Temples and Tofu

Today was World Heritage Site day – with the Fellows clocking no less than three world heritage sites in Kyoto, although admittedly they were all part of the one Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto world heritage site. The Site is made up of 17 locations in the Kyoto region, and includes 13 Buddhist temples, three Shinto shrines and a castle. There are eight gardens within this World Heritage site; the Fellows visited three of them today.

The fellowship of the temple slippers

The fellowship of the temple slippers

Tenryū-ji Temple in Arashiyama district was founded in 1339; the garden designed by Musō Soseki, the temple’s first chief priest. Just outside the Temple garden is the incredible Sagano bamboo forest, a towering curtain of bamboo which was something straight out of Lord of the Rings.

Sagano bamboo forest near Tenryū-ji Temple

Sagano bamboo forest near Tenryū-ji Temple

Arashiyama is a busy tourist destination, but the temples and bamboo grove are still a peaceful and beautiful reminder of Kyoto’s long history.


Everyone was taking photos at Arashiyama

Continuing on with the Lord of the Rings theme from the morning, every speck of ground in the garden at Saiho-ji temple, also known as the Moss Temple ‘Kokedera’ is covered in moss. This area was much quieter, with visitors to the temple required to write at least a week in advance.

Kokodera, the Moss Garden

Kokodera, the Moss Garden

In contrast to the mossy environs of Kodedera, the last temple of the day, Ryoan-ji Temple, is famous for its dry landscape rock garden; its 15 rocks are arranged on a surface of white pebbles to symbolically represent nature.


The Zen garden at Ryoanji Temple

An appropriate end to our day of temple-going was dinner at one of Kyoto’s fantastic tofu restaurants, where we we were served in traditional Japanese style, with a tofu heater on the table. We were joined by a former intern at Longwood Gardens, Mr Suguru Shimizu from the Kusatsu Aquatic Botanical Garden.

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Dinner with Mr Suguru Shimizu from the Kusatsu Aquatic Botanic Garden


A Pleasantly Rainy Day

Our first full day in Kyoto was marked by pouring rain, but there was not a damp spirit in the group!  We started off the day with an interesting, albeit wet, tour of the large Kyoto Imperial Palace and grounds.


Before the Japanese capital was moved to Tokyo in 1869, the Emperor, his family, and other important nobility resided at this formidable estate.  The Chrysanthemum is a primary focus of our studies here in Japan, and we were excited to see the royal crest, a sixteen-petaled version of the flower, gracing numerous parts of the palace structures.


The next stop of the day was to Heian Shrine.


While certainly impressed by the large, beautiful orange buildings of the shrine, like any good group of horticulturists we were absolutely blown away by the vast and carefully created gardens of the shrine.


We could clearly see the long, thoughtful consideration that was put into the construction of this garden, which was built over a 20-year period.  The plants were meticulously cared for and resplendent in their winter protection.


With each bend in the path, a new and exceptional view was found, illustrating to us, first-hand, a key component of Japanese gardening.


Finishing off our day was a visit to the very nearby Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts.  This fascinating museum highlighted and demonstrated some of the finest classical craftsmanship of Japan, including  kimono-, fan-, basket-, pottery-, and porcelain- making.  We felt very inspired by this museum and left with several ideas for possible application at Longwood Gardens.

Travelling at 200 MPH and A New City

by Mackenzie Fochs

Just as we were getting comfortable staying in and traveling around Tokyo, it was time to move on to Kyoto!

Mackenzie, Stephanie, and Keith riding the Shinkansen

Mackenzie, Stephanie, and Keith riding the Shinkansen

Riding the Shinkansen (a.k.a. bullet train) was a definite highlight of our day. Traveling at 200 miles per hour on a train for the first time is an incredible experience and much more enjoyable than flying or driving. The approximately 5 hour and 45 minute drive to Kyoto was a mere 2 hour and 30 minutes. A snow-capped Mt. Fuji made an impressive appearance, at first from a distance and then slightly closer.


Shortly after our successful arrival in Kyoto, we made our way to Kyoto Botanical Garden, which opened in 1924 and is the oldest botanical garden open to the general public in Japan. Along with Shinjuku Gyoen, this is one of the few gardens that incorporates a Western sense of space. This is evident in the straight lines, topiary, and geometric beauty of these two gardens.

Mr. Hiratsuka, a Perennial Specialist at Kyoto Botanical Garden, met us and led us on a tour of the outdoor gardens and conservatory with Mr. Nakai, a Tree Specialist, and Mr. Narikuri, also a Perennial Specialist. Mr. Nakai discussed Kyoto Botanical Garden’s work to preserve their oldest trees, which includes an allée of Cinnamomum camphora (camphor trees) and several Cedrus deodara (deodar cedar).

