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Bonsai shedding leaves

冬の日光は、室内で植物を撮影するのにいいと思います。

ベランダの庭には、植木鉢が多いです。ですから、室内に持って来るのが簡単です。一つの植物はお客さんを接待するときに使えますし、気分を変えてくれます。盆栽は一番持ち運びがよくて、いくつかの要素が小さな世界を作ってくれます。

The winter sunlight is particularly good for indoor plant portrait photography.

Bonsais are the ultimate in portable and creating an entire, changing world with few elements. Part of gardening involves the overall effect of dozens or hundreds of plants. But part is also the specific plant and season.

As a balcony gardener using containers, I have many small plants that are especially portable. A single indoor plant can welcome a guest or create a mood.

Guest post: úti, a mobile game to discover nature

Frequently I hear from urban planners, professors, students, and green city people from around the world who want to share their projects or meet people in my network. I encourage them to create a guest blog post. Below is a French student project that turns urban or rural nature discovery into a video game. It sounds creative and fun! The makers will be at Tokyo’s Miraikan this week to talk about it. And, if you would like to share your project, please send in a guest blog post! [Editor]

Can nature be the playground of a video game? Interested in this idea, five students in digital design and production from Gobelins, l’école de l’image, Paris, worked for nine months on a common graduation project named úti (Icelandic for “outdoor”). By addressing the discovery of nature using a game, the team, composed of three graphic designers and two developers, wishes to approach a young audience.

The concept is simple: put in the shoes of a explorer, the player starts exploring the nature that surrounds him, be it a green space downtown, or a forest in the countryside.

The game is composed of a mobile application, which uses GPS to record the walking path and provide the player with contextual activities: discover nearby points of interest, identify tree species, take part in collaborative timelapse animations by taking photos…

Back home, the player can visualize the territory he explored and the species he identified, by connecting to his base camp on úti website.

úti will be showcased at the Digital Content Expo, in the Miraikan, from tomorrow to Sunday. You will be able to test the mobile application and meet the team at the “Futur en Seine” stand (1F).

They are looking for partners and investors, so if you are interested in supporting the project, please contact the team at contact@projet-uti.com

More info on the Digital Content Expo website: http://www.dcexpo.jp/en/programs/futurenseine/

Visit úti website for video demos: http://www.projet-uti.com

Bonsais displayed on sidewalk and street

I love how this collection of bonsais sits on recycled containers (air conditioning covers?) extending from the sidewalk into the street. The ability to share valuable and mobile plants in Tokyo public spaces continues to impress me. I also love the recycling, and the ingenuity of using the inside of the platform for storage. This collection sits across the street from the Tokyo University Botanic Garden in Bunkyo, and next door to the convenience store that handles the ticket sales.

Mobile bonsai shop on Omotesando sidewalk

Omotesando is Tokyo’s most exclusive shopping street, a zelkovia-lined street of international brands for sale in buildings designed by world-renowned architects (Dior, Ralph Lauren, Channel, Louis Vuitton, etc). Surpassing Ginza for shopping, Omotesando also has spiritual significance as the entrance to Meiji Jingu shrine.

Rushing to an appointment, I was stunned to see this mobile bonsai shop outside a construction site. It’s typical in Tokyo that cycles of renewal involve demolition, scraping, and rebuilding. More surprising is to see how this plant sales person has staked out valuable real estate for a shop that can be unloaded from the three-wheeled scooter’s back trunk.

The trunk itself is used as a display case, and the front of the scooter covered in a banner announcing that its owner is selling bonsai plants.

Both in terms of retail structure and goods, the incongruity could not be greater: mobile and monument, formal and informal, luxury and sidewalk, imported and indigenous, fashion and plants.

A mobile app for city residents to monitor and promote urban wildlife

Takahashi Yusuke, a database expert with a Keio PhD, and I created a poster for the URBIO conference last month introducing a mobile app for city residents to monitor and promote urban wildlife.

In brief, our mobile app entitled UBITS (Urban Biodiversity Identification and Tracking System) allows school children, bird watchers, gardeners, hobbyists, and amateur naturalists use their mobile phones to capture images, sounds and locations of birds, butterflies, bees, insects, trees, and other plant life; query multiple databases to identify wildlife and plant species; participate in collaborative mapping of urban species by location, frequency and time of year; and increase habitat for urban biodiversity.

