The wild side of Japan in Togakushi forest, forget about Technology and Neon flashing lights, huge billboards covered in Katakana, Hiragana and Kanji Script and lets take to the forest for a moment and discover what actually grows there or more to the point what an English guy can grow there with such limiting factors as lack of sunlight, cooler temperatures at 1200 metres and a rainy season in summer 2009 that continued for a month after the Japanese Weather Association declared it to be Over!!!!
Well to start with lets just say the rainy season rained long and hard (no less intense than an Indian Monsoon I must say) from june through to mid-august. normally it should stop around mid-july! So for the planned English country garden in Japan things went a bit awry to say the least. Flowers came and just as quickly went due to the constant and unrelenting nature of the rainy season. Small sections of road fell into the rivers which turned into gushing torrents and streams turned into rivers after bursting their banks taking with them rocks and small trees and plants that stood in their way but now the rains have ended the garden is beginning to see some of its long awaited imported flora, such as Marigolds from the Indian Himalaya which I brought over by way of seed back in April. But how tall they grow in search of light with so much dappled sunlight in thick forest its not an easy task!
It sure is hard trying to establish an English country garden in the mountainous forests of Japan. Although there isn’t a vast difference in temperatures the summer heat and humidity of the forest makes things difficult. The wild stuff or naturalised Togakushi forest plants that has been here since time immemorial grows at terrific speeds. There’s an abundance of bamboo to keep the Japanese brown bears happy but raising other stuff from seed is quite a struggle. Everything flowers later than at sea level. Down in Nagano City only 17 km’s away but at a wonderful growing altitude flowering plants flourish like in a dream.
In the forest plants grow taller due to lack of sunlight, dappled sunlight struggles to penetrate the dense forest canopy and shade is often the order of the day allowing less heat and an increase in humidity. At least my Coleus collection from a packet of mixed seed is growing well at last. The beauty of Coleus is in the flamboyantly coloured leaves so one doesn’t have to pin ones hopes on the flowering period, the flowers being quite small and non-descript anyway. The Himalayan Marigolds (see above) are having a ball now the dry season is upon us and although as you can see they aren’t anything truly spectacular or the ‘over the top’ double or triple hybrid varieties I like them as they are natural and original single flowers as nature intended so to speak.
The Echinops is also just coming into flower and not a moment to soon as it is that late in the season Autumn or the Fall is almost upon us and watching them growing over the months there was some anxiety to say the least as to whether they were gonna manage to flower or not!
Herbs grow well here though, we have lots of Oregano, Mint, Thyme, Lemon Balm and Basil all stuff we can use in everyday cooking and picked straight from the garden. Ferns have been in abundance over the last months and I’ve never seen so many varieties. In the UK we purchase all the different types from garden centers and some of them, the really ornamental ones, the ones that could be seen as rarities can come at a high price, here though, weeds! In Spring we were quite fond of the Fiddlehead Ferns known as Warabi, Japanese name for the edible fern (Warabi – 蕨) , just as the fronds begin to open that is the time to take the stem. Another delicious and healthy wild Japanese spring time food. Though some say eating too much can cause cancer still it doesn’t stop them selling it in the supermarkets in the city to those Urbanites who are unfortunate enough not to have wild foods on the doorstep.
And lastly I feel I should post a picture of a wild flowering plant I found today on a walk up through the forest into the mountains, not quite sure what it is yet but I’m sure I will find out in time. Or maybe someone else knows, if so please leave the plant i.d in the comments section. Quite unusual, very pretty I think and growing by a beautiful little waterfall……..