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Little urban green goes a long way

2000年9月22日 THE JAPAN TIMES

Little urban green goes a long way
Gardening flourishes

In our high paced world of ever-increasing high-technology, concrete surroundings and separation from the natural world, a little greenery can go a long way to help ease the mind and soothe the spirit.
And the importance of plants in achieving a well-balanced urban living environment is now widely recognized, evident by the rise in ways gardens and gardening are being incorporated into urban life.
In Japan’s high-rise landscape, as in other cities around the world, rooftop gardens are gaining in popularity and frequency.
The lack of ground space in cities makes the tops of buildings a practical alternative as a place to grow plants, and the role of these gardens goes beyond their aesthetic quality.
Environmental benefits such as the capability of plants to cool and clean the city air are well-recognized.
In fact, some of Tokyo’s ward offices and other city governments now offer subsidies for establishing rooftop gardens and families live in cities.
Akemi Sugii, head gardener of Ark Gardens in Tokyo, which incorporates a series of rooftop and ground-level gardens in the Ark Hills complex in Minato Ward, explained that because Tokyo lacks nature and natural scenery such as forests or mountains, many people growing up here surrounded by roads and buildings feel they have no ‘’furusato,’’ or sense of a hometown.
‘’Establishing the Ark Gardens,’’ she said, ‘’was a way to help create a better sense of home for people living here.’’
Japan’s so-called gardening boom started around 10 years ago with the introduction of Western-style gardening was seen almost anyone could do.
The boom for Western-style gardening may have peaked a few years ago, but, according to Sugii, it has served as a trigger to spark awareness of the satisfaction and pleasure one can experience through growing and nurturing plants.
As for the coming gardening trend in Japan, Sugii sees a movement toward incorporating “wa” or Japanese plants and styles into the typically Western style.
In fact, Ark Gardens in planning tp dedicate an area of one of its gardens to native Japanese plants from spring 2001.
Toshiaki Satoh, managing director of Natu Rock, a company in the business of landscape architecture, believes there is a growing trend for natural-looking gardens.
For the past 18 years his company has specialized in replacing Japan7s concrete river banks with sheets of porous lava rock to allow vegetation to grow, thereby giving the rivers a more natural appearance. The company is now expanding their product line to include planters, shells for self-contained gardens and even ‘’walls’’― all of which are made of lava rock ― to be used in residential or commercial settings.
The concept behind their products is that the porous lava rock is able to hold water, and its many holes offer a place for seeds, mosses and plants to develop.
Satoh insists that whatever plants one chooses to grow within his products in open. ‘’Once you’ve started growing a few plants, you can tend to it or leave it alone as you wish. It’s a natural garden, and over time, depending on the surroundings, it will develop naturally.’’
Taking the idea of gardening one step further, Satoh sees a ‘’’natural’ garden as a type of microcosm. ‘’We made a garden outside our company building from a two-car parking space.? And here in Akasaka, downtown Tokyo, we had a bird come and make a nest using some of the moss from the garden. And we’ve had kids coming to see the frogs that have found their way into the garden.’’

?Satoh suggests that more than a decorative function, gardens will increasingly play the role of bringing nature into our cities, while caring for gardens will allow us to be reminded of our connection to the natural world.

Japan’s gardening history is long and interesting. People worldwide have long been fascinated by Japan’s gardens although the current trend is shifting away from traditional styles. This does not mean that beautiful Japanese gardens are about to disappear. Old-style gardens represent an important part of Japanese culture.
Japanese gardeners have embraced the ‘’English garden.’’ This is not a new trend. Hibiya Park was the first European park in Tokyo. The first English garden/park in Japan was Yamate Park (constructed 1870) just outside Yokohama. Sadly little remains of it.
Recent English gardens have opened around the country, attesting to keen interest among the Japanese public. On the Boso Peninsula in Chiba there is the very fine Shakespeare Park. Traditional English oak, hewed in England, was shipped here. Another Shakespearean garden lies in the grounds of Kobe Jogakuin in Hyogo. High on a mountainside in Nagano is the Barakura English Garden designed by John Brookes. Closed during winter months, this garden is a popular destination throughout the growing season. This spring, another English garden and manor house opened to the public in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture. It was designed by Derek Lovejoy Partnership. Both the manor house in the Takarazuka and Shakespeare buildings on the Boso Peninsula were designed by Julian Bicknell.
Many people arpimd the country have enthusiastically created their own English style gardens. A large one isn’t necessary. There are numerous styles, each suited to a particular place or period in history, just like there are various type of Japanese gardens, including dry landscapes, moss gardens and ‘’tsubo-no-niwa.’’
Lancelot ‘’Capability’’ Brown (1716-83), one of the most notable landscape garden designers, required an enormous amount of space for his world famous creations, which are not flower gardens. When visiting England it is well worth the effort to search out ‘’Capability’’ Brown’s gardens such as Stowe, in Buckinghamshire, one of his most famous.
Landscape gardens on such a scale are geographically difficult to make in mountainous Japan. Instead ‘’cottage flower gardens,’’ which originated with poor farmer laborers, are ideally suited. Gertrude Jekyll (1743-1932) and William Robinson (1838-1935) helped to evolve them into a fine art. Robinson is famed for his books, “The English Flower Garden” and ‘’The Wild Garden’’ and Jeckyll for her works on herbaceous borders and the skillful way she combined plants of different colors. Her book “Color Schemes for the Flower Garden” is still useful for inspiration and ideas. Graham Stuart Thomas is without doubt the most famous gardener this century has produced. He revived interest in old shrub roses, which can be successfully grown in Japan.
Those who live with in condominiums even with a small balcony, whether north- or south- facing, can create their own flower gardens. Those who live with shade ?tolerant plants. Garden centers everywhere sell trellises in many shapes and sizes. Terracotta pots both original and plastic help to create your own English-style garden.
Bigger bookshops have sections devoted to gardening books and magazines. Beautiful books on container gardening, with the standards of Japanese photography, are first class.
The range of flowering plants available to ordinary gardeners is improving every year. I was happy to see many old-time favorites in a herbaceous perennial catalog. It’s important not to forget the key role Japanese plants have played in traditional English gardens whether in England, America or Japan, which are not complete without hostas (“giboushi”), hydrangea (“ajisai”), Japanese maple (“momiji”) and Japanese cherry (“sakura”), to name a few of the more famous plants that help to form the backbone of the English garden.
The Netherlands is a leading exporter of spring and summer flowering bulbs. Tulips, daffodils, snowdrops, crocus, giant alliums, crocosmias, dahlias, lilies, and agapanthus are all valuable members of English flower gardens, even though many of these plants and bulbs are not native to England. The important point is how plants are used to create the atmosphere of an English garden.
Gardening is an enjoyable pastime. It is about trial and error. What can easily be cultivated in Tokyo may not survive the hot humid summer in Osaka. Those who live in Tohoku or Hokkaido are blessed, as the climate, though harsh in the winter, is ideal for growing hardy herbaceous perennials. Mukoujima Hyakkaen in Tokyo, although small, is a wonderful flower garden. Don’t miss bush clover or hagi tunnel or the seven flowers of autumn! Now is the time to plant your favorite spring bulbs.

Happy Gardening!

hoto Function : THE ARK GARDENS a top the Ark Hills complex in Tokyo gibe city dwellers a sense of nature, while the garden above, using Natu Rock materials, meets the growing trend of natural-looking gardens