Cinnamomum camphora allee

Cinnamomum camphora allee

Fran and Keith listen to the suikinkutsu, a music-making garden element oftend used in conjunction with tea ceremonies.

Fran and Keith listen to the suikinkutsu, a music-making garden element often used in conjunction with tea ceremonies.

Mr. Narikuri explained to us the art of hanging basket and container designs, a design style originally imported from the United States. Kyoto Botanical Garden hosts a competition for these designs every winter and we viewed this year’s entries.

One of the beautiful hanging flower arrangements.

One of the beautiful hanging flower arrangements.

To complete the afternoon, Mr. Hiratsuka provided a detailed tour of the 4,700 square meter conservatory, which displays approximately 4,500 species and approximately 25,000 total plants. Mr. Hiratsuka was formerly a Greenhouse Specialist and the knowledge he shared about the conservatory plants was fantastic. A type of Aristolochia grandiflora (pelican flower) had just opened a flower, a rare treat especially because it was the only bloom on the plant!

The conservatory is designed to mimic the mountains surrounding Kyoto.

The conservatory is designed to mimic the mountains surrounding Kyoto.

Aristolochia grandiflora in all its glory

Aristolochia grandiflora in all its glory

Kiku, Sogetsu, and Wagashi


Beautiful Shinjuku Goyen National Garden

Beautiful Shinjuku Goyen National Garden

Tuesday, January 13

By the third morning in Japan, the Fellows were able to effortlessly navigate the Tokyo subway system to Shinjuku Goyen National Garden. This incredible garden is famous for its rich history of kiku (chrysanthemum) culture and we were privileged to spend time learning from the masters behind this kiku operation, Mr. Yutaka Matsui and Mr. Kodai Nakazawa.

Mr. Kodai Nakazawa shares the chrysanthemum growing facilities at Shinjuku Goyen National Garden

Mr. Kodai Nakazawa shares the chrysanthemum growing facilities at Shinjuku Goyen National Garden

This green oasis in the middle of busy, crowded Tokyo is home to an annual kiku festival featuring seven display beds of chrysanthemums, each bed with its own set of symbolism and traditions that dictate color, cultivar, and placement of each mum.

Tokyo rising above the trees in beautiful Shinkjuku Goyen

Tokyo rising above the trees in beautiful Shinkjuku Goyen

As we toured the gardens, we were able to observe first-hand some of the thorough attention to detail demonstrated not only in kiku but in all of traditional Japanese horticulture.

Detailed tree pruning in Shinjuku Goyen National Garden

Detailed tree pruning in Shinjuku Goyen National Garden

In the afternoon, we took our first baby steps in the world of ikebana, a traditional form of Japanese flower arranging. At the Sogetsu Center, Ms. Kiri Teshigahara, grand-daughter of the founder of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana, welcomed us and gave us an introduction to the rich history and art of Ikebana. After watching a skilled demonstration by Ms. Koka Fukushima, the Fellows tried their hand at Sogetsu Ikebana. Although we began with the same materials, each arrangement slowly took on the personality of its creator.

Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo

Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo

Ms. Koka Fukushima demonstrating Ikebana

Ms. Koka Fukushima demonstrating Ikebana

In an effort to authentically experience local culture, the Fellows rounded out the afternoon with a trip to a traditional Japanese wagashi (confections) shop. One of the cakes we tasted has been made from the same recipe since the 1700s. Tradition never tasted so good!

So many delicious treats to choose from!

So many delicious treats to choose from!

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.


Trains, Planes, and a few Buses as well

After having a magical mystery tour on the Tokyo subway, the Fellows miraculously arrived at Jindai Botanic Gardens without getting hopelessly lost, an achievement we all plan on putting on our CVs. Section Manager Mr Shinobu Kawamura generously answered a multitude of questions and led us on a tour of the Gardens. Jindai Botanic Garden has two main objectives; for people to enjoy flower displays throughout the year, and to preserve the flowers from the Edo period, a time in Japanese history characterized, among other things, by enjoyment of arts and culture.

Wintersweet, or Japanese Allspice Chimonanthus praecox var. grandiflora  the subject of plenty of photographer attention.

Wintersweet, or Japanese Allspice Chimonanthus praecox var. grandiflora the subject of plenty of photographer attention.

Jindai Botanic Garden grows 150 cultivars of Chrysanthemums including classic varieties from the Edo period and hosts a keenly contested competition each year for amateur and professional growers to display their Chrysanthemum cultivation skills. The Gardens aims to have flowers throughout the year, featuring Wisteria, Chrysanthemum, Primulas and Camellia. We met a rock star of Japanese flowers at the Gardens, the Chimonanthus praecox var. grandiflora, which had its very own crowd of paparazzi keen to get the perfect photo. The flowers had the most fabulous scent, contributing to their rock star aura.

