watermelon

Yes, you can spend more than US$ 200 for a watermelon in Tokyo

IMG_1991

外国人は、こんなに高いフルーツに驚きます。伊勢丹デパ地下で、21,000円のスイカが売っています。もちろん、珍しいひょうたんの形で、王様の椅子に座っています。

Foreigners who imagine Tokyo is expensive always mention over-the-top fruit. Even if it were in a gourd shape, as this one is, who in the US or Europe would spend over $200 for a watermelon? In Japan, few purchase these trophy fruit, but they are always available at places like Isetan’s food emporium.

Seed bomb recipe for kids workshop at Shibaura House

.@ShibauraHouse の子供たちのワークショップのために、この種爆弾のレシピを書きました。五種類の種を使いました。人と動物の食べられる植物を選んで、背の高い花は見えやすいので選びました。子供が粘土と土と種を混ぜて、汚れるときが楽しかったようです。

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!

Balcony garden update

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.

More baby watermelon on balcony

The watermelon vine has been leafing out like crazy all summer, but only this morning did I notice five tiny watermelons growing on the balcony’s green curtain. This one is the size of a golf ball with fuzzy white hairs growing from the fruit and stem. I am surprised at the success of this vertical, balcony watermelon.

Two views of balcony green curtain

These are two views of my balcony green curtain. I purposely trained the Okinawa morning glory to create a grid pattern on top of the string net. Last year it flowered into late September. My green curtain is not as lush as this amazing house’s green curtain with nine species. Below you can see a side view with the Shinjuku skyscrapers in the distance. In addition to the morning glory, there’s cucumber and watermelon growing on the railing and net.

Eating balcony-grown watermelon

In San Francisco, my garden is shaded and the cold summer makes growing vegetables very difficult. It’s been fun this summer to grow a variety of vegetables in our sunny high-rise balcony in Tokyo. This weekend I harvested and ate my first home-grown watermelon.

It looks big in the photo above, no? Actually, the two fruit that formed were not much bigger than oranges. I kept hoping that they would get a bit bigger, but finally I decided to harvest them.

Here’s what it looked like cut open. It was very sweet and just right for one person.

To get a sense of the scale, you can see the two watermelons paired with a single cucumber below. The cucumber seems to go from tiny baby to full-size in just one week. It’s been a great summer vegetable, probably the most successful plant in the balcony farm. (There’s also eggplant, some very stunted corn, and 4 lemons).

Watermelon grows vertically on balcony

My watermelon plant has produced an enormous amount of growth in just two months on the balcony. It was very easy to train the vines onto the metal rod balcony. Now there are two fruits the size of oranges. I love the shape of the leaves, and am looking forward to having a watermelon party when they are ripe.

There are many previous posts about my balcony garden. It is approximately 1 meter by 6 meters, and includes the air conditioner, washer dryer, clothes line, a small stand, and about 100 plants. In addition to the permanent railing, we recently installed a summer green curtain net for extra shade and cooling.

Vegetable flowers on balcony garden contrast with parking lot below

I recently started a blog category called “Flowers and Buildings,” which focuses on the pleasure of experiencing plants in urban settings. I think that both the plants and the buildings are more beautiful when juxtaposed together. This post focuses on my balcony vegetable’s flowers, set against the parking lot below and the cityscape beyond.

The vegetables are from top to bottom: cucumber, eggplant, and watermelon. I will soon start tying the climbers to the balcony railing so that they become part of my summer green curtain. The single bonsai watermelon I saw last year in Ginza makes me hope that maybe I can eat one home-grown one this summer.

Balcony vegetable garden

This year I am experimenting with many types of vegetables and fruit in my balcony garden: kiwi, eggplant, watermelon, cucumber, bitter melon, corn, and lemon. Plus I have two types of thyme, parsley, rosemary, and basil.

These photos are from May when I planted the starter plants in these soft fabric pots and coconut husk soil. I added marigolds for color and possible bug and pest repellant. I am not sure what will happen with some of these vegetables: will they produce food? help shape the summer green curtain?

