up.
Showing off 11,000 tulips specially planted, the Netherlands Embassy opens its gardens to the public on April 13 and 14. I was fortunate to go the first day, and see the splendid varieties of color, height, and shape before the rains started.
One of Tokyo’s oldest and most renowned garden maintenance firm expertly selected dozens of hybrids, created a grand walkway, and also integrated tulips into the main garden of the residence. Planning extended the season as long as possible, which I heard is about three weeks.
Amidst all the bright colors in this grand setting, I felt like I was in a mini-Keukenhof crossed with Gatsby’s home in West Egg. We caught a glimpse of two chefs working in the kitchen, which made me think this diplomatic outpost with 400 years of history is not so far from Downton Abbey.
If you have a chance, please go today, or in the fall on Culture Day when both the residence and garden are open to the public.
Japanese garden maintenance is precise and skilled, even in public facilities. Because of this, I was all the more surprised and delighted to see a self-sown shuro palm disrupting this heavily manicured and idealized landscape behind the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. The azaleas on the slope are pruned to suggest waves, and the trees pruned as if they were posh poodles.
Maybe because it’s a palm tree, this intruder is allowed to thrive.
Spotted in Harajuku, this pink scooter parked next to red azaleas. I am overwhelmed by the extravagance of this product juxtaposed with nature in full bloom, and, of course, the color combination. For all those foreigners who think that Japanese culture is full of restraint and minimalism, this image shows the other side. This mix of nature and industrial product reminds me of the psychedelic backdrops to the ubiquitous television variety shows full of shiny objects, moving parts, and more colors than the rainbow.
This azalea is blooming in two colors on a wet spring day. Azaleas remind me of the mid-Atlantic in the United States, as they are commonly planted with Japanese maples, rhododendron, and flowering cherry trees. The rhaphis palm that serves as a companion plant is better suited to Tokyo than the frost-prone mid-Atlantic. In Tokyo, azaleas are often planted in low hedges alongside boulevards, as well as in traditional and small residential gardens.
Does anyone know the name of this flowering weed? It started growing out of our balcony satoyama box, and suddenly it reached two meters tall, intertwining itself with the morning glory on the green curtain. At first I wasn’t sure if it was an intentional plant, and then it started blooming. The flowers almost look like jasmine.
During the time I was documenting it and before I could post about it, I recently visited the University of Tokyo Botanic Garden (also called Koishikawa Botanic Garden). It’s a lovely garden, which I will post about soon, that traces back to 1684. Although full of history and botanic treasures, this Botanic Garden is also a bit overgrown with vines choking out the azaleas.
I am curious if anyone knows the name. I am guess it is very invasive. Do you think it is a satoyama plant or a kudzu-like danger?
Walking down a large boulevard in Higashi Koenji, I was surprised to see these potted vegetables on the sidewalk. In addition to ginko trees, this street has many azaleas between the vehicle lanes and the pedestrian sidewalk. In this spot, there’s a semi-permanent row of pots. But these eggplants and tomatoes are an extra row that someone temporarily set up.
I love how seasonal and impromptu this vegetable gardening is. And, after almost two years in Japan, I am still startled that people can place plants they love on the street, and no one eats the vegetables, vandalizes, or steals the plants. A city that’s safe for vegetables and plants is one that also welcomes people.
Encouraged by my host Suzuki Makoto sensei at Tokyo University of Agriculture, I recently visited the Edo Gardening Flowers exhibit being held at the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art until November 26,2009. The exhibit has spectacular colorful wood block prints showing flowers and plants in a variety of urban settings including kimonos, at festivals, commercials nurseries, educational materials, Kabuki actors, and Noh dramas.
The exhibit theme is that the Edo period experienced a “gardening culture” in which a passion for gardens and flowers permeated all social classes, including court nobles, shoguns, feudal lords and the common people. According to the catalogue, “the Japanese people’s passion to flowers surprised the American botanist Robert Fortune as seen in his diary upon his visit to Japan in the late Edo period.”
An interesting comparison is also made between between the widespread practice of Edo gardening and also the interest of common people in wood block prints. It is wonderful to see the use of flowers and plants in both high culture realms and in depictions of everyday life during the Edo period.
Two of my favorite prints are collections of plants used by children to learn the names of flowers. The one below, from the back cover of the exhibit catalog, has the names in hiragana. The exhibit also includes Edo era ceramic plant pots.
Some more images after the jump, and also a list of plants seen in the wood block prints.
Above is a photo of a Nakano sidewalk on a busy boulevard. Between pedestrians and the street is an organized planted green strip with railing, ginko trees and azalea bushes. In May, seemingly out of nowhere, giant pink hollyhocks have appeared. What is amazing is that they extend over 1 kilometer on the sunny north side of the boulevard. Someone must have planted a few, which then went viral.
Below is a sidewalk and street in Odaiba, with corporate planting on the left and public planting on the right. Despite the greater green quotient, this Odaiba sidewalk is generally lacking in street traffic, pedestrian traffic and any un-planned greenery. There is something dead and sad about these streets, where large convention centers, a few offices and shopping malls are interspersed with empty lots.
These purple flowers are blooming outside our Tokyo apartment building. While the large trees and some bushes are regularly pruned by professionals, much of the front and side of the building are tended by women who live in the building. Other flowers include brugsmania, clivia, cymbidium orchids, poppies, clivia, azalea and geraniums. It’s an odd mix of cultivated and feral plants that are hardy enough to survive without irrigation.