box

Purple berries on murasaki shikibu pop on light green foliage

紫式部の果実は薄緑の葉に似合います。この特別な秋の植物は『5倍緑』という都市里山箱のなかで成長します。史火陶芸教室の前を、歩行者が注目しています。季節ごとに、小さい風景ができあがります。史火のホームペジで、この5倍緑箱が二年前にどんなだったかを見られます。

I love how the purple berries pop against the light green foliage. This hardy shrub is a classic fall marker, and a reference to the female novelist of the thousand year old Tale of Genji. Unlike my balcony specimen, which dropped its berries while still green, this one outside Shiho ceramic studio looks fantastic. It’s growing in a 5bai midori, the modular urban satoyama box.

I bought the first box two years ago, and the second last year. They really thrive on this north-facing sidewalk and draw attention to the studio and store. If you click on Shiho’s website, you can see on the home page how small the first one was. It just needs lots of water, and very occasional pruning. There are so many local species that each season has something special and evocative of the Japanese landscape.

Making wall vases at Shiho ceramic studio

史火陶芸教室の生徒展示会のために、壁の花瓶と植木鉢を作っています。この写真は最初の形です。粘土と釉薬は同じだけど、後ろと前を反対にして、斜めと垂直の形を作りました。

In preparation for the November Shiho students’ ceramic show, I am expanding from flowerpots to wall vases. This is what they looked like after I connected the slabs together. Later comes trimming and carving, baking, glazing, and second baking. I am experimenting with reversing front and back, and how to angle the box that holds the water and flowers.

Small oak is sprouting new leaves and flowers

里山の箱の中で、小さな柏が若葉をのばし、花を咲かせています。

This small oak tree in my satoyama box is pushing out new leaves and flowers. I am a big fan of 5bai midori’s modular boxes full of native trees, bushes, and small plants. This box measures only 20 by 20 by 20 centimeters, yet it is full of plants and surprises. Some of them are evergreen, and it’s fun to watch the rest of the box revive in spring.

Update: I found the tag, and the tree is called konara in Japanese (コナラ). It’s an oak, with the Latin name (Quercus serrata). It’s a very typical Japanese forest tree, and its ample sap attracts good beetles like kabutomushi (カブトムシ). I wonder if we’ll get acorns out of this tree.

Modular satoyama box in full fall color

ベランダの庭には小さな里山がある。色が毎日変わって楽しみだ。

There’s a small satoyama in my balcony garden. The color changes every day.

The leaves on tis small tree in my balcony’s modular satoyama box are turning dark crimson. I love how this small box from 5bai Midori is full of Japanese native plants. I have kept this satoyama box for just over a year now, and always enjoy watching the change in seasons. It’s just 15 cm by 50 cm!

Anyone know the name of this flowering weed?

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?

Balcony garden update

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.

Growing sidewalk rice in styrofoam box

I wonder what this sidewalk rice tastes like? Will the gardener make a special meal with it? It’s great to see how enthusiastic people are to grow the most basic Japanese food, using a recycled styrofoam box. This same gardener is also growing cherry tomatoes and ornamentals. I like the juxtaposition of street, plants, and laundry hanging to dry.

Satoyama box pushing out graphic and colorful leaves

The new leaves on the shrubs in my satoyama box have wonderful graphic and colorful early summer leaves. The two 5bai midori satoyama boxes have been beautiful last fall, over the winter, spring, and now early summer. Despite their compact sizes (20 cm square and 15 by 30 cm rectangle), they are able to support a lot of plant growth, density, and variety.

Hydrangea hide street utility box

I am always amazed at how fast and tall hydrangea grow in Tokyo. The ample rain and warm weather makes them shoot up out of nowhere. I like how this huge cluster on a Tokyo boulevard effectively hides the ugly utility box. This space between the sidewalk and wide street is usually planted with ginkos and azaleas by the local government. Like the hollyhocks down the street, these hydrangea were probably planted by a neighbor and then reappear each year on their own.

Tree breaks out of pot and into soil

This is a close-up of a small tree that has survived the disintegration of its styrofoam planter box and rooted itself into the ground. It is amazing that it was able to force its way through the pavement and reach the soil.

This potted tree breaking the pavement to root itself in the ground is almost the opposite of the cana flower spreading under and breaking the road to reach the air above. I find these images hopeful signs that no matter how much we pave over nature or confine it to a pot, plants are resilient, resourceful and able to confound our built environment.

By rooting itself in the ground below the street, the tree is able to draw more nourishment and grow larger. I wish that governments and residents would begin to de-pave Tokyo, and it’s great to see that domestic plants are not waiting for us to act.

Neighborhood rice

Neighborhood rice

It’s wonderful to see rice growing in a simple residential street garden, alongside geraniums and other ornamentals. The rice is nearly ready to be harvested. Below you can see that it is growing in a blue plastic pot and a white styrofoam box. What it lacks in aesthetics it exceeds in frugality and resourcefulness.

I haven’t seen this neighbor in a while, since she offered us some beer on a warm day; unfortunately, we did not have time to stop then.

Neighborhood rice

Worms and soil

Worms and soil

Recently I heard Robert Blakemore talk about earthworm biodiversity, ecology and taxonomy. Blakemore, a fellow at the Soil Ecology Research Group at Yokohama National University, reveals that less is known about soil than the oceans and even outer space. Soil is the foundation of our food and human life, even though in the mega-cities it is easy to forget that it is buried under the pavement.

Blakemore explains that worms enrich the soil and double crop output. As such, they play a role in ecology perhaps similar to bees: essential for food production yet often invisible and in decline.

The permaculture movement promotes worms for urban farming. Vermicomposting uses worms to break down food waste and turn it into fertilizer. Red wigglers, or Eisenia fetida, are recommended for worm boxes because they eat their body weight in food every day and produce exceptionally nutritious castings.

In Tokyo, city-run composting depends upon each individual ward government. I wonder if many individuals or groups are using worm composting. And what about the state of earthworms in Tokyo parks and soil? Here’s a how-to for building your own worm box.