This is the start of my summer balcony details series. A close look at some of the flowers, foliage and edibles of summer. First, a pot of micro-sunflowers, grown from Hiyoko’s seeds from Europe. The leaves looks so fresh.
This sunflower is blooming in a tiny mound of dirt outside a neighbor’s house. I love how she maintains this corner and always offers some seasonal color to the passers-by.
I think these are mini-sunflowers. We’ll find out soon. This ceramic also made at Kuge Crafts.
I love these rogue sunflowers growing in the sidewalk of Shinjuku Dori, a busy commercial corridor. At night the flowers are brighter than all the artificial lights.
As the rainy season officially ends, the temperature soars in Tokyo. Suddenly the sunflowers are already blooming. In Shinjuku 3 Chome.
This is the handout I made for the Shibaura House seed bomb workshop for kids. The recipe is 5 parts powdered clay, 2 parts soil, 1 part seed, and 1 part water. Thinking about the season, late spring, just before rainy season, I chose clover, soba, sunflower, hollyhocks, and watermelon.
The seed selection also responded to the theme of “eating and seeing green.” I wanted to provide food for animals as well as people, as well as flowers that are tall and easy to see. The soba and clover seeds are the least expensive and served as the seed “base.”
Corrected: Below are photos from the event, taken by Naomi Muto and written up by Shirakuma Ikuko in Japanese. It’s funny that my instructions were to make balls (dango), but the kids enjoyed making shapes like stars, bows, donuts, Jupiter, and even a black hole.
In the afternoon, the adults who attended the kick-off talk event also participated in vegetable planting on the 4th floor. Shibaura House is tweeting the growth of their new garden!
I was surprised to see these sunflowers blooming in late October. Dutch visitors @tanemaki2011 reminded me that in Europe it’s already early winter, with temperatures already reaching 0 degrees. For an Amsterdam resident, Tokyo fall is like summer yet better.
There’s currently a lot of construction around the Nakano JR station, with new bus areas, exits, and plazas to support an enormous high-rise office building and tall residential towers. I hope they will radically rethink the public space around the station. It’s the center of communal life, yet now mostly revolves around autos, asphalt, and concrete. It would be great to see a livelier meeting place.
A mini-forest would be inviting. In the meantime, this small field of sunflowers is a welcome distraction.
手作りの植木鉢に入れたミニ・サンフラワーの写真を撮りました。友達の @cpalmieriの高度なカメラを借りて、最後のブログはLumix GF2を使いました。東京グリーン・スペースのプロジェクトのおかげで、写真への興味が深まりました。
I took some night and day shots of this mini sunflower inside a hand-made flowerpot in order to try out a more advanced camera. Plenty of close-ups had poor focus, light balance, and other problems of my making. Frankly the sophisticated camera’s Japanese language menu was overwhelming, but I like how these two images turned out.
Two weeks ago my friend @cpalmieri lent me his Panasonic Lumix GF-2, one of the smallest DSLR cameras. Usually I use a Canon S90, and when I’ve forgotten it, sometimes my iPhone. The S90 has great low light sensitivity, it’s small, and I am not too concerned about dinging it.
But this project is making me more and more interested in photography, so perhaps a DSLR is in the future. It was fun to pose a plant and to experiment with different types of lighting; I think the most successful was bouncing the LED desk light off the white wall.
A few friends asked if I grew the sunflower. No, I purchased it for 150 yen (2$ US) from a big box garden store. It last one week, and now it’s going to seed.
I love how these sunflowers are growing at the intersection of two small streets, and how the round flowers echo the larger, convex street mirror. The flowers grow in a tiny scrap of soil just outside the wall around a residence. After preparing the image, I realized that I took a similar photo last year.
Recently I was going into the Tokyo Metro station not far from my house, and I noticed a young woman spraying these blooming sunflowers. She explained she was killing bugs, and that she worked at the hair salon on the other side of this very random looking planting bed.
I was very charmed that this young woman had claimed ownership of this informal planting bed. Based on the strange mix of plants, it is clear that it is the repository of many people’s different efforts over the years. The hardiest plants seem to have survived.
I am sure the hair stylist enjoys getting out of the shop, and the effect of her care is a piece of natural street beauty at the intersection of a dense residential neighborhood and the transit system that animates the city.
I took this photo a month ago, and our balcony garden is now even more lush. It’s amazing how much incredible heat and daily watering can increase bio-mass!
