hydrangea

Abandoned local house has super-sized garden plants

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廃墟になった家のまわりに、だれにも世話をされていない庭がどんどん大きくなっています。アジサイはかなり背が高いと思いませんか? 東京では、一年中雨が降ります。

This is one of the tallest hydrangeas I have ever seen. It’s growing outside this once handsome house near where we live. Tokyo’s ample year-round rain make it easy for plants to survive without our help. I’m hoping they won’t tear down the place soon, because this wild garden only requires being left alone.

Which hydrangea do you like best? I love all types.

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6月の梅雨で、一番きれいな花はアジサイでしょうか。色と種類が多いですが、僕は全部、大好きです。最近、伊豆の小さな田んぼのよこで、アジサイが咲いていたのを見ました。

I love all types of hydrangea. They are always so oversized, and particularly well suited to Japan’s rainy season. I like the elegant ones that bloom more sparingly, and also the giant pom pom types that come in so many different shades. Recently we saw hydrangea planted on the border of small rice fields in Izu.

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Summer hydrangea spills white flowers from side street onto main road

路地からこぼれ出ているカシワバアジサイという花がきれいです。夏に咲いていますが、もともと東南アメリカの森から来ました。普通のアジサイのより、葉も花も違います。東京の建物の森で、この植物は自分のふるさとを思い出すでしょうか?

I love this late blooming summer hydrangea with white flowers spilling from the side street onto the main road near our place. It’s called “Oakleaf hydrangea” or kashiwaba ajisai in Japanese. It’s native to hardwood forests in the southeastern United States. In addition to distinctive leaves, it’s one of the few hydrangeas with cone-shaped flower bunches. Maybe built-up Tokyo reminds this bush of its native forest.

Omotesando Koffee has perfect traditional Japanese garden

隠れたところにある『Omotesando Koffee』というカフェに、小さくて完璧な日本庭園があります。ムクゲやモミジやアジサイのような伝統的な植物はたくましくて、育てやすいです。歴史もあります。コーヒーはとても美味しいです。

Minimal and superb Omotesando Koffee is a modular cube inside an old Omotesando house. It’s supposed to last one year, after which the building may be “reformed” as the Japanese call it.

In addition to delicious coffee in a nearly hidden spot, Omotesando Koffee has the most perfect Japanese garden with two benches for seating. I love the stone path, old light fixtures, and the very Tokyo odd mix of wood, bamboo, and the ubiquitous cinder block.

It’s a very small garden, with many traditional and resilient Japanese plants, including hollyhock, maple, and hydrangea. Worth finding if you’re in the area. Hollyhock is becoming my favorite late summer flower.

For those far away, I have included an image of the sign outside (it looks like a black frame), and the clever way they turn standard paper bags into a lovely and minimal branded object.

Shin Koenji garden explodes in mega-growth

 東日本大地震の影響で、東京の庭の草木がものすごく育ったと、日本のお母さんが言っています。

Recently, my mother-in-law surprised me by telling me that she attributes her garden’s explosive growth this spring to the Tohoku earthquake on March 11.

I was surprised, too, by its mega-growth: the hydrangea are enormous, once small variegated vines are sprawling, the self-sown shuro palm is pushing lots of new leaves. The growth is all the more suprising since the garden is very shaded, particularly after the plum and persimmon trees leaf out in April. I inquired about fertilizer use, but m-i-l insists that she adds nothing more than frequent watering when there’s no rain.

I love how her recent attachment to gardening have transformed a rarely used place into a great addition to her home and pottery studio.

This small garden includes the fruit trees that pre-date the studio, volunteer plants like the palm tree, and more recent garden plants. The sour plum tree produce thousands of tiny fruits that m-i-l makes into a home-made jam.

From Shiho blog.

Street-side potted hydrangea is already leafing out

街で見つけたこの鉢植えのアジサイはもう葉が出てきています。続けていくことと期待感は、ガーデニングの楽しみのひとつです。

Walking at night, I noticed that this potted hydrangea is already leafing out, despite recent cold temperatures. It’s lovely to see this plant coming back to life for another season. It’s the mix of continuity and expectation that makes gardening so satisfying.

Location: Shinjuku ni-chome, outside of a small restaurant.

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.

Edo gardening in wood block prints

Edo gardening in wood block prints

Encouraged by my host Suzuki Makoto sensei at Tokyo University of Agriculture, I recently visited the Edo Gardening Flowers exhibit being held at the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art until November 26,2009. The exhibit has spectacular colorful wood block prints showing flowers and plants in a variety of urban settings including kimonos, at festivals, commercials nurseries, educational materials, Kabuki actors, and Noh dramas.

The exhibit theme is that the Edo period experienced a “gardening culture” in which a passion for gardens and flowers permeated all social classes, including court nobles, shoguns, feudal lords and the common people. According to the catalogue, “the Japanese people’s passion to flowers surprised the American botanist Robert Fortune as seen in his diary upon his visit to Japan in the late Edo period.”

An interesting comparison is also made between between the widespread practice of Edo gardening and also the interest of common people in wood block prints. It is wonderful to see the use of flowers and plants in both high culture realms and in depictions of everyday life during the Edo period.

Two of my favorite prints are collections of plants used by children to learn the names of flowers. The one below, from the back cover of the exhibit catalog, has the names in hiragana. The exhibit also includes Edo era ceramic plant pots.

Edo gardening in wood block prints

Some more images after the jump, and also a list of plants seen in the wood block prints.

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Growing rice on small street in plastic buckets

Rice growing in small bowls

One of my neighbors cultivates her entrance and the side of the street along her building. Recently she showed me that she is growing rice in three small plastic buckets. I am impressed with this small bit of urban farming, so evocative of Japan’s agriculture and scaled for the city.

Her small garden spans public and private space, and is constantly changing by season; last month was hydrangea and peony, now rice and roses. She is constantly present on the street taking care of her plants and chatting with passer-bys. Her presence is reminiscent of the urban life created by Baltimore “stoops,” marble block steps, yet without the steps.