The Jindai precinct was crowded with visitors. Part of the ritual of welcoming in the new year is visiting the Temple.

The Jindai precinct was crowded with visitors. Part of the ritual of welcoming in the new year is visiting the Temple.

650,000 people visit the Gardens each year, with many also going to the Jindai temple, established in 733 and located just a short walk away.

A stallholder encouraged our group to play dress-up.

A stallholder encouraged our group to play dress-up.

We completed the day by eating what seemed to be a mountain of noodles at one of the many soba restaurants near the Temple, celebrating the tradition of soba cooking which Jindai is renowned for.

The Longwood group with Mr Shinobu Kawamura of Jindai Botanic Garden, and Mrs Ayumi Green, the group’s interpreter.

The Longwood group with Mr Shinobu Kawamura of Jindai Botanic Garden, and Mrs Ayumi Green, the group’s interpreter.

International Experience 2015: Japan

The First Year Fellows are gearing up for their January 2015 International Experience trip to Japan!  After extensive research, the Fellows have put together a full itinerary for exploring Japanese horticulture and traditions in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.  A central theme for their study abroad is the Chrysanthemum, or Kiku, which has historically been an important part of Japanese culture.  The flower first arrived in Japan around the 8th century A.D. and was quickly adopted as the official seal of the emperor.  The popularity of this flower and its continued prominence in Japanese culture can be easily seen today in the country’s National Chrysanthemum Day, also referred to as the Festival of Happiness.


Longwood Gardens also takes part in the festivities honoring this beautiful flower with its annual Chrysanthemum Festival and their cultivation of the Thousand Bloom Mum (pictured above for 2014, with over 1500 blooms).  In order to enhance both programming and the Chrysanthemum core collection at Longwood Gardens, the First Years will be exploring and documenting Japanese horticultural traditions and techniques not yet practiced at Longwood.  The Fellows will be departing from the United States on January 9th to begin their exciting two-week research expedition through Japan and will be providing frequent narratives of their journey through this blog.

New Zealand: A Culinary Journey

These days, the First-Years are bundling up and getting ready for the spring semester. Fending off the jetlag and remembering to drive on the right side of the road in the US has been challenging at times, but we have our recent Kiwi memories to keep us company. This blog post takes a bit of a departure than posts of the past in that we reflect not on plants and gardens, but rather on FOOD.  It is in absolutely no particular order that I present to you our most memorable New Zealand food experiences.


Pavlova at the Novotel Hotel, Wellington.

  1. Pavlova: The national dessert of New Zealand. Given its prestigious title, it was extremely hard to find on a restaurant menu. I was determined to try it, and we managed to find it at two places. Although I was not blown away with these examples of pavlova, I still feel sufficiently inexperienced to pass judgement. I am willing to try additional pavlovas for research purposes and will welcome any opportunity to return to do so!


    A delicious, golden kiwifruit!

  2. Kiwifruit: Don’t simply call it “kiwi” because you’d be referring to the bird! In New Zealand, the fuzzy brown fruits with green interiors are called kiwifruits. We also discovered a new treasure: the golden kiwifruit! Similar in size to the green variety, golden kiwifruits are nearly hairless, with a thinner skin and a golden interior. We found them at local produce stands and they were delicious.


    Beer-battered chips, served with aioli and sweet ketchup.

  3. Fish & Chips (emphasis on the CHIPS!): Britain may have created New Zealand’s founding document, but their influence doesn’t stop there. Beer battered and deep-fried fish is a staple at most restaurants, served with a delicious tartare sauce unlike that which we’re used to in the States.  However, the chips are the real stars in this duo and I beg you, if you are ever in New Zealand, order beer-battered chips. At every restaurant, they were consistently amazing. You won’t regret it!


    I simply could not stay away from the savory meat pies… walking past a storefront in Auckland.

  4. Meat Pies: Delicious, warm, savory, and palm-sized, the ubiquitous meat pies are the New Zealander’s perfect portable lunch. Every restaurant has its own version – even McDonald’s. Steak, lamb, minced beef (aka ground beef), and roasted vegetables are just some of the possible fillings.
  5. Lamb: In order to embrace the New Zealand food culture, I tried lamb several times. It has a unique flavor but tended to be tougher than I would have liked. On one of the last days of the trip, I was pleasantly surprised with the best lamb dish of the entire trip and possibly the best meal, period. I ordered the lamb steak at The Curator’s House in Christchurch, which was served with Israeli couscous and lemon crème.  Superb!


    Speight’s Ale House, Dunedin.

  6. Speight’s: Dunedin, on the