climate

With the fence down, the view out back looks like a deep jungle

jungle_clintonpark
塀がないと、庭がとても深く見えます。左側のヤシの木はハワイから来ました。

The palm on the left side comes from high altitude Hawaii, and is uniquely suited to San Francisco’s cool ocean-side climate.

Fall and spring trees coexist on San Francisco streets

fall_spring_trees_sanfrancisco

サンフランシスコの道路では、梅の花びらも紅葉も一緒に見えます。可笑しいでしょう?

After living in Japan, seeing autumn foliage in background, and plum blossoms in foreground is a confusing mix of seasons. In California, there’s a wet and a dry season, with little temperature difference from month to month. It’s odd to see both plants from 2 season regions like the Mediterranean, South Africa, and Australia, and also from 4 season regions.

Air plants in bonsai pots

エアプラントと盆栽の陶芸の組み合わせ はどうでしょう? 史火陶芸教室の展示会のために、いろいろ盆栽用の陶芸を準備しました。不思議な組み合わせですけど、エアプラントの形と遠い起源を考えると楽しいです。さらに取り出しやすいので、鉢をよく見ることができます。

Preparing for the Shiho student show last month, I wondered how to show off the bonsai pots I made this year. I tried one with only gravel, and another with a tiny succulent. My favorite is perhaps the oddest combination: air plants. I like their shapes and their distant origins in a different climate. And I like how you can easily take them out and examine the pot. What do you think about this combination?

Two plants cover home in central Tokyo

2つの植物が家を完全に覆ってしまいました。混雑した都市の中で、簡単な壁の庭がぼくたちを元気づけてくれます。
I am so impressed with the utter simplicity of this residential garden. Using practically no space, this vertical garden consists mostly of one well trimmed magnolia tree and a vine that screen the home. I don’t know whether credit should go to the rain-soaked climate or a smart home-owner. This house shows what’s possible in terms of ample plant growth in the most minimal of urban spaces. With more of these gardens, Tokyo would see lower summer temperatures, more wildlife, and a great quality of urban life.

Summer, fall, winter, spring all in one day in January

一月は春夏秋冬が一度に見れる。これは友達の横浜のゲリラ・ガーデンです。咲いている水仙、大きな里芋の葉、 紅葉、明るいの冬空。

My friends John and Ruth McCreery sent me these wonderful photos of their guerrilla garden in Yokohama. The McCreery’s adopted a neglected patch of land between the road and the parking lot of their large residential complex. I like how they captured the odd feeling at New Year’s in the Tokyo region when you see plants typical of all four seasons all thriving. Plants that I recognize include large leafed taro, red maple leaves, and  blooming daffodils.

Maybe nothing is more typically winter in Japan than the presence of all the other seasons!

Update: Later I received an email from Ruth explaining how the taro plant arrive in the garden unexpectedly:

To me, the taro plant is hysterical.
People dump unwanted plants (and other things) in our guerrilla garden. The taro is one. It landed near the compost heap, and thrived. Soon it was crowding out the Japanese iris, but it was so vigorous that we hated to axe it. Transplanting a fairly large plant can be tricky, so we waited until last February, when it was seriously cold, dug a big hole, filled it with the compost it loved, and moved it over there. We then watched anxiously, wondering if it would accept the move, if the wind in the new spot might discourage it–or blow it over–or if it would continue to grow.
It’s about doubled since then!

Elementary school has new off-the grid, vertical garden

San Francisco’s Sanchez Elementary School has created a vertical garden that is edible and off the grid. Solar panels and windmills provide electricity for the irrigation system, and power a weather station so that kids can monitor the climate and how it relates to plants. The kids learn about plants, science, and food by growing things like mustard greens. Apparently the total cost was $10,000, and the project benefited from volunteers from the Slow Food movement. Great use of a limited space, and great to see kids learning about where their food comes from. Very inspiring!

Exotic palm trees in Shimokitazawa

Exotic palm trees in Shimokitazawa

On the north side of Shimokitazawa, there is a Hawaiian restaurant with palm trees that are unusual for Tokyo. The tall palm tree with a silver trunk is a Queen Palm, syagrus romanzoffiana, native to woodland Brazil and Argentina and very common in San Francisco and other cold climates. It looks somewhat like a coconut palm.

