The two neighboring houses which I watched get demolished last summer are showing signs of activity: a realtor banner, a surveyor, and a pile of fallen bamboo from a Shinto ceremony. In Nakano.
Unlike real horticulturalists, I enjoy planting common plants that I’ve seen in my neighbors’ gardens. This year I am convinced that Kanamemochi (Photina) is Tokyo’s best hedge. In spring the new leaves are a beautiful deep red color. Whether in a pot or in the ground, this member of the rose family, related to apple trees, grows quickly, thickly, and can be shaped easily. I have one hiding my washing machine and providing evergreen privacy between my kitchen and the neighbors outside my window. I also planted one at Kuge Crafts in order to provide separation from a pesky neighbor. Very quickly, that single plant is growing wide and creating a living fence.
If you blink, you would miss the brief bloom of these lovely purple bulbs. There’s a large patch of them along the entrance to my apartment building. The flowers are very delicate, and the leaves plentiful and verdant. I don’t know their name, but they seem to be very resilient. The entrance garden is divided between professionally trimmed hedges on the left and this large area on the right cultivated by residents and nature.
Update: Horticulturalist Jason wrote to tell me that it’s Bletilla, the easiest ground orchid to grow. It’s native to East Asia. The large patch in front of my apartment seems to require very little care. In Japanese, it’s simply called “purple orchid,” シラン。
Miniature pine forest outside Japan Supreme Court. In 1970s, traditional garden joined Brutalist architecture. Would love to see traditional garden with urban forest today.
Walking in Chiyoda-ku opposite the Imperial Palace, I saw this forest of beautiful stunted pine trees above a stone wall. At eye level, there appear to be hundreds of carefully twisted pines whose canopy is less than one meter from the ground. Behind this gorgeous sea of needles is the Supreme Court of Japan (最高裁判所), a 1974 Brutalist concrete building that won awards for its architect Shinichi Okada.
I love the stone wall and the pine forest. In my dream, the once avant-guarde building could regain its ぷprominence by using the concrete structure to support a dense urban forest on its walls and roof. The wildness of the forest hill would contrast nicely with the austere pine forest serving as a formal moat to this newly enlivened public building. The contrast would be magnificent.
While I love the chaos of DIY gardens and the lushness of urban forests, there is also room for traditional Japanese gardens and techniques in the urban landscape, particularly around important public buildings. The contrast between heavily manipulated and more natural landscapes is a new concept at which Tokyo can excel.
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.
San Francisco palm expert Jason Dewees, of Flora Grubb Gardens, recently visited Tokyo, the Seto Inland Sea and Yakushima, and documented his horticultural findings on the International Palm Society’s travel forum. Together we created Palm Sundae several years ago in Northern California. Above is one of his photos.
Packed with photos, Jason’s post is an expert traveler’s guide to urban trees and plants with a palm focus, as well as Seto Inland Sea palms and exotic plants found on Yakushima, Japan’s wettest place whose high mountains feature ancient Cryptomeria trees (commonly called cedar in English and sugi in Japanese). In Tokyo, Jason identified two main types of palm trees: Trachycarpus fortunei, self-seeding in roadside plant beds, in small parks, as well as in the wooded areas of Meiji Jingu, and Tracheycarpus wagnerianus in residential gardens. Trachycarpus fortunei is known in Japanese as shuro (シュロ, 棕櫚), and has been used for many traditional crafts including paper making and brooms. Jason also discovered and photographed in Tokyo potted and in the ground Rhapis palms, both common and unusual.