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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rent-a-chicken dream comes to an end


My dream of once again being a chicken mistress got indulged when Heather Elliott's chickens came to visit a few weeks ago.
So for my big birthday, I treated myself to an entire month of Book-A-Chook bantams. Here are the three ladies that came to stay:

Marie Antoinette snuggles Madam Bovary

Little Grizelda, boss of the pecking order, challenges me to shoot


Dignified. Marie, you are one splendid chicken.

This flotilla of polite, softly-clucking bantams filled their days drifting back and forth across the lawn, or pretending to be jungle-chickens, weaving through the unending undergrowth of our huge shared back garden. I never saw their feet amongst all the feathers, which added to their opulent, bustled 19th century air.

The cats were hypnotized by them, unable to resist stalking, but too scared to actually pounce. I loved their small-brained ways, how enthusiastic they got when finding a potentially delicious morsel, how indignant they got when things weren't going their way. Just like us.

I will never know if they enjoyed or just endured the daily pats and cuddles. Their feathers smelt warm and wonderful. They didn't scratch up the garden, crow at dawn, or do anything ungainly.

But all their virtues were not enough.
The month was drawing to an end. I consulted the three (lovely) families with whom the chickens, and myself, share the huge back garden, proposing I keep them. That they let them stay one month was already rather wonderful, as I the approach I took was the John Macaulay (little brother) method: "Do not ask permission, merely ask forgiveness."

On the final night, one family said "Yes".
The next Family Said "Yes".
The third family didn't say "Yes".

So my chickens have just gone on to some other lucky garden. I'm back to blackbirds and possums, and a yellowed patch where a lovely rent-a-roost stood for the month.
I am utterly ...crestfallen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Japanese Garden walls for a permaculture renovation

Imagine a garden that has the harmony the best Japanese gardens create, but all the ornamentals were replaced by equivalent edibles, 'usefuls', or natives. Well, as a big birthday present to myself, I'm finally making one happen in my front garden.

Cecilia Macaulay with a favorite exhibit at the Hibiya Garden show, Tokyo 2008

Here are photos I took at Tokyo's Garden show in November 2008, maybe all the inspiration I need to get the infrastructure planned. You will notice, they are all created from materials the owner could have found a stroll away from his residence. For a garden to feel Natural, that's the only way.

One big question about my tiny garden is, how can I hide the metal-paint-reproduction heritage import fence I have there now?


I love the little twig fence, and how it creates a sense of meandering, somewhere to go, stories of fantasy strolls of small garden visitors. I love the thought that I could make one just like it from the privet that has plonked itself uselessly in my garden all these years. The way the driftwood sits under the fence, the way the path is built up to it suggests a bridge and river. You must look hard to discover there is in fact no water.

This was a prizewinner. It has a strict, imperial purity. I like the way the cobbles peter out as they got up the hill, as vegetation changes with altitude. But its way too sterile for a garden of mine.

Now, this is the most exciting picture for me, as I think I could dress up my fence just like this. This 'shikui' clay render over lath is the same resourceful idea as old Aussie Wattle and Daub, so would suit the 'Useful, resourceful, beautiful' spirit of the garden I want to create. The area where the' underwear' of the wall is exposed is of course the most charming part. This could have mirror behind it, to create a puzzling extra dimension. The shape of it floats, like mist rolling into the hills.

Willow fencing was too dark for my garden, made the wall feel oppressively close. Using bamboo when it is so foreign to me would make me feel silly, like doing a word-for-word translation of poetry. I want the essence of a Japanese garden, translated into Australian, not disconnected bits of its outer form. So no bamboo. (The real reason: bamboo reminds me of Pretzels, with their awful plasticy shininess, and crumbling, tasteless inside. I clearly remember my first disappointing meeting with pretzels when I was 4, so that's it for bamboo, my justification stories, they are just excuses)


If I did create this fence, I would have to find clay soil from somewhere. Maybe need to mix in some manure for stability. I'd love to avoid using concrete if I could, so that the whole lot could be composted when its served its purpose. It would need a little roof to protect it from rain, as they have built here. That would be charming, like a cubbyhouse. Maybe I could make it from wooden shingle, or second-hand tiles. Where would I start looking?



A tiny little wall can tell such a vivid story. When I see this, I feel all the Japanese Autumns past.
The low, luminous light, the horizontal bamboo floating like clouds are layered with meaning.
Seeing this tiny nook, I recall the Japanese Moon Viewing parties I have attended, the ripe harvest moon looming large, with of course the bull rushes of Autumn swaying underneath. The cakes are mochi cakes, which I've partaken in so often, lovely memories piled up. I should explain: while we westerners have some dull man in the moon, the Japanese have rabbits making mochi. Just pounding away at it. So here is a wall that is a poem, to Autumn, the moon, and making mochi.

I'm just starting to realize as I write, how much of life a wall can open up.
Yes, exciting.