Heloniopsis orientalis

The flowers of this plant caught my eye in Japan recently – thanks to Bill Dijk who almost instantly named it for me! I have now learned this evergreen perennial likes a reliably moist soil in part shade, which would explain why I saw it growing beside water in the garden of Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) in Kyoto.

Spring-flowering Heloniopsis orientalis is native to Japan and Korea. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There seems to be a few colours, ranging from white to purple, and some named hybrids available. However, the plant appears not to be for sale in New Zealand!

Photo: Sandra Simpson

For those in New Zealand, English garden broadcaster Monty Don is currently exploring Japanese gardens, screening on Choice TV on Fridays at 9.30pm or watch it on demand.

Gardening with a disability

Had an email recently from Gus Stewart who included a link to his website, GardenAble which he’s set up (with his cousin’s help) to support those with disabilities who would like to garden.

On the About page, Gus says he’s been in a wheelchair most of his life and initially had difficulty finding a hobby that kept him engaged. Gardening started out as a healthy outlet, a way to enjoy the outdoors, but quickly became his favourite activity.

There’s a page of practical Tips and a page of Resources, with two valuable links that offer advice applicable throughout the developed world.The Thrive website offers information about gardening with a wide range of handicaps, including after a stroke, and also includes information on gardening for emotional and mental wellbeing.

“Our research shows that gardening can help people through a specific period of difficulty in their lives. Gardening can help you get back on top of things and restore balance when it feels like your life is veering out of control. Gardening can help you feel happier, more confident and healthier.”

At the Flowerpotman website, there’s information on developing a garden for, or adapting a garden for, people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, while at the Arthritis Research UK website there’s a good page of ideas on how to get around mobility problems covering everything from weeding and mowing to choosing plants and paths. The RNIB website has a some gardening tips for those suffering sight loss.

Over the years I’ve met gardeners who have been wheelchair-bound, have lost a limb or whose sight has been markedly deteriorating. They were all doing what they could with two, in particular, finding ways around their disability so it affected them hardly at all. Inspirational.

Tokyo’s urban forest

In the heart of urban Tokyo is a 70ha forest, a place of peace among all the concrete and bustle. The forest was created using some 100,000 trees of about 365 different species donated from across Japan.

The Japan for Sustainability website includes a fascinating 2005 profile of the forest, which surrounds the Meiji Shrine. The main planners of the forest (from 1915) were Dr Seiroku Honda, Dr Takanori Hongo, and Keiji Uehara, then a student. At the time, most of the site was farms, grasslands and marshes, a far cry from today’s concrete jungle pushing in on all sides. “One of the important roles of the forest was to protect the shrine from dust carried by strong winds blowing off a nearby military drill court … It was also necessary to consider smoke pollution caused by steam locomotives of the Yamanote Line, which had just started operation.”

The planners laid out five main landscape sections, envisaging four 50-year natural stages in the forest as some species were overtaken. In 150 years, the forest was planned to be composed entirely of evergreen broad-leaved trees such as oak, chinquapin (Castanea pumila) and camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), and this is indeed happening.

Japanese cypress wood, 1500 years old and from a mountain in Taiwan, has been used in this torii gate on the way to the Meiji Shrine. A torii gate marks the entry to a sacred space. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Three rules for managing the forest were set: Do not pick any leaves, branches, etc., from the forest; do not walk in the forest; and do not bring out anything from the forest. “Even shrine forest managers are prohibited from picking fruit from the trees or from bringing out even a single dead leaf. And, they have strictly kept these rules,” says Koji Okisawa, a shrine forest manager.

Inside the shrine are a pair of camphor trees, the originals planted in 1920 when the shrine was dedicated. The canopies have been encouraged to grow into one and, as the sign beneath says, the trees have “grown under the protection of the deities to become huge and vivid and are considered sacred”.

The Husband and Wife camphor trees inside the shrine. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The pair of trees is known as ‘Husband and Wife’ (Meoto Kusu) and have become symbols of a happy marriage and harmonious life within the family – and are a popular place for photos.

Every year the Meiji shrine welcomes the largest number of visitors, of any shrine or temple in Japan, making the first shrine visit of the new year, some 3 million people. It’s also a popular spot for weddings – the parties seemed timed to be about 30 minutes apart.

A wedding party at the Meiji Shrine. The bride is wearing a traditional Shinto kimono and head-dress (that is either her mother or mother-in-law in the black kimono). The young women in the red skirts are akin to nuns. The groom is obscured by the priest in the foreground. Photo: Sandra Simpson.

Like almost all history in Tokyo, one must remember that although the shrine was dedicated in 1920 – and will celebrate its centenary next year – it was destroyed during the firebombing of Tokyo at the end of World War 2. The grounds and shrine were rebuilt in 1958. I’m unsure how much of the forest was destroyed and replanted.