Just before summer starts is one of my favorite seasons in Tokyo. This is the river in Nakameguro famous for its cherry trees. I already want to put my feet in the water.
Showing off 11,000 tulips specially planted, the Netherlands Embassy opens its gardens to the public on April 13 and 14. I was fortunate to go the first day, and see the splendid varieties of color, height, and shape before the rains started.
One of Tokyo’s oldest and most renowned garden maintenance firm expertly selected dozens of hybrids, created a grand walkway, and also integrated tulips into the main garden of the residence. Planning extended the season as long as possible, which I heard is about three weeks.
Amidst all the bright colors in this grand setting, I felt like I was in a mini-Keukenhof crossed with Gatsby’s home in West Egg. We caught a glimpse of two chefs working in the kitchen, which made me think this diplomatic outpost with 400 years of history is not so far from Downton Abbey.
If you have a chance, please go today, or in the fall on Culture Day when both the residence and garden are open to the public.
Even on a weekday before peak cherry blossom season, Shinjuku Gyoen has plenty of photographers and people strolling around the trees. The yellow flowers in the foreground are sanshuyu, a Northeast Asian dogwood that produces cherries and is used in Chinese medicine. I like the documentation and how the pond connects the yellow and pink blossoms.
Recently I picked up strawberries from the home center, full of pretty white flowers. They were less than $2 each. I think it’s very interesting that they’re called “Tokyo strawberries.” In this urban country, it makes sense to develop and target plants, even vegetables, to city growers.
The label also boasts, “Pure Berry 2” with a registered trademark. But the biggest promise is strawberries in all four seasons. I am looking forward to my first balcony strawberry!
I like how Tokyo has four seasons, but even in winter there are flowers. This well trimmed camellia is part of a wonderful residential garden that I pass on my way to the JR station. The space is small, but the gardener has dozens of species that are attractive in all season.
I love these bright red spider lilies, called higanbana in Japanese. They bloom in September with tall stalks, bright flowers, and no leaves. They come back each year along this pedestrian path, and the flower lasts only a week or so. Last year, too, I saw them everywhere in Tokyo. I like how they mark the turn of season.
Spurred by the energy crisis post-Fukushima, there’s been a notable increase in the number of mid-rise office and retail buildings with green walls. In an over-built city, vertical surfaces are the largest potential area for gardening, farming, and habitat creation.
Tokyo has far more vertical surfaces than roof areas, and we are only at the very beginning of creating an urban forest.
I have been following this topic for a while, and have watched this idea spread from notable public spaces like Suginami’s ward office (world’s largest green curtain) to apartment balconies, flower shops, and now commercial and retail spaces. This wide distribution across Tokyo and across building types is very exciting to see.
Some questions I have include:
- What types of plants can be grown vertically and for what functions: aesthetics, habitat, scent, seasonal change, food?
- How can green walls enhance innovative architecture and place-making?
- How can vertical and roof gardens connect buildings, neighbors, and wildlife?
- What is the impact on heat island effect, global competitiveness, and quality of life?
The answers will come from experimentation and diffusion. The photos, from top to bottom, are four green walls I’ve recently seen:
1. Hasegawa Green Building in Shiba Koen
2. Office mid-rise in Shinjuku Gyoen-mae (2 photos). The company that created and maintains this green wall is called Ishikatsu Exterior (石勝イクステリア).
3. Oimachi retail building near station.
4. Daimon office building.
At the beginning of the rainy season, flowers bloom between raindrops and an abandoned wood house.
Between my apartment and the main road, there’s an abandoned wood house. I wrote about how the supermarket loading area guard trimmed this tree which once originated in a pot. I think it’s a pittosporum.
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:
There’s a small satoyama in my balcony garden. The color changes every day.
The leaves on tis small tree in my balcony’s modular satoyama box are turning dark crimson. I love how this small box from 5bai Midori is full of Japanese native plants. I have kept this satoyama box for just over a year now, and always enjoy watching the change in seasons. It’s just 15 cm by 50 cm!
Come see my small flowerpots at Shiho ceramic studio’s student exhibition. They are wearing makeup!
This is my third Shiho ceramic studio student art exhibit. This year I created four small flowerpots with saucers, and my friend Matthew Puntigam helped me with planting them. We used mostly succulents, an ornamental cabbage, and pansies to complement the design and signal the season. Matthew did an excellent job with plant composition, placement, and ornamental sand and rocks. He told me that Sinajina‘s Kobyashi sensei refers to the decorative sand and rocks as plant “makeup” (化粧).
The student exhibit is from today through Wednesday (Nov 20 to Nov 24) in Nishi Ogikubo. Please see the last image for a map. It’s three minutes walk south from the train station. If you’re planning on attending, please email or call me since I can’t be there during all the opening hours.
This weekend we’ve had two typhoons in Tokyo. My friend laughed about this, but it’s really handy to have rain pants if you plan to bike or even walk when the wind is high. A few days ago, we were in the mountains outside of Tokyo and saw our first fall maple leaves turning yellow and red.
I am looking forward to the television weather reports that will soon be tracking the progress of fall foliage from north eastern Japan down to south western Japan. I love the media fixation on fall foliage and spring cherry blossoms, marking the season and reminding the viewer of Japan’s geography. Altitude makes a big difference, too.