Plant Journal Issue #3 includes my article about flower pot gardens in Tokyo. The article also includes interviews with two Nakano gardeners who use sidewalk and wall space to create extravagant seasonal gardens shared with neighbors. You can find stores that sell the magazine worldwide, or order it online.
It was raining when @ilynam and Yuki joined me for the first meeting to create a website for the 500 garden database of Japanese gardens outside Japan, a project I am helping Suzuki sensei with this year.
At the entrance to the school, somehow this rainy scene was an apt start for this exciting project where we will mix design, gardens, pixels, and soil. Bringing this knowledge online will be very helpful for people around the world who are interested in knowing about and visiting hundreds of Japanese gardens in dozens of countries. And working with design stars Ian and Yuki, I am confident that we can combine simplicity and beauty in the interface.
The banner offering campus tours for new students says, “We are people who scoop. Environmentally active students.” The word sukuu means “scoop” and also “save.”
I love these succulents hanging on a Shibuya railing. The cans seem recycled, and I love how weathered they look. That these gorgeous plants are facing the street is yet another only-in-Tokyo street beauty.
Somebody clearly loves flowers.
Tokyo is an endless adventure. Walking through the backstreets of Nakano, I was amazed by this flowerpot garden that covers the entire facade of the house, and even camouflages the car parked in front. There must be hundreds or thousands of potted plants, mostly secured by wire.
You can see on the car that the gardener is showing off some winter flowers, like chrysanthemums, pansies, and cyclamens. The car seems very tidy and protected with styrofoam sheets so I am guessing that they really do use their car. I like how they are making car-driving less convenient in order to increase the amount of plants and make their home more beautiful.
Chris at Tokyo DIY Gardening has assembled four other Tokyo examples where plants seem to have greater importance for residents than the ease of using their car. You can see examples of a similar house on Tokyo DIY Gardening, a perhaps abandoned motorcycle and car also on Tokyo DIY Gardening, Linus Yng’s Tokyo Parallellt, Twitter’s @Remmid’s YFrog stream.
I love the amazing spirit behind this Nakano house where more is really more. Covering your house and parking pad with plants gives you a different relationship with your neighbors. I think it’s interesting to contrast this exuberant urban forest with more cutting edge Tokyo architecture that not only ignores landscaping but creates a hostile interface with neighbors. Two examples come from my fall bike architecture tour with Linus Yng.
First is the fantastic Endo Masaki “Natural Wedge House.” The triangular shape meets sunshine regulations and provides an interesting and translucent shape. The structure is entirely visible, and the house seems to float on top of the base. However, from the street you can’t see the front door, and there is absolutely no plants as part of the design or actual residence. Instead, this house interfaces with the city through its car.
Another example is perhaps unexpected. Ban Shigeru’s Hanegi no mori building is celebrated for preserving the wonderful old forest canopy that surrounds the 10 or so units. Yet, again, this Tokyo architecture seems to draw inspiration from car-dependent cities, with the residences atop a parking lot. From the street, the visitor sees cars first, then the building, then the tree canopy.
I wonder if residential architects even in Tokyo imagine that their clients do most of their trips by car. Is this a class bias or a mistaken assumption. Do those with money neither walk nor take transit? Or is it a matter of wanting to show off the houses’ novel designs unobstructed by plants? Devoting so much scarce resources to car parking and access cuts off the home from the neighborhood and promotes a type of urban life that seems wasteful and unattractive.
Fall trees add temporal beauty to residential Tokyo.
An otherwise drab residential street is lit up with red and yellow fall foliage. The red tree in the foreground grows in the very narrow space between a house and the low wall separating it from the street. The yellow leaves in the background are from a ginko tree, which is part a line of ginkos on both sides of a major boulevard. Like most Tokyo residential streets, traffic moves so rarely and slowly that it’s comfortable to walk or bike in the center of the roadway.
小さなポップアップ・ガーデンは都市を美しくする。短い間だけ、公道に庭を作る。東京にもポップアップ・ガーデンを作ろう！@5by50 さん、 ありがとうございます。
Pop-up gardens beautify cities, and temporarily bring gardens to the public. Let’s bring this idea to Tokyo! Thanks @5by50‘s Nicole Fall for pointing this out.
Lima, Peru, New York, and Paris each recently hosted pop-up gardens in the city center. With sponsors including a local government, a city botanic garden and the Dutch Flower Council, these temporary installations create beautiful gardens in crowded urban spaces. Although temporary, maybe these designs will inspire people to expect more from their everyday city environments. Thanks to Trend Central for grouping these three recent projects together, and to 5 by 50‘s Nicole Fall for sending me the link.
Do trees make the human environment more attractive, or do human environments make trees more attractive?
