Author Archives: Keith Nevison

Days of the Daimyō (Feudal lord gardens and Okayama Castle)

For our last full day in Japan, the Fellows ventured to Okayama Kōraku-en, one of the three great gardens of Japan. Originally developed under the direction of Lord Ikeda Tsunamasa, the feudal estate garden took 13 years to construct and was completed in 1700.


Dormant on a beautiful winter’s day

Today, the garden is very popular with the strolling public and we were lucky to meet a young couple dressed in kimono who were taking wedding photos along with their family.

Seeing this beautiful couple was a trip highlight!

Seeing this beautiful couple was a trip highlight!

The wedding couple with admiring foreigners

The wedding couple with admiring foreigners

There were many unique features at Okayama Kōraku-en that we did not come across at other gardens during our trip. For one, all of the pine trees in the garden [240 in all] are wrapped in straw jackets (komo-maki) over winter which attracts insect pests to build nests in the straw fibres. In the spring, all of the jackets are collected and burned as part of an annual garden festival.

Effective and decorative pest control technique!

Effective and decorative pest control technique!

With 240 pine trees, this is a labour-intensive process.

With 240 pine trees, this is a labour-intensive process.

Field burning is carried out each February to clear away old grass and stimulate new growth. We were informed by garden staff members Mr. Tomihiko Kurisaka, Ms. Katsume Okuyama and Mr. Iga that many visitors come specifically to witness this event.

Too bad we couldn't see it in action.

Too bad we couldn’t see it in action.

The three main trees in collection at Okayama Kōraku-en are Japanese maples (momiji), ornamental cherries (sakura) and pine (matsu). From its inception, the garden was planted with two distinct zones of Japanese maples, one featuring green leaved wild types and the other with red-leaved horticultural varieties. As such, it is recognized as one of the oldest planned garden landscapes in Japan.

Mr.  and Ms. explain the different maple cultivars to us.

Mr. Tomihiko Kurisaka and Ms. Katsume Okuyama explain the different maple cultivars to us.

Fall is a gorgeous time to visit Okayama Kōraku-en!

Fall is a gorgeous time to visit Okayama Kōraku-en!

The garden is also very popular with the public as a place to view somei-yoshino cherry blossoms, the quintessential cherry tree of Japan. Along with other planted sakura cultivars, the cherry trees at Okayama produce a continuos bloom cycle lasting for 4 months, thereby attracting the bulk of their visitation during the spring and summer seasons. In the fall, the local chrysanthemum (kiku) growers group puts on a festival showcasing certain types of flower displays including the beautiful cascade (kengai) forms.

Stunning, well pruned trees abound in this garden.

Stunning, well pruned trees abound in this garden.

In the afternoon, we continued on to Okayama Castle, the grandiose home of the Ikeda clan which was originally constructed in 1597.

A grand castle indeed! It has the nickname of Crow Castle due to its black exterior.

A grand castle indeed! It has the nickname of Crow Castle (U-jo) from its black exterior.

Learning about the history of the castle was wonderful, but the highlight was having the chance to don traditional feudal regalia and have our photos taken.

Longwood Graduate Fellows Mackenzie Fochs and Fran Jackson wear guard garb.

Longwood Graduate Fellows Mackenzie Fochs and Fran Jackson wear guard garb.

Longwood Fellows Stephanie Kuniholm and Keith Nevison wear warlord costume

Longwood Fellows Stephanie Kuniholm and Keith Nevison wear warlord costume

During WWII the castle was destroyed by bombing raids, but a replica made of reinforced concrete was constructed in 1966, which includes traditional roof tiles and gilded statues of shachihoko or fish-shaped gargoyles that are said to cause the rain to fall, thus stopping fire.

Amazing carvings!

Amazing carvings!

All in all, our last full day in Japan was wonderful and we wish to thank the staff of Okayama Koraku-en for providing us with an informative and very interesting tour. Kampai (cheers)!

The Fellows with Okoyama Kōraku-en Garden staff after an invigorating tour!

The Fellows with Okayama Kōraku-en Garden staff after an invigorating tour!


A trip to Japan should include a visit to Okayama Castle and Garden!



Tōrō and Suikinkutsu: Remembering the Kobe Earthquake

Today, the Longwood Graduate Fellows visited a private garden at the home of Mr. Ryoichi Ōhashi to observe the oldest suikinkutsu (lit. translation “water cave pot”) in Japan. A suikinkutsu consists of a ceramic pot which is buried upside down in the low point of a garden, creating an entrancing musical sound when water trickles through it. Prior to the advent of sewage systems in Japan during the Taishō and early Shōwa Periods, suikinkutsu served as a drainage system for gardens, channeling and dispersing water deep into the soil. Since arriving in Japan, we learned that less than 10 suikinkutsu remain in the country. Ōhashi-san was very excited to show off his suikinkutsu, which was constructed by his great grandfather.