The restaurant is clearly using these gorgeous palms– along with tiki torches and up-lights lit even during the day, a water fountain, and a wood porch extending to the street– as signifiers of exotic and distant islands. The effect is rather surprising and a pleasant contrast from the neighborhood’s narrow and crowded streets with few real street trees.

Exotic palm trees in Shimokitazawa

The trees look very healthy. I wonder if the restaurant provides special protection in the winter. The small palm tree is also very appealing. It is a Pindo Palm, or butia capitata, native to Brazil and Uruguay. Since it is hardy to 9C (15F), it seems well suited to Tokyo.

Exotic palm trees in Shimokitazawa

Zero waste

Zero waste vs landfill

Interesting New York Times article about how zero waste is moving from fringe to mainstream, including Yellowstone National Park (plant-based cups and utensils), an Atlanta restaurant (composting on premises), and Honda North America (no packaging means no dumpster at factories).

Food waste, 13% of United States trash, releases methane– a climate warming, greenhouse gas– when sealed in landfills without oxygen. Composting provides non-petroleum fertilizers. Other initiatives include bio-degradable packaging, recycling, and re-using.

Corporate reaction to climate change

With the Copenhagen international climate conference approaching in December, the reaction of business leaders to climate change is becoming increasingly dynamic.

Recently California’s Pacific Gas and Electric, PG&E, resigned its membership in the United States Chamber of Commerce in protest of their positions on climate change and cap-and-trade proposals. Its spokesperson referred to its “disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort” scientific findings about global climate change. Other members such as Nike and Johnson & Johnson have tried to distance themselves from the Chamber’s environmental statements and activities.

In Japan, the nation’s most prominent business association, Keidanren, strongly supported the Liberal Democrat Party and their recent low carbon emissions targets. There seems to be considerable conflict with the current Democratic Party Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s ambitious goals of a 25% reduction in emissions, including technology transfers to developing countries.

I recently learned that there is a second business council in Japan called Keizai Doyukua (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), headed by the CEO of Ricoh, that is closer to the new prime minister and more open to the new global business opportunities that environmental regulation will bring. It is interesting to note which corporate executives Hatoyama recently appointed to the Government Revitalization Unit, a key committee on eliminating government waste: Kyocera Corp. Honorary Chairman Kazuo Inamori and Kikkoman Corp. Chairman Yuzaburo Mogi.

Patrick Blanc’s Vertical Gardens

Patrick Blanc's Vertical Gardens

My friend Bryan Wu sent me this Wired article about Patrick Blanc‘s enormous vertical gardens. The one pictured above is on the exterior of London’s Athenaeum hotel. It is eight stories tall, with 260 plant species and 12,000 plants.

What’s remarkable is that Blanc is a botanist who carefully selects plant species for climate, wind, and sun versus shade. He has worked with Herzog & de Mueron on the CaixaForum in Madrid, and installed a huge indoor wall at the Taipei concert hall. Below is his largest wall, 15,000 square feet, on the Rue d’Alsace in Paris.

Patrick Blanc's Vertical Gardens

SF Sidewalk planting

SF Sidewalks, Dwell magazine article

Dwell magazine has a great article about San Franciscans’ digging up their sidewalks and planting gardens. Much of the credit is due to Jane Martin and her organization Plant*SF, which has helped neighbors and corporations turn concrete into habitat for plants, wildlife and community.

Martin estimates that 15,000 square feet of pavement have been replaced by public sidewalk gardens that absorb rainwater and require no irrigation. I like how Martin describes her test for native plants: “I’m an Iowa girl, so I learned about natives by planting stuff and leaving town. Whatever was alive when I returned passed the test.”

Compared to San Francisco, Tokyo’s climate, with almost year-round rain, offers an even greater potential for plant life in public spaces with minimal care. With so many avid gardeners growing such a variety of plants in small pots, I can only imagine how much more impact they would have if they received government or nonprofit help to dig up the concrete and plant directly in the earth.