I love the simplicity of this window garden in an old snack near Hamamatsuchou Station, an area better known for sleek new office towers and a port. In almost no space at all, this garden has climbers like bitter melon, pink flowers, herbs, and plants trailing down. It seems like the Hiro snack bar has been long out of business, yet someone is still enjoying living upstairs.
Checking up on the two gardens I helped plant at Shibaura House, it was delightful to see the first baby bitter melon, called goya in Japanese. I think the staff were concerned that it was growing slowly, so it was exciting to first see the yellow flowers, and then to find the first vegetable! I was also thrilled to see the vines just starting to be visible from the sidewalk outside Shibaura House.
Shibaura House’s second floor has a balcony with a curving staircase. My idea was to cover the staircase railing and protective wire fence with a combination of morning glory and goya for summer. There were also some passion flower seeds, but I guess they did not sprout.
Rainy season has been oddly long this summer. It’s usually over by the end of June, but this year shows no sign of ending yet. Given the intense summer heat in Tokyo, I am certain that this staircase will fill out nicely in the next weeks.
Directly across from the University of Tokyo, I was delighted to see this green awning of bitter melon (also known as goya) growing up the guard rail and then over the sidewalk. The restaurant owner or manager is using a very narrow space to grow the vegetable, and then extending it with simple nets into a canopy. Once across the sidewalk, the goya forms a very tidy green curtain for the second floor window, providing some shade in this hot and humid summer.
With @luismendo visiting from Amsterdam, my Tokyo DIY Gardening pal Chris and I took him on a tour of Harajuku backstreets looking at gardens, eating tonkatsu, and stopping for some excellent cold coffee.
Harajuku is fun because the residential area has houses and gardens from all or almost all the past eight decades. The Harajuku gardens that appeal to me are similar to ones elsewhere in Tokyo for their simplicity and easy adaptation to urban life. Some results are clearly unintentional.
My photos include a three story garden of ivy and bamboo that covers one house and provides a buffer with its neighbor, a sleek concrete building’s balcony green curtains that are just starting to fill out on two floors, a blue flowering vine that somehow became a giant bush, a tiny entrance garden outside a pre-war house that has been converted into the very elegant Omotesando Coffee.
We also explored the enormous Danchi that between 246 road and Harajuku. This sprawling bauhaus-like public housing project has a wonderfully chaotic and varied set of gardens created by generations of residents. In July, we spotted lots of tomatoes, vertical bitter melon, and these purple gloves on top of an ad hoc garden support.
This small green curtain makes a nice contrast with Suginami’s giant green curtain. When I see small green curtains, mostly they are on residential balconies and small houses. This one is at a car shop across the street from a printing factory in Bunkyo ward. I love how the shop worker or manager chose to create a small green spot with bitter melons climbing up the window and to the roof. It’s great to see people make use of work time and space for some vegetable gardening.
This is the second okra plant I have spotted along the small street leading from my apartment to the JR station. I was impressed with how beautiful its flower is. In the background is a climbing bitter melon vine, and a dog house. The “yard” is paved, so all the plants are in pots.
Today’s mild typhoon is a welcome relief after more than six weeks of record-breaking heat and absolutely no rain in central Tokyo. I was getting worried about the street trees and all the “independent” plant life that survives in Tokyo without human care.
For some reason, the bitter melon I planted by seed in April only recently started climbing like crazy. Here’s an image of a baby bitter melon in the rain, with its flower still attached. Hope to eat some in a few weeks.
Did you know that Japanese typhoons are not given names like in the United States? Today’s typhoon is simply 10W.
I took this photo a month ago, and our balcony garden is now even more lush. It’s amazing how much incredible heat and daily watering can increase bio-mass!
It’s amazing what you can fit in a sunny narrow space. I have six mini-watermelons ripening on the railing and green net, three Saipan lemons, two types of morning glory, the 5bai midori satoyama boxes bushing out, cucumbers still flowering and creating fast food, and some random flowers including mini-sunflowers, abutilon, and Suntory hybrids ミリオンベル (million bell) and アズーロコンパクト. Plus there’s basil, parsley, and thyme, all of which I put into my bolognese pasta lunch today.