Mr. Ryoichi Ōhashi explains suikinkutsu with his meticulously pruned pine behind him.


Longwood Graduate Fellow Fran Jackson testing the waters on Ōhashi-san’s newer suikinkutsu

The second half of our visit was focused on the 8 tōrō lanterns located throughout the garden. Each reflects a different style of craftsmanship from Korean-inspired long window types to a 3 layer pagoda style. Many of Ōhashi-san’s stone lanterns were procured during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and early Taishō Era when his great grandfather began developing the garden. One of the oldest ones in the garden resembles a straw hat worn by women during the Heian Period (8th-12th Century).


Heian-style tōrō. Resembles a woman’s straw hat from that era (8th-12th Century).


Korean-style Tōrō with long window


3 Pagoda style tōrō

One tōrō was particularly noteworthy, because it was toppled during the Great Hanshin Earthquake, a devastating quake centered in Kobe, Japan which occurred 20 years ago to the day. The Kobe Earthquake took the lives of over 6,400 people and ushered in a new era of earthquake-safe building throughout Japan.


The tōrō that was knocked over by the Great Hanshin (Kobe) Earthquake. Today was the 20th anniversary of the quake.

Mr. Ōhashi was very knowledgable about Kyoto garden design and gave the Fellows insight into specific methods which had developed over time. Interestingly, he informed us that the dry landscape rock gardens (karesansui) characteristic of Ryoan-ji Temple (see yesterday’s post) were created at a time when Kyoto had little water, and after a canal was constructed to carry water from Lake Biwa (Japan’s largest freshwater lake) water gardens began to be designed and installed in earnest. Ōhashi-san talked about the famous landscape architect Ueji, the 8th generation member of the Ogawa Jihei gardening clan and a Meiji socialite who designed the Heian-Jingu Shrine Garden (see Thursday’s post). Even today, Mr. Ōhashi does the majority of garden maintenance on his own, only contracting out shrub pruning to young members of the Ogawa Jihei family (12th and 13th generations).


Mr. Ryoichi Ōhashi, owner and overseer of the garden.

Ōhashi-ke Garden receives a few hundred visitors per year who come to see the serene beauty of the garden featuring well-manicured plants, mossy rocks, stone lanterns and suikinkutsu. Prior arrangements must be made with Mr. Ryoichi Ōhashi for a visit, but all visitors receive a private tour and discussion (in Japanese) of the garden. There is a small entrance fee which helps pay for seasonal pruning maintenance and other expenses. Well worth a visit!


Ōhashi-ke Garden. Small but beautiful!


Kiku (chrysanthemum) basin suikinkutsu!


Japanese Forest Deity

A Day at the Museum- Coming of Age Day in Japan

IMG_8375 For our second full day in Japan we ventured to the Samurai town of Sakura in Chiba Prefecture to visit the National Museum of Japanese History. What a day for a visit! The sun shone down and the sky was a perfect blue as we made the 1.5 hour journey via foot and the Keisei Electric Railway. Tokyo glistened as we sped past buildings, parks, rivers and girls in kimono for Coming of Age Day- a Japanese National holiday.


All dressed up for the Coming of Age Day.

The National Museum of Japanese History is a rich cultural institution providing a comprehensive account of civilization in the Japanese archipelago. Starting with the ancient Jōmon people and carrying through to present day, the Fellows learned a great deal about the culture of Japan while witnessing prime examples of craftsmanship and ritual in the lives of Japan’s citizens.  The Special Exhibit on Animism was a must-see, with amazing displays of nature deities and multimedia showcasing annual folkloric ceremonies.


A Lion

Moving along into the modern day exhibit on Japanese culture we stumbled into one of the most recognizable faces in 1950s cinema- Godzilla!


Mackenzie-san has a close encounter with the monster lizard

In the afternoon, we headed over to the Botanical Garden of Everyday Life, where we met with Mr. Ayumu Ota who gave us an overview of the garden and introduced us to the head horticulturalist, Mr. Natoshi Yamamura. Ayumu-san and Yamamura-san provided us with a comprehensive overview of the types of chrysanthemum (kiku) that are cultivated for display in a manner consistent with the unique style of a particular region. The 5 regions where kiku growing was refined are: Saga Prefecture, Ise, Higo Province, Edo and Ōshū Province. Very distinct cultivars were introduced in each region, leading to an incredible display of beautiful flowers in an impressive array of shades.

