Plants and especially flowers trigger memories. Recently lilacs were blooming in Tokyo, and it reminded me of childhood and my grandmother who was a garden hobbyist in Maryland. I tweeted about it, and heard from a friend about the memories she has of a lilac bush by a childhood bedroom. Seeing hostas in my in-laws’ garden reminds me of the suburban neighborhood of my childhood. Japanese maples, azaleas, rhododendrons, and anemone evoke a Tea Trade era of Anglophilic commerce and class in the United States’ Northeast and mid-Atlantic.
Dahlias remind me of San Francisco, where it is the city flower. I love the huge variety and outrageous colors. And its interesting history of being first discovered in Mexico and then bred in the Netherlands. This red and white specimen was exquisite when I bought it and for another week. The number of blooms and buds was astounding. Not surprisingly, two weeks after buying this dahlia, the remaining buds refuse to open and I wonder if the plant will live even one more month.
I bought this plant at Shimachu, a large home center. Their plants always seems pumped up for sale. Unfortunately because of the proximity to my apartment (very bike-able) and low prices, I often buy from there. It’s a guilty pleasure similar to eating fast food.
Recently I had the pleasure of attending my second bonsai-making class with Kobayashi Kenji sensei at Sinajina. While last fall’s class focused on black pine, this time we made a miniature landscape with three gangly deciduous shrubs (Nanking nanakama) and a small flowering astilbe (tannachidakesashi). At the base, we added moss and gravel.
I like how this small combination includes different heights and forms, flowers, and leaves that turn color and drop in the fall. It should be fun to take care of it in different seasons. In addition to TEDxSeeds organizers, the class also included three sisters from Tochigi who come to five classes every year. They clearly were more advanced than us beginners!
I highly encourage anyone to take a class at Sinajina. They are offered several times per month. For basically the cost of the plant (about US $70 or 6,500 yen), you not only leave with a bonsai you have made yourself, but you also learn from Kobayashi sensei about the plants, how to arrange them, and his passion about how people and plants can live together. For now, classes are in Japanese, but recently Kobayashi sensei hired a bilingual American and may soon offer classes in English.
Recently I had the pleasure of taking Kobayashi Kenji’s modern bonsai class at Sinajina. In addition to making my own miniature landscape with a black pine, rock and moss, I learned that gardening in October is focused on making plants beautiful for New Year’s celebrations and guests.
The class used eight year old black pine trees. First we removed all the old, longer pine needles by hand and with tweezers. We removed nearly all the old soil to replace it with a fresh mix that includes volcanic rock and to expose some of the oldest roots at the base of the trunk. Then, we examined the tree to identify its “face” and position the tree in its new pot. Finally we added moss– in my case a taller hill that passes underneath one of the roots and a lower meadow– and small rocks.
Careful attention to form and style is clearly something that extends from miniature landscapes to residential garden landscapes. I am sure that many home-owners and gardeners are pruning their trees now to make sure that they are spectacular at New Year.
I also learned how to distinguish between black pine and red pine. Black pine needles are hard, unbending and sharp, while red pine needles are much softer to touch. Only when fully mature do red pine trees exhibit the bright red trunk that also distinguishes them. Black pine trees are mostly found near the sea, whereas red pine trees grow in the mountains.
Kobayashi sensei continues to be an inspiring guide to plants in urban life. In his anthropomorphism, plants become more human, and humans more embedded in nature. Plants are like people, he explains, in that they require most care during their first year, including more water. Once domesticated, plants cannot be returned to the wild since they have lost their survival skills and require continued human care.
Kobayashi Kenji from Sinajina taught two classes during the Silver Week holiday at Omotesando Hills. Using eight year old red pine trees, the students assembled their own saikei (miniature natural landscapes) in a 2 hour introductory class. Kobayashi sensei is clearly a gifted teacher, and enjoys sharing his plant mastery with a broad and often young audience. I will take his class next month in Jiyūgaoka.
Kobayashi sensei also told me about an exciting new public space project that he has been asked to coordinate. I will tell more details as I learn them, but it involves a difficult and large urban environment, heavily shaded by an elevated structure. Kobayashi sensei is hoping to bring in various public green space experts, including lighting and rice paddies. I am eager to see who he brings to this project and what he creates.