I like to think of these vegetables as experiments, as fun, and equal parts food and decoration. Almost all vegetables and fruit provide greenery, flowers, and, in the case of lemons, fragrance.

Gardening for Strangers in Tokyo: New Huffington Post article

The Huffington Post published the English version of my recent Newsweek Japan article. Entitled “Gardening for Strangers in Tokyo,” it argues that the smallest gardens connect city people with nature, culture and history. Written in a personal voice to show a foreigner’s view to a largely Japanese audience, the article emphasizes how “Tokyo’s distinctive streetscape encourages proximity with many small gardens and their gardeners,” creating human as well as environmental benefit.

Gardening for Strangers in Tokyo

(This article originally appeared in Newsweek Japan on January 12, 2009 in Japanese)

Spending several weeks in Tokyo on a business trip in 2008, I was startled and enchanted to discover its human scale and its streets alive with people and plants. Like many foreigners, I assumed Tokyo would be all cold high-rises, crowded Shibuya scrambles, and flashing neon advertising. In short, I imagined the world’s largest metropolis entirely removed from the natural world.

I brought to Tokyo a lifelong interest in gardening. What surprises me still are Tokyo residents’ ingenuity and passion for cultivating plants and community in a crowded, over-built city. On leaving a beginner’s ceramics class in a humble Tokyo neighborhood one day, I came across four perfect pansies growing in the crack of a narrow sidewalk.

2009-12-03-pansies_sidewalk_suginami_t.jpg

This image of Tokyo as a gardeners’ city motivated me to relocate from San Francisco to research and write about Tokyo Green Space. Placing my research in the context of design anthropology and urban ecology, I was extremely fortunate to receive generous support in 2009 from Hitachi, which is committed to a Japanese approach to environmental protection and to cultural diplomacy.

The sidewalk pansies show that Tokyo is organized differently than United States and European cities, and that many of these differences are nearly invisible to Japanese people. I formulated several guiding questions. Why do Tokyo residents care so deeply about their surroundings? What role can nature play in dense urban environments? What can other cities learn from Tokyo’s urban gardening culture?

I began collecting images of gardens visible from streets and sidewalks. Surprises included a valuable bonsai collection growing on a private residence’s cinder block wall; rice maturing in styrofoam containers; a single, exquisite mini-watermelon supported by a wooden stand in a Ginza backstreet. Sadly, in San Francisco and most developed world cities, these potted plants would be quickly stolen or vandalized. Meanwhile few Tokyo residents connect the respect shown to public plants with their unequaled personal safety in streets and transit.

2010-01-12-tokyo_metro_plant_iriya.jpg

Rushing into a men’s room in the Tokyo Metro, I glimpsed ivy growing in a two-liter plastic bottle lying on its side. In the twenty-first century, United States cities permanently closed their subway restrooms for “public safety.” Here in Tokyo I could calmly imagine the anonymous person who beautified an underground utility with a living organism and minimal resources. Did he return regularly to change the water? What inspired his passion for plants and his kindness to strangers?

2010-01-12-icho_namiki_meijijingu_gaie.jpg

Across the four seasons, I observed Tokyo residents celebrating nature together in public places. For hanami (cherry blossom viewing), it is common to see people sleeping overnight in parks and along rivers to reserve spaces for blue sheets and the next day’s outdoor party for family, co-workers, or friends. The pink cherry blossoms transform the entire city as boisterous crowds share drinks and food. In fall, many thousands view ginko trees turning bright yellow in Aoyama, and special evening “light up” displays of red maple trees in traditional Japanese public gardens.

Continue reading

Edible walls

Edible walls are a new idea alongside green roofs and green walls: maximizing urban space for plants and food. A New York Times article discuss how a collaborations between garden designers and a metal fabricator to create relatively simple soil and drip water systems that support lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, spinach, leeks, and even baby watermelon. The article mentions an antecedent in espaliered fruit trees in European cities during the Middle Ages. Recently, edible walls are being used in a Los Angeles homeless shelter to feed the residents and generate a small income.