Saturday, March 31, 2012

Private gardens in Japan

Walking the streets of Japan you get to see a variety of gardens as you would in any country. Japanese gardens have some common plants that can be seen time and time again especially in their traditional type gardens. This courtyard garden has a Rhapis excelsa along with a mix of trees and small shrubs. The trees are pruned to reveal the outline of the branches and to give a more artistic look to what would otherwise be just another tall tree or shrub. There's never too much repitition in the plantings. A tree such as a Podocarpus, a Cryptomeria or a Pinus is carefully shaped and placed along side of a smaller shrub - an Azalea, Ardisia or a fern set amongst some well chosen rocks.
Even when there is very little space, which is the case for a lot of Japanese residences, a number of pot plants are squeezed into every available spot. Chrysanthemums are one of the more popular choices along with plants like Nandina domestica often seen close to the front door of a house.

Glossy leaved evergreens dominate the traditional courtyard gardens of Japan along with a few flowering plants like Azalea kurume and Camellia japonica and sasanqua varieties. The Kurume Azaleas are generally clipped to get a dense rounded shape. Japanese gardeners nearly always use garden tools made in Japan - hedge shears, secateurs, garden scissors used for thinning the needles on the Pine trees along with different sickles for removing weeds from gardens beds.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The distinctive shapes of Japan.

The gardening in Japan is vastly different to the rest of the world. They shape trees in their own unique way. In the west we have topiaries, clipped formal hedges, informal gardens, cottage gardens, tropical gardens..... but in Japan it's so different.
An air conditioning unit made to look more attractive by a group of  trees clipped into a mass of rounded shapes.
A private home with three clipped trees.
Another private home with a Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) and some shaped Azaleas.
Some neatly clipped small shrubs and a Podocarpus tree in a small garden bed greet the visitor to this public park in Tokyo.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Autumn colours of Japan

Japan has an array of trees that colour up in autumn that highlight the shape of the leaves in the process. The Japanese maple comes in many forms and sizes from shrubs to tall tees. I didn't realise how big they got until I saw them growing in ravines on steep mountain sides. When they change colour in November they can vary from a butter yellow to scarlet red. This photo shows how they can be two toned on the same bush. If you live in a  subtropical climate you really appreciate the beauty of the deciduous plants.
Ginkgo biloba - the Maidenhair tree - beautiful butter yellow leaves on a tall tree.
A broad spreading Japanese Maple ( Acer palmatum) in a park in Kyoto.
Buxus microphylla (the Japanese Box) turning a bronze colour in the cold climate - this doesn't happen here in Brisbane. They remain green throughout the year.
Subtle autumn colours of the trees along the side of a canal.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Low tech - high quality.

Amongst the high tech world of Japan you're likely to stumble on an age old craft that takes you back to a time when things weren't so rushed. Here is a weaver who takes her artistic abilities and produces fabulous fabrics that she turns into scarves, jackets, etc. She uses wool and silk in great patterns to make really artistic pieces. 
This is where it all happens. 
This is what it all starts from - the wool...
.......and the silk.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Green Tea tastes great when it's made properly from good quality tea.

Well we've all been served green tea (Camellia sinensis) at some point in Australia and it's no wonder we don't like it. It's nothing like the quality of the tea that is served in restaurants and sushi bars in Japan. Most of what I've drunk in Australia tastes like straw. Good green tea has a mild flavour comboned with a pleasant sweetness. Green tea has all sorts of good things in it  - like antioxidants, catechins, etc. The four most common teas in Japan are Sencha, Matcha and Genmaicha ( a green tea combined with roasted brown rice ). Matcha is made by grinding the first of the seasons leaves which have been shaded just before the new shoots have started to grow. Those first shoots are then harvested, processed and then ground into a fine powder. The photo below shows the Matcha being produced in a department store in Kyoto. The tea is sealed into airtight containers to keep the freshness. Because it's an antioxidant is quickly oxidises when in contact with air. It's drunk by mixing about a teaspoon of powder mixed with water at 80 deg C with a bamboo whisk into a fairly thick liquid. Sencha is a high quality tea used in the leaf form while Bancha is a lesser quality tea also sold as tea leaves.
This is one of Kyotos oldest tea shops. Around the walls of the shop are old jars used for storing the tea. The staff are all dressed very neatly in matching dustcoats and san kakkin (translates to triangle)head gear.
Is it any wonder they call it green tea! A cup of excellent matcha, tasting a bit like ground spinach, along side a rice cake (a sweet) on the small blue dish that comes with the tea as an accompaniment. The whisk is on the upper right side of the cup.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

You never know what you'll wake up to.

 I came out into my garden yesterday morning to find a large branch had fallen from an Eleocarpus grandis (Blue Quandong - a large growing rainforest tree) during the night. It fell right into the middle of a clump of China Gold Bamboo and broke a young Laegerstroemia indica (Crepe Myrtle) that was starting to be trained into shape for a feature in the Japanese garden.The branch was 150 mm in diameter and about 6 metres long.
It's just as well Bamboo grows quickly in summer so the damage that's been done will soon disappear amongst the new culms that grow up. It only took about 5 minutes to cut the fallen branch into managable pieces with my Samurai brand pruning saw.
The tree the branch came off is around 20 metres (70ft) tall

Thursday, March 1, 2012

This is where it all began for me.... but I didn't know it then. May, 1995.

The year - 1995 ..... doesn't seem like that long ago really - but I was using a camera that took film!! Yep, no digital cameras back then! I saw this Japanese gardener pruning the hedges outside the Hotel Nikko Narita. When I approached him about getting a photo he was happy to oblige by posing with what I now realise was a pair of Japanese made hedge shears. Didn't really take it in at the time. He also had with him a bamboo rake and a bamboo broom (just in the photo - bottom right hand corner).
Japanese gardeners always use hand hedge shears to do their hedging work. That's rather funny in a country renowned for it's technological edge with everything mechanical. That's because the finish is so much more refined with no chewed up leaves to go brown after the job's completed.