The floor area is full with just enough room to walk through for watering. The vertical space is about half full with the net and some additional twine. I like how the old washing machine is nearly hidden by plants.
Some failures included corn, with tiny ears that formed and then turned brown. The rose which was so outrageously pumped up when purchased has hardly bloomed since. The incredible heat this month killed my first bonsai, a Japanese maple (もみじ) in a tiny pot.
Some surprises included the late growing bitter melon (ゴーヤー) now shooting up. I planted last year’s seed in April, and it hardly grew until about three weeks ago. Now it’s two meters tall, and perhaps will produce a few vegetables before typhoon season. Bitter melon tastes great with ground pork!
My friend Matthew, who now works at Sinajina, pruned my pine bonsai. Apparently now is the time to start thinking about shaping it and preparing it to look its most beautiful for the new year. I wonder how to keep my tiny garden green during winter.
I first saw these vines a month ago on a nearby sidewalk. They are growing in plastic buckets with an elaborate plastic twine trellis supported by a tree branch. Initially I misidentified them as morning glory. Recently, I saw how tall and thick the vines had become, and that they are in fact bitter melon, with vegetables ready to eat. The shop owner saw me taking these photos, and seemed very proud of his summer edible garden on a busy street.
A Sendagaya gardener is growing bitter melon on a mesh net for summer. You can see the prickly green vegetables (tastes great with ground pork). In the context photo, you can see how easy it is to grow in a small size pot on the sidewalk. I like how it covers the window, and dwarfs in size the vending machine.
I have started to notice all over Tokyo that people are creating makeshift plastic rope trellises for summer morning glory vines. This one near my home is particularly ingenious: the trellis wraps around two blue buckets containing the vines, and the rope is looped over the street tree. A zig-zag pattern is added for extra support.
Is this a new trend? I am looking forward to watching these plants grow this summer.
UPDATE: One month later, the vines cover the trellis, and I realize that it’s bitter melon, not morning glory. The vegetables are ready to eat.
This year I am experimenting with many types of vegetables and fruit in my balcony garden: kiwi, eggplant, watermelon, cucumber, bitter melon, corn, and lemon. Plus I have two types of thyme, parsley, rosemary, and basil.
These photos are from May when I planted the starter plants in these soft fabric pots and coconut husk soil. I added marigolds for color and possible bug and pest repellant. I am not sure what will happen with some of these vegetables: will they produce food? help shape the summer green curtain?
I like to think of these vegetables as experiments, as fun, and equal parts food and decoration. Almost all vegetables and fruit provide greenery, flowers, and, in the case of lemons, fragrance.
On a small street, a residential building with pavement extending to the street has a fantastic, thick green wall of morning glory and bitter melon. The “green curtain” is growing from two pots on the staircase landing, with a simple next extending to the roof. It’s a great example of adding greenery on a lot that has very little exposed soil.
The bitter melon adds a healthy, edible dimension to this seasonal green wall.
I wonder why our green wall never got this thick? Perhaps the southern exposure was too hot for bitter melon and morning glory. This morning I saw a fluttering large butterfly, a resting dragon fly, and a juvenile lady bug enjoying the shady side of a leaf. A few days ago I noticed a trellised collection of morning glories on the way to Nodai has already been cut back, so I think the season is almost finished.
Update: A week later, on Sept 19, I returned to this small street, and there is no sign of the green curtain. The vines and even the planter boxes are gone.
On my way to the Kyodo train station from Nodai, my Research Fellow colleague noticed a two-story bitter melon green curtain. We were impressed by how full it is, how tidy and well trained. There were a number of large bitter melons on the vines. Bitter melon is certainly hardy, and the whole large vegetable garden is growing out of two medium sized plastic tubs, and taking up minimal space in the car park area of someone’s home.
Inspired by the Suginami Ward Office’s giant green curtain, we have started a green curtain for our south-facing balcony using bitter melon and morning glory. Above you can see the first vegetable taking shape. Below a wine-colored morning glory; other colors include white, blue and white, pink and white, and “crystal blue” from Okinawa.
With twine, we have created a simple structure connecting the railing with the laundry support attached to the balcony ceiling. It is amazing how fast the vines grow in the Tokyo heat and humidity.