Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Edible plants to replace typical Japanese-Garden plants

I feel a bit ashamed when I compare how many beautiful Japanese gardens, how many ingenious permaculture gardens I have visited , to how many I have created. Decades of visiting, of fantasizing, all over the planet.
Finally, with the help of Matt Shaw, my lush, charming mess of a front garden is now the bones, bare bones of a Japanese courtyard garden. Most plants have been removed, and the bushy umbrella of a weeping birch has been sensitively pruned to a shape that recalls the elegantly contorted poses of Japanese dancers. Matthew is an artist. Always choose artists.
Next step is creating a kind of masquerade party in plants: locating and planting edibles that will mimic the shape, evoke the spirit of traditional Japanese plants. Beautiful AND useful. Nobody has ever done this before, but somebody has to start. And with my epic capacity for failure (and getting up again), it may as well be me.

Please enjoy, and if possible, please add to this list of edible-beautifuls that can mimic Japanese traditional garden plants:

Squirrel and Gunnera by Yukihiro Fukuda

Replace Gunera (Monster fuki) with Rhubarb
Gunnera, or Onibuki gives instant structured greenery, and makes lovely cubbyhouses for small creatures. It could be replaced by delicious rhubarb. The fact that the burgundy stems of the rhubarb pick up the pretty colors of my paintwork and door is a fortunate coincidence. Japanese gardens strictly speaking should be green green green, revivifying and non-distracting.
The word Oni-buki is quite poetic. 'Oni' is 'ogre', suitable for this monster plant. Buki (Fuki) are the green stems that shoot up valiantly from the snow in early spring. If you want a resourceful, irrepressible little girl, you could name your daughter 'Fukiko'.

Rhubarb is grown by planting dormant crowns in the winter, easy to mail order. I hear they are easy to grow in pots on balconies, and that their main enemy is snails and slugs - no worries if you are on the 8th floor. The fact that the leaves are poisonous may naturally protect the plant from other pests...I wonder?
Japanese scene with gunnera from 'Japanese Courtyard Gardens' by Haruzo Ohashi

Replace clipped pine with clipped rosemary

Reasons for desiring pines are the Dr. Zeus's zaniness of the shapes they get clipped to, their comforting smell, and the green they bring to winter.
Rosemary will do the job, in miniature, just fine. I will just have to time the regular prunings to go with my Sunday roast lamb.

27 year old rosemary bonsai photo by Andrew

Replace Bamboo with Asparagus

Bamboo for charcoal making from Take no sumi

One plant that could provide the feathery, fresh feeling that I love about large stands of bamboo
is Asparagus.
Edible Asparagus Asparagus Officinalis is a frothy misty plant that dies down in the autumn, and puts up its edible shoots from its underground home in the spring. Bulbs are expensive, but keep producing for about 20 years. Not to be confused with the dreaded Asparagus Fern,
Myrsiphyllum scandens, which is invasive, non productive and almost impossible to rid yourself of. Still I wonder, if asparagus are as wonderful as they sound, why isn't everyone growing them?
I will also have to fill in the blank spot they leave over winter, or have something behind it that's at its best then...ideas welcome.

Replace Moss with Chamomile

Photo from Courtyard Gardens of Kyoto

I've been experimenting with Roman chamomile in my front garden, and its the fluffiest, happiest little plant, giving the misty fresh look of moss. Unlike moss, the birds don't uproot it looking for their early worms, and even the snails that harbor in the ivy didn't nibble. The chickens adored it, but I guess I don't have that problem any more.
It smells wonderful when squashed, but its tiny flowers don't give you much tea.

I could finally create this stepping-stone dream, maybe using low grape hyacynth, and garlic chives, with their pretty white flowers.

Or... Bamboo with Acacia

I've been calling it Green Sheep plant, but have finally found the real name of this Aussie native that would be a great replacement for the feathery low bamboo bushes: Acacia Cognata. No, it doesn't give you much to eat, but it does something better: the microbes on its roots turn air-nitrogen into plant-absorbable nitrogen, for the nearby veggies to profit from. Self-assembling fertilizer factories in my very own garden, with raw materials pulled out of the air. Amazing.

Useful Japanese Herbs

Shungiku - Spring chrysanthemum
grown by a Japanese blogger in England

shungiku with sesame sauce & kimchee recipie
This wonderfully fragrant green is good for salads, hotpots, or in anything
Its particually good with sesame sauce (tahini, soy& mirin)

nira in flower from azore blog

nira with mushrooms, egg, cutlets and rice recipie from Gurume

Shiso comes in Red and Green, and grows from seed. It has a unique, sweet 'cosmetic cream' taste, and I love it shredded in Soba salad, and in salmon roe pasta.

Green shiso leaf with
crispy-skinned salmon, photo by chotda

'Before' shot of Cecilia's front garden, one special day.
The fish bone fern is now gone, the neighbor allowed us to cut down a shady privet, so now there will be solar power for the edibles to grow on. The ivy looked beautiful, and its roots had started to hold up the decrepit fence, with its cascades hiding many sins. But it harbored the snails that were poised to eat everything, and was in the prime sunny spot of a very small garden.

I'm going to add some more photos and plants to this post, but for now, here it is. If you have any plant ideas or resources, I'd love to hear them.


Kev said...

Been following your blog for a few weeks now -- just wanted to say how inspiring it is. I especially like this latest post. Rosemary bonsai, shiso in salmon roe pasta, both look like good projects for this weekend. Just wondering if you know anybody who grows nice organic edamame in Australia? I'm thinking of trying them this spring, but it's hard to get seeds.

Justin Peer said...

Hi, found your blog today via and wanted to say what an inspiration you site is. I love the idea of the rosemary bonsai, do you have any pointers for where to start with a project like that please. Thanks, Justin.

Sébastien Billard said...

Great post ! I am myself thinking about combining the esthetics of japanese garden with the principles of permaculture. I am going to follow your blog :)

mlefev1 said...

Some very fantastic ideas!
I've happened into the same approach and found myself munching regularly on a basil bonsai.
About 1.5 yrs old and grown entirely indoors...this is the product of my lack of any sort of lawn.
Surprisingly, the basil "ages" very nicely. It takes on a peppery flavor, yet retains its' sweetness; the two flavors are complementary.

Here's my website if you're interested in taking a look...

Anthony Tavis Folk Art said...

I just added Thai basil to my garden which fits in perfectly, thyme makes a great ground cover too. Also, bamboo chutes are edible, and the cane is a great resource to have especially if you have just installed a Japanese garden. Also, check out ichiban eggplant !