The project is at concept stage, and it would be great to find a start-up, corporation or university that can fund a working prototype and launch this application for iPhone or Android. Participatory science that promotes increased habitat provides an excellent branding opportunity, educational tool, and new way to bring nature to the city.

Mebiol: Hydrogel Agriculture Technology

Professor Mori Yuichi of Mebiol

I recently had the chance to meet Professor Mori Yuichi of Mebiol, an agriculture technology company in Kanagawa. This research professor at Waseda University started Mebiol in 1995 exploring first medical and then agriculture uses for hydrogels. I was intrigued by his Hymec system for indoor farming and Skygel for rooftop gardens.

Mebiol lettuce

Hymec looks like a plastic sheet allows for no-soil and low-soil farming, with the water and fertilizer separate from the plants roots. The roots remain dry while drawing water and nutrients from below the membrane, and oxygen from the air. Lettuce and other leaf vegetables can be grown with no soil, tomatoes with a thin layer of soil. Compared to other indoor farming techniques, Hymec uses less water, less fertilizer, less insecticides and less energy because the barrier prevents contamination from bacteria common to traditional hydroponics. Benefits include the ability to plant smaller seedlings (called “plug seedlings”), greater plant density, and more nutritious and sweeter vegetables, with tomatoes producing more Gaba and Lycopene.

Mebiol Hymec lettuce

I was intrigued by what Professor Mori calls “mobile farming.” In his words, “Hymec releases farming from the earth by a water-proof sheet” and allows farming in cities, factories, deserts, indoors, and even in waste incinerators. Some applications are the Kyoto Brighton Hotel, where tomators are grown on a concrete floor in a bamboo greenhouse, and a test farm in Dubai, where Hymec makes possible low-water farming with reduced air conditioning, and replaces costly and carbon-heavy vegetable imports from Europe.

Another Mebiol product is Skygel, mixed with soil and used for roof and slope planting. In this case, the hydrogel increases water retention, lowers run-off, and decreases the need for irrigation. Mixing Skygel and soil allows for a lighter load, ideal for roof gardens. The roof garden at Mebiol’s office (in top photo, with founder Professor Mori), is only 10 cm thick, and the plants can survive for up to 10 days without water in the Japanese summer heat.

Below is a diagram explaining Hymec.

Mebiol's Hymec farm system

Nodai Trip (part 5): Medical Herbman Cafe Project

Medical Herbman Cafe Project at Niigata Triennial

The Medical Herbman Cafe Project was one of the most inspiring landscape interventions we saw at the Niigata Art Triennial. Placed next to the school that had been closed less than 20 years after opening, the Medical Herbman Cafe Project consists of two elements: a mobile cafe that folds up into a container that fits on the back of a truck, and a herb garden planted in the shape of a person. The whole project is meant to be portable and sustainable.

Niigata Medical Herbman Cafe Project sign

The garden is organized so that the plants are grown along the body part that are most helped by each herb. The cafe serves over 20 varieties of herbal teas and cookies. I tried oubako tea and azami (thistle) cookie. The aesthetics of the cafe is recycled wood and rustic chic, with one room serving food and another providing seating and event space. Small plants were growing in white gardening gloves.

Medical Herbman Cafe Project

The Medical Herbman Cafe Project is powerful because it goes beyond a momentary appreciation of nature for city tourists, and promotes a healing connection between plants and people, countryside and city. I had mixed feelings that the Niigata Art Triennial benefits from the over-abundance of abandoned property in the countryside, and provides tourists and locals with a brief experience of rural experience and tourist commerce.

If the Obuse building restoration shows the relevance of old buildings and agricultural traditions from chestnuts to sake, the Medical Herbman Cafe Project suggest that rural knowledge of herbs has a place in the daily life of our urbanized world. It would be cool to see Medical Herbman Cafe Project set up in a city, perhaps using a school yard, land temporarily empty during development, or a public park like Shinjuku Goen or Yoyogi.

The menu below and the photo of the cafe above come from the Medical Herbman Cafe Project website. Although the site text is mostly in Japanese, the design and images will appeal to non-Japanese readers, too.

Medical Herbman Cafe Project menu

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