Not bad for a wintertime mum!

Not bad for a wintertime mum!

Like Jindai Botanical Garden (see yesterday’s post), the Botanical Garden of Everyday Life currently has an exhibit on Camellia sasanqua, a species native to Japan and China that produces aromatic blooms that fade less quickly than other Camellia species. Sasanqua camellias were first exported to the west by the Dutch physician, Philipp Franz von Siebold, who was also responsible for introducing plants such as Hosta and Japanese knotweed to the West.


A very nice Sasanqua bloom

We would like to extend our greatest thanks to the staff of the National Museum of Japanese History for being so free with their time to provide a wonderful, behind-the-scenes tour of their facilities and for explaining kiku culture in great depth to the Longwood Fellows. Thanks to the generosity and friendliness of our Japanese hosts, the Fellows are enjoying our trip immensely.


A cold, but very informative tour!


Principal Horticulturalist Mr. Natoshi Yamamura explains a bit about the kiku (chrysanthemum) breeding process.


Fire and Ice: A memorable trip to Cornell

View down to the Cornell Plantations Visitor Centre

View down to the Cornell Plantations Visitor Center

This year the Longwood Graduate Fellow trip to Cornell was quite eventful! After departing from the University of Delaware post-class and driving by night, we had hardly put our belongings down at our Ithacan hotel when the fire alarms sounded. We, along with a hundred other patrons, had to evacuate smoke-filled corridors into the parking lot just as a fresh snow began to fall. A few hours passed before we managed to book rooms at another hotel, and after a fitful night’s sleep, we began orientation and tours on the grounds of the beautiful, distinguished Cornell University.


Waiting for the Ithaca FD to extinguish the flames. No one was hurt in the fire!

We were greeted in the morning by Dr. Donald Rakow and Graduate Fellows in the Cornell Public Garden Leadership program. Dr. Rakow, previous Director of Cornell Plantations and current Associate Professor in the Department of Horticulture, was an exceptionally courteous host during our trip and we appreciated all the fun, informative activities that the Fellows had scheduled for us. We started the day with an engaging lecture entitled “Board Interactions and Leadership in the Non-Profit Sector” delivered by Joseph Grasso, Associate Dean for Finance, Administration, and Corporate Relations in the Industrial and Labor Relations School at Cornell University. Mid-morning we were shuttled to the impressive School of Integrative Plant Science to attend a seminar by Dr. William Powell of State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) where we learned about the Ten Thousand Chestnut Challenge, a campaign to grow thousands of blight-resistant, genetically-modified American chestnut trees to “jumpstart the effort to restore the tree to its native range in North America.” The lecture was stimulating and a great example of the important work being done to promote biodiversity through advanced plant breeding techniques.

On our way to lunch we stopped by Cornell’s Kenneth Post Laboratory Greenhouses to learn about “Wee Stinky”, a titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) that has bloomed twice in the last three years (a rare feat considering their typical re-bloom cycle in cultivation is 7-10 years!). James Keach, PhD Candidate in Plant Breeding along with Paul Cooper, Cornell University’s Experimental Station Greenhouse Grower, presented us with some facts on the physiology and morphology of the corpse flower along with some other riveting (and smelly!) details.

James Keach, PhD student in Plant Breeding explains the physiology of the corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum)

James Keach, PhD student in Plant Breeding, explains the physiology of the corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum)

After a wonderful lunch at the Cornell Dairy Bar, we had a tour of the Ithaca Children’s Garden (ICG) with Executive Director Erin Marteal. The Fellows were able to burn off some excess energy while playing in the Hands-on-Nature Anarchy Zone, one of the newest additions to the ICG. Erin gave us a comprehensive presentation on the benefits of playing in nature, including the ways in which students improve in confidence, empathy and cognition through taking leadership over their own play. Go ICG and Erin!

The Cornell/Longwood Graduate Program gang with Erin Marteal, Executive Director of the Ithaca Children's Garden

The Cornell/Longwood Graduate Program gang with Erin Marteal, Executive Director of the Ithaca Children’s Garden

Our next adventure was a driving tour through the F.R. Newman Arboretum at Cornell Plantations. We passed wonderful collections of crabapples, oaks, maples, and other trees on our way to a brief stop at the overlook where we snapped photos and posed for a group shot.