It’s amazing what you can fit in a sunny narrow space. I have six mini-watermelons ripening on the railing and green net, three Saipan lemons, two types of morning glory, the 5bai midori satoyama boxes bushing out, cucumbers still flowering and creating fast food, and some random flowers including mini-sunflowers, abutilon, and Suntory hybrids ミリオンベル (million bell) and アズーロコンパクト. Plus there’s basil, parsley, and thyme, all of which I put into my bolognese pasta lunch today.
The floor area is full with just enough room to walk through for watering. The vertical space is about half full with the net and some additional twine. I like how the old washing machine is nearly hidden by plants.
Some failures included corn, with tiny ears that formed and then turned brown. The rose which was so outrageously pumped up when purchased has hardly bloomed since. The incredible heat this month killed my first bonsai, a Japanese maple (もみじ) in a tiny pot.
Some surprises included the late growing bitter melon (ゴーヤー) now shooting up. I planted last year’s seed in April, and it hardly grew until about three weeks ago. Now it’s two meters tall, and perhaps will produce a few vegetables before typhoon season. Bitter melon tastes great with ground pork!
My friend Matthew, who now works at Sinajina, pruned my pine bonsai. Apparently now is the time to start thinking about shaping it and preparing it to look its most beautiful for the new year. I wonder how to keep my tiny garden green during winter.
For urban gardeners, one key question is how to get plants, soil and pot from store to house. I buy many of my plants from small shops that are on my way from the train station to my apartment. Sometimes I bike to a DIY big box store called Shimatchu, and use a combination of large backpack and balancing plants in plastic bags across my handle bars.
Recently I discovered coconut husk as a soil. It’s sold at a wonderful Kichijoji indoor growing shop called Essence. Made entirely of husk, it recycles what would otherwise be waste, and it seems to be a high quality organic soil. Even better, it is sold dehydrated, so it is very light weight for transportation from shop to home.
I have bought three blocks (also called tampons) that make 11 liters when hydrated. Nakata-san of Essence recommended blending it 3-1-1 with perlite and vermiculite, which are also very light weight and low cost. When blended it makes about two regular sized buckets of soil.
I also used coco husk soil in small disks that expand with water to form seedling starters wrapped in a simple rope pouch.
You can see that my morning glory seeds were the first to sprout.
I also bought this funny Gro-Pot, a thick plastic bag with coco husk that you hydrate and plant directly into, as if it were a flower pot. I’ve put a sunflower in my Gro-Pot (bought for 500 yen, just over $5 from a local flower shop). Both the Gro-Pot and the coconut husk block are from U-Gro.
For the coco husk mix, I used another light weight new idea: Smartpots, a soft-side fabric container that claims to be better than plastic and clay containers, is super easy to carry and store. The makers claim that these polypropylene containers aerate and air prune the roots. When you buy the smartpots, they come folded up, which is very convenient.
Frankly, arriving at New Greenpia (ニュー・グリーンピア) was a landscape and cultural shock after Obuse. Compared to the 600 year history of Obuse and multi-layered reinventions from the 1990s to the present, New Greenpia’s buildings and gardens reflect Japan’s famous Bubble from the 1980s. Amazingly, many of the Nodai students were born at the very end of the 1980s.
If I understood it correctly, it was a semi-public resort created to provide a place for working class urban people to experience nature. Sometime in the past five years, financial ruin led it to be sold to private owners, at a scandalously low price.
Next to a giant building that serves as conference center, hotel and event space, there are huge lawns leading to tennis courts and golfing. Between the building and the recreation area is a narrow river-themed landscape created by a Nodai professor over 20 years ago. The original design has water coming out of concrete cones, which is no longer functioning.
I realize that the built environment was created with good intentions. Still, the scale of the building and the large empty lawns do not take advantage of the natural surrounds. The garden river, too, seems a poor imitation of the surrounding abundance of natural streams and irrigated fields. And the lack of maintenance is a glaring testimony of the financial troubles Japan has encountered in the past 20 years. If anything, New Greenpia served as an educational transition between the seeming success of Obuse and the haunting abandonment we witnessed in Echigo, Niigata, the site of the Niigata Art Triennial, the subject of my next post.
Perhaps New Greenpia sees more activity during ski season. We saw a few go-carts racing down the snow-less slope. I will end this post with an unsettling image near the entrance to the building promoting weddings in sunflower fields (of which we saw no evidence). Maybe the giant photo ad is meant to suggest the contemporary relevance of nature for young yankii couples, possibly city residents. I wonder why all the guests are dressed in black.
On a small street that connects my apartment to the station, I have noticed these tall sunflowers suddenly appear. They are growing in the tiny public space between a residential concrete block wall and the narrow street. The sunflowers occupy less space than the red JP mail box they stand over. Juxtaposed with the traffic mirror and bed covers airing out in the sun, this burst of yellow screams summer.