On an elevated pedestrian bridge just outside Iidabashi station, on the way to Koishikawa Korakuen, this gorgeous street tree and its fiery leaves caught my attention. It stands in front of two intersecting wide boulevards, two elevated freeways, and two shadowed canals. Not only does the tree soften the urban blight of devoting so much space to cars and their air pollution. I think the mundane and gruesome human environment also elevate the tree’s beauty beyond what it might attain in more pristine wildness.
The fall sky is incredibly clear, and we often see Mount Fuji from our balcony at sunrise and sunset in these months. Still there are times I go out into our narrow high-rise garden, look out, and feel startled and humbled by the overwhelming beauty of this celebrated natural and spiritual landmark.
The world’s most famous natural landmarks are in some ways like our global cities’the most famous built landmarks. Mount Fuji, like the Eiffel Tower, has a form and mythology that all of us know before setting eyes on it.
Mount Fuji has been represented over many centuries and in many forms, from fine art, most notably Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji, to countless sento mosaics. Until the Meiji era, women were prohibited from its summit. Yet despite our investing so many cultural meanings on this mountain, its presence exceeds human memory and most likely our specie’s future.
Mount Fuji’s sublime appearance on the horizon lifts our vision from a prosaic cityscape, packed with non-descript, high-rise and low-rise residences, television, cellphone and lightening antennas, giant power lines, and a garbage incinerator. As a dormant volcano it, too, has a temporal form, yet its scale and longevity makes our human presence feel very transitory.
Recently I was going into the Tokyo Metro station not far from my house, and I noticed a young woman spraying these blooming sunflowers. She explained she was killing bugs, and that she worked at the hair salon on the other side of this very random looking planting bed.
I was very charmed that this young woman had claimed ownership of this informal planting bed. Based on the strange mix of plants, it is clear that it is the repository of many people’s different efforts over the years. The hardiest plants seem to have survived.
I am sure the hair stylist enjoys getting out of the shop, and the effect of her care is a piece of natural street beauty at the intersection of a dense residential neighborhood and the transit system that animates the city.
This Shinjuku ni-chome sidewalk garden is exceptional in its size, care, and labeling. The gardener lives in a former shop in an old building on what is now a busy entertainment district. From the sidewalk, you can see what appears to be merchandise, t-shirts and a few dress shirts, in the front room open to the street.
The gardener and his wife are often visible in the inner room which is partly visible. This type of retail/residential architecture is very Tokyo mid-century, and there are examples in many neighborhoods of former shop owners living in these spaces, some with remnants of their former businesses.
What I love about this sidewalk garden is the gardener’s obvious care and attention to creating a display of many plants. Nearly all of the pots rests on stools or low tables, with the highest ones closest to the road and the lower ones facing pedestrians on the sidewalk.
I am also amazed that the plants are all labeled, even the most obvious ones such as “rose” (バラ). I asked the older man why he labeled them, and he said that people often ask him and he doesn’t always remember the plant name.
The other amazing thing about the garden is just how big it is. There is easily more than one hundred plants. In addition to cover five meters or more in front of his building and his neighbors, he also expanded to an equally large area across the street. He is often outside watering and taking care of the plants.
I admire this gardener’s love for plants, his colonizing public space, and adding beauty in a crowded neighborhood.
With Chris’ help, I posted a photo essay about photos and buildings on Tokyo-DIY-gardening. It’s easy to imagine how plants can soften the built environment. Looking at plants in the city I am also struck by how buildings make plants even more beautiful. The essay asks more questions than it answers. Looking at everyday Tokyo streets and non-landmark places provides a starting place to consider environmental aesthetics.
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.
On a Nodai Garden Laboratory trip organized by Hattori sensei, I visited some amazing gardens and shrines, and stayed at a beautiful ryokan called Yoshiike. What I did not expect to see were these incredible moss roofs and walls in unexpected places.
While I love designed gardens, I am also amazed at how nature can impose itself on our built environment, creating beauty in unlikely places. I like the idea of the garden extending itself into the everyday.
Even mundane structures come alive when we let nature colonize our habitat.
It’s funny that in English, we commonly call several varieties of magnolia by a single name. In Japanese, there are specific names for each one. I love how these pink and white tulip magnolia flowers are blowing in the night sky, with the ubiquitous power lines providing contrast in form and function. Urban beauty is nature mixed with functional services.
Much of Tokyo is covered in concrete and pavement. In the photo above, a low traffic small street has impermeable pavement. There is a wide, unnecessary brick sidewalk in the foreground built to accompany a recent apartment building. Two private residences also have concrete car-parks and cement surrounds. If you look very closely, to the left of the red traffic cone, a canna flower is breaking through the concrete and blooming.
Up close, the flower is brilliant on a sunny November day. Even more remarkable is that the plant has somehow managed to break through the pavement. How did it get there? How does it survive the city’s relentless drive to bury every grain of soil? Do the neighbors appreciate this floral beauty and the power of nature over the built environment?
After the jump, a closer view of the plant in its context.