Just in time for sunset over the Finger Lakes region!

Just in time for sunset over the Finger Lakes region!

Our final presentation of the day was held at the Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC), where David Corson, Curator of the History of Science Collections, gave us an overview of the unique properties of early horticulture illustrative texts housed in the library’s collections. Also assisted by Magaret Nichols, RMC’s Head of Collection Management and Rare Materials Cataloguing Coordinator, we were able to take in breathtaking plates showcasing the fine talents of botanical artists while learning about the time-intensive processes required to produce such amazing works through lithography, woodcuts, hand coloring and other laborious techniques.

Magaret Nichols, Rare Materials Cataloging Coordinator (LTS) & Head of Collection Management (RMC) at Cornell University's Library with a fine book of lily prints.

Magaret Nichols, Rare Materials Cataloging Coordinator (LTS) &
Head of Collection Management (RMC) at Cornell’s Library with a fine book of lily prints.

The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya by Sir Joseph Hooker circa 1851

The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya by Sir Joseph Hooker circa 1851

The next day, some of the Longwood Graduate Fellows stayed around for a great trip to the partially frozen waterfalls of the Cascadilla Gorge. Guided by Ben Stormes and Emily Detrick, we learned about the efforts to shore up trails and enhance habitat in the gorge after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee submerged the landscape and eroded trails back in the fall of 2011. The falls were stunning this morning and a few of us were simply enchanted by the beautiful natural areas around Cornell and the City of Ithaca.

Frosty wonderland- the Cascadilla Gorge trail recently opened after 3 years of reinforcement

Frosty wonderland- the Cascadilla Gorge trail recently opened after 3 years of reinforcement

The Longwood Graduate Fellows would like to sincerely thank the Cornell Public Garden Leadership Fellows and Dr. Rakow for their wonderful hospitality during our stay. We are looking forward to next year when they visit us at Longwood Gardens and the University of Delaware!

Thanks Cornell!

Thanks Cornell Fellows and Plantations staff!

Class of 2016’s First Field Trip- Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

With a mission to engage visitors, inspire action and change social behaviour, the staff members of Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve (BHWP) adroitly steward 100-plus acres of rich forest and diverse meadows in the heart of historic Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Near to the site of General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River, the preserve houses over 800 species of wildflowers and other plants, creating healthy, abundant habitat for a plethora of bird and invertebrate species. BHWP is also home to over 80 rare and endangered plant species making it an area of conservation concern for the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Meadow shot

Meadow on a stunning day!

We were treated to gorgeous weather during our visit to Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve. In a casual stroll of the gardens and meadow we encountered at least 50 plant species, many in bloom, with 8 different species of moths, butterflies and skippers. Particularly noteworthy were the swallowtails feeding on the nectar of Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot or lavender bee balm)


Swallowtail on wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

Other Lepidoptera species observed included: sleeping orange, cloudless sulphur, red-banded hairstreak, juniper hairstreak and snowberry clear-winged moths.

In the morning we met with Miles Arnott, Director of the BHWP Association, whose organization administers programs targeting school groups and teachers, landscape professionals, homeowners, and members of the general public. Under Miles’s guidance, BHWPA has more than doubled its membership to 1,800 by focusing on educating people both “inside the fence and outside the fence.” This fence is actually a massive deer exclosure which encompasses nearly the entirety of the property, preventing plants from overgrazing by overly abundant ungulates. By excluding deer, the plants are able to grow and reproduce freely, resulting in a healthy multi-storied vegetation layer which approximates a balanced Eastern U.S. forest with large and small trees, shrubs, perennials, and groundcovers. This vertical stratification in turn supports quality habitat for many bird species, including harder-to-spot avians like the Louisiana water thrush, rose-breasted grosbeak and scarlet tanagers.


Senna hebecarpa- wild senna

Miles also described the work that BHWPA is doing on developing its fee-for-service Plant Stewardship Index (PSI). The PSI is a metric which gives a conservation score of 0-10 based on habitat suitability in a given landscape. The PSI factors among other things: presence of rare species, hard to propagate species and specialist species requiring particular conditions for growth and reproduction to determine a score value for justifying protecting lands. Based on these criteria, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve is clearly worthy of continued preservation and support to encourage others to experience the beauty and serenity of this magical place, a touchstone of Pennsylvania’s natural heritage.

For more information visit:

Longwood Graduate Program class of 2016 group shot with Gary Shanks class of 2015. Plus Mary Ann Borge- BHWP’s wonderful docent naturalist