The story of our young garden in Japan

Down our garden path

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).

Ranunculus are another easy no-care (bulb) plant to use for spring colour and for kids to plant. And one doesn't never mind forgetting it was there. Amazingly voluminous flower from a skiny bulb that's more like a seed. And colour too.

Hyacinthe are versatile, easy to "colour-coordinate", and neat to handle...and dependable each spring.

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.

Everbody loves a swathe of colour

Bright bulbs

We have a weakness for candycane-coloured flowers...

Yes, we have inadvertently turned into obsessive collectors on Candycane Lane

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.

You can't go wrong with daisies for a carefree garden either. Dependable and ubiquitous, but cheery. Tumbling underfoot are our yellow flowering wild strawberries from Yakushima island I think. I had one pot stuck it in the ground, and it just ran wild all over the garden but in a nice and useful way.

Everybody loves the large bellflowers (campanula), I don't really get the masses of tall spires seen in show gardens and magazines, because I guess I don't do the work, and I don't feed the plants much or at all. Still they are nice to fill out the garden a bit.

M… M…, how does your garden grow?

Like this I reply…

The "first year" garden ... everything's at ground level...and we have trouble filling up all the space

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.

A "second year" garden

Another look at the "second year" garden ... did I say, DS wanted a "bug-breeding" garden, so our garden is a haven for caterpillars, spiders and all manner of other bugs

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…

The nurturing aspect of gardening is satisfying, like kids, most trees grow quickly (not maples though)

A third year garden

The garden starts to look pretty decent round about now...

A small size garden may with miniature trees may not be at a disadvantage it sometimes feels cozier.

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 …

Getting to watch a bird build a nest and the birdlings grow was a bonus!

There are many more showy moments

The fourth year...

Rambling briar roses are fast growers in the garden. By then, we were struggling to prune these that reached all the way up the pipes and across the balcony

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!

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