Tag Archives: Spring

Japanese Diary

San – Signs of Spring

Snow fades to reveal
shadow tree in bright water.
Twilight silhouette.

tree shadow

It’s been a long winter for the people of Asahikawa, reaching back to the first snowfalls in October. And it certainly seemed chilly to me when I arrived, coming from the humid heat of a South Head autumn. But since then, the lowest temperature I’ve experienced has been around -5 C, and today it had reached 17 C by about 5 pm. (It’s not so long ago that it was regularly -15 C). The gratifying thing I’ve observed, however, is that as soon as the snow starts to melt and the bare earth is exposed, new growth begins.

willows and green
Left to Right: Pussy Willow (Salix chaenomeloides) in bud, and a tree showing the hint of new growth

It’s already more than a week into Cherry Blossom Festival down south in Tokyo, but this far north most of the trees are barely in bud; you can in a certain light, however, discern a golden-green tinge along the branches of some. The Pussy Willows are in flower already. The sight of their fuzzy protuberances reminds me of spring in Dunedin, and more specifically, of my much-loved garden at St Leonards, where the fattening buds were also one of the first signs that winter was finally over.

‘Shibazakura’ or Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata). When in flower it’s one of the most vivid of early Summer displays in Hokkaido.

Along the walkways in Tokiwa Koen, the edges of stone walls are emerging from beneath the snow, and I was surprised see Moss Phlox growing there, as green as if it hadn’t been entombed for months. It’s the very phlox I rely on at home to brighten up the edges of my front borders… how versatile it is (!) and I wonder if it’ll flower before I head back to New Zealand.

Left to right: Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis amurensis), Crocus (C. sativus) and Japanese Sweet Coltsfoot (Petasites japonicus)

I glimpsed some crocuses pushing up through a patch of dead grass in an otherwise barren strip of dirt at the base of a city apartment building. The familiarity of both this cheerful flower and the phlox help me feel ‘at home’ in this otherwise different environment. I’m discovering unfamiliar plants too, such as the golden, yellow flower Adonis amurensis (a member of the buttercup family) and the chartreuse new shoots of Petasites japonicus.

tulips copy

Behind the phlox-frilled edges of the gardens in Tokiwa Park, rows and rows of bulbs are sending up their first green or ruddy shoots… I wasn’t sure what these could be when they first appeared, but with a few day’s growth under their belts, I suspect they may be tulips.


One of the odd things about the snow melting, is that it exposes great drifts of dried leaves, most of which have no doubt been buried since October or November. It is an incongruous sight… you could almost think you were looking at a scene from autumn, rather than from spring, what with the bare branches on the trees, the patches of snow and the masses of leaves .

The Places You Sit

Toilets often present a mind-boggling array of personal options.

Toilets in Japan deserve a special mention. The first surprise was that most of the toilets in public places, i.e., stores, cafes, railway stations and airports, have heated seats. The first time I experienced this I was perplexed as I was certain that the cubicle had been unoccupied prior to my arrival. As well as the cosy seats, toilets have a mind-dazzling array of ‘personal’ options. You can wash and dry your nether regions, or you can play ‘privacy’ sounds (music or the sound of running water) to disguise any accidental or unseemly noises.

Each time I’ve visited one of these small rooms, I’ve been so tangled up in layers of winter clothing that I haven’t had the inclination to ‘relax’ into the experience, but who knows, as the days grow warmer, and I’m wearing less clothing…

Next episode: Signs, Statues and Quirky Frontages

Mid October Musings

Garden Update

Siberian Irises (Iris sibirica) growing against the west-facing wall of the house.
Siberian Irises (Iris sibirica) growing against the west-facing wall of the house.

For the first time in several weeks, there is no wind.  (Hooray!!!)  It’s a beautiful, partly overcast day with a very  light breeze.  Every time the sun comes out from behind a cloud I’m reminded of how hot it will soon become – it’s currently sitting at about 21C in the shade.

New Life

I was in the vege garden on Friday when quite by accident I came across something especially evocative of Spring.

Our young Bay tree (Laurus Nobilis)
Our young Sweet Bay tree (Laurus Nobilis)

We have a small (but very bushy) Bay tree situated within the fenced off (that is, hen-free) section of our garden.  I had gone there to collect a few good-sized bay leaves for a batch of fagioli I was preparing.

A blackbirds' nest, complete with chicks.
A blackbirds’ nest, complete with chicks.

I parted the top leaves looking for some decent leaves and was surprised to discover a nest complete with four tiny chicks.

We’ve been watching the black bird pair all year.  We think they are most likely the same two that built a nest in the right-hand section of the barn last spring.  The hen, in particular, is very plucky and will fly down beside me when I’m weeding in the vegetable garden – usually to pull out worms or scratch around where I’ve been weeding.   For some time we’ve been wondering where their nest might be.  It seems so obvious now!

The parents don’t seem to mind us peering in – earlier today when I checked to see if the babies were okay, I saw four bright-eyed little faces peering back at me.  Mum and Dad were watching from the branches of the plum tree, above.  The chicks are very quiet, which is just as well, as our cat Molly could easily knock the nest out of the tree.  I’m sure she’d love to munch on some tender young chicks!

On Saturday, Ben found another nest on a shelf in the ‘man cave’ section of the barn; but all that was inside were broken blue pieces of shell.  It’s hard to know if any chicks ever hatched, or (and this seems more likely) a rat got them.  The amusing thing about the second nest is that the parents had woven some red and black plastic-coated leads (still attached to a small battery charger) into the base.  It was very well-constructed – they’d put down a base of mud, then built up the sides with twigs and stalks.  The inside was a perfectly formed circle, made with delicate pieces of dried grass.  I’m always impressed at how beautifully these nest are made.


A new flower on Banana 'Mons Mari'.
A new flower on Banana ‘Mons Mari’.

The new flower spike on our Banana (Banana Mons Mari) is already developing fruit.   Earlier today, I spent twenty minutes or so cutting away some of the old and battered growth from the plant.  The howling winds I’ve been complaining about really wreak damage on the leaves, but the plant itself is surprisingly resilient.

Vegetable Garden

Broad beans.
Broad beans.

The vege garden is coming along nicely.  The broad beans survived the wind – thanks to some stakes and string.


The peas are forming pods.

Rocket sprouts

And I’ve had a good strike rate with the edamame, rocket and lettuce I sowed a couple of weeks ago.  Thank goodness!!

The early potatoes (Cliff’s Kidney) have needed earthing up a couple of times and are looking very vigorous.  The asparagus patch is producing fat shoots each day, so we are eating them as they appear.

Passion fruit flower, after pollination.
Passion fruit flower, after pollination.

The passion fruit is in good shape after my fairly brutal pruning.  It’s started to flower and their are many, many unopened buds on the vines.


Bromeliad xx
Vriesea hieroglyphica

To finish, I just had to include a photo of this spectacular bromeliad, Vriesea hieroglyphica, as it’s flourishing at the moment.  It’s growing in the sunnier of the two gardens we have devoted to plants from the family Bromeliaceae.

This time of the year all our bromeliads are putting on new growth and developing ‘pups’.  We’re hoping to establish some of the varieties more suited to the purpose, in some of our larger trees – many grow as epiphytes in their natural environment.

September at South Head


Spring is finally here.  I can tell by the unsettled nature of the days.  One minute sunny, the next rainy, interspersed with strong winds from both the south and the north.  Today there is only a light breeze, however.

The new garden gate.
The new garden gate.

Garden Gate

Yesterday, Ben installed a wooden gate in the back fence, which means we can now easily walk through to the ‘wild’ area under the Lilly Pillies.  There is a pile of prunings over there that we can put through the shredder for mulch, and also cut up for kindling.  With the change in weather, more warmth in the sun, etc., I am keen to get out there and knock the garden into shape after the winter months.

Growing from Seed


I’ve been sowing seeds for my more tender crops indoors to get them started and have had a really good strike rate with tomatoes, especially.  But also with zucchini and buttercup squash.  I’ve transferred these wee babies to the barn to harden up a bit before planting out.

Fruit Trees

Blossom on the plum tree.
Blossom on the plum tree.

The first plum tree (the one with the dark red flesh) is a mass of white blossom, and I was pleased to note this morning that it’s being frequented by many bumble and honey bees.

The bumble bees are such great little insects for pollinating the fruit trees.  Season after season they are always there.  Sadly, honey bees are less common these days – I think this is a feature for many parts of the country, not to mention the more populated areas of our planet.  But seeing so many honey bees this early on in the season has made me optimistic for the rest of Spring and Summer.

The Macadamias are covered in buds.
The Macadamias are covered in buds.

The last few nuts are still dropping off our macadamia trees, but they are covered in blossom, too.  Again, they are buzzing with the busy little bee bodies.


And finally, it looks like we may get our first olives this year, as there are tiny buds appearing for the first time.

Vegetable Garden

A selection of the lettuces we have at the moment.
A selection of the lettuces we have at the moment.

In the vegetable garden we are eating our first asparagus, and are still inundated with lettuces.  The latter grow all year round and we never seem to keep up with eating them all.

We are getting to the end of our broccoli and cauliflowers – it will soon be too hot here for Brassica, anyway.

Rocket (Erica Sativa) in flower.
Rocket (Erica Sativa) in flower.

I’m allowing a couple of Rocket (Eruca Sativa) plants go to seed, the plan being to collect our own seed and use this for successive crops.  We’ll see, I may get fed up with them sprawling there amongst the ‘soon to be tidy’ (do you believe that?) garden.

A row of green peas.  (The messy leaves are from the Lilly Pillies - they are all through the garden).
A row of green peas. (The messy leaves are from the Lilly Pillies – they are all through the garden).

I’ve also sown two rows of green peas and these are looking great, as is the garlic I put in on the shortest day.  The strawberries are in flower and desperately need to be weeded.  Sadly, a row of Edamame beans I sowed a fortnight ago, have been chewed up by (most likely) slugs.  I had to put some bait out earlier – but I really do hate putting slug bait down in our garden.

Russian Kale in the foreground, with self-sown Dill to the left and Broad Beans behind.
Russian Kale in the foreground, with self-sown Dill to the left and Broad Beans behind.

The other plant successes in the vegetable garden are the Russian Kale  (this, thanks to my friend Maureen who provided me with seeds from her own garden) and the always reliable Broad Beans.  The latter are simply covered with their pretty white & black flowers at the moment.  I can’t wait until we can eat them!!

Early potatoes popping up through the soil.
Early potatoes popping up through the soil.

The early potatoes are up and will hopefully ready for Christmas.  2014 was such a bad season for potatoes… fingers crossed we’ll have more success this year.


The hens are still going well.  All seven of them.  (The three Red Shavers and four Orpingtons.)

We'd toyed with attaching a mobile phone to Lottie's back in order to track her using a phone app.
We’d toyed with attaching a mobile phone to Lottie’s back in order to track her using a phone app.

Lottie is still wandering, but now comes back, which is very odd.  We even installed a low fence along the front and edge of our property – these are the two places the hens can wander out – but Lottie just climbs over it.  She trots off along the newly-ploughed field adjacent to ours, following the fence-line next to the road, until she disappears out of sight.  Later in the day she is back – I never actually see her return, she’s just there.  I’d love to know where she goes and why.  She was missing for two or three months, before one day just turning up again.  Ben and I spend a good deal of time musing on this.