Tasha Tudor said, if I remember correctly, that it takes about 12 years before you get to have some sort of show garden. When we first arrived it was winter and way too cold to do any real gardening (like working the soil), so we merely stuck (with a bit of forethought and design) a number of the specimen trees/plants we’d collected over time into the ground. When spring arrived, we’d managed to make a decent-looking garden patch with the use of bulbs hurriedly planted in winter (it really doesn’t matter when you plant them).
I wanted a “no-care” garden because I don’t have a lot of time for yardwork. Weeding the garden per season and pruning some branches are about all the time I have. We only “feed” the garden every other year.
As you can see the kids really like a lot of colour, so I try to use it. Gardening with colour feels a lot like preschool allover again, only you use bulbs and flowering plants instead of crayons!
Because Japan has many warm months, in other words, a longer flowering season, the flowers tend to bloom for a shorter time and it’s harder to figure how to coordinate companion flowering plants, and so judging when they’ll bloom is a hit and miss thing…
So far, that’s been my outer garden, let’s visit my inner garden.
M… M…, how does your garden grow?
Like this I reply…
We grew everything from foot-high seedlings, including trees, so it was about the third year before the trees reached DD’s height. All our neighbours had spent a fortune buying fully grown trees and having the landscapers put them in the ground for them.
The thing about a baby garden is our having to put up with a lot of knee-high trees! See our tri-coloured plum tree, it’s a toddler…
We do not have nice brick or stone walls and fences like most of our neighbours but a white chicken wire fence all around, but which we use to espalier our pear trees. Small trees are easier to prune, and …
By the fifth year, tree growth and height has outstripped the humans, it is possible to begin to achieve a “secret garden” look, with an inner garden sanctum that is shielded from the outside world.
Welcome to our inner sanctum garden
Until one takes up gardening, one tends to think of gardening as giving a hand to nature. But nature is often artifice, unnatural, we force plants to grow at unnatural paces, feed them unnatural foods, we bend them into unnatural shapes, place plants and trees where they normally wouldn’t be. Gardening, pruning the garden and the purchase of gardening or landscaping products also produce heaps of garbage, more than that produced by a whole household’s usual consumables. The birds and the bees do benefit some, if we provide shade and shelter and food for them, but we kid ourselves if we think gardening is environmentally friendly. I enjoy gardening in a temperate country like Japan. Born in the tropics where all the year green is a constant and seemingly unchanging, I am constantly surprised and delighted and also at the same time dismayed by the constant change in the temperate climate garden whether plants emerge like magic each spring, die off and disappear … always leaving me with a little anxiety wondering whether my favourites will return again the next year. They come back again next year, but in different flowering combinations, different states of profusion. Some plants migrate quite a bit, end up where they never were planned. Spring and autumn feels very short in Japan, and it’s hard to get the same kind of explosive colour with many species all at the same time that you get in the U.K. or in Canada or further north in Hokkaido. Past summer’s bright lilies, the garden gets really green and actually resembles a tropical garden, with often sultry unbearable heat of the Japanese summer.
We are fearless gardeners and have few rules. A lot of trial and error. We try placing a few plants together in a spot for a couple of years to see if they like each other or the spot, and watch and wait. If they seem to be grumbling or withering, we move them (yes, I do read gardening books for notes). But we are playful and experimental, and our garden is eclectic. What else can I say, I love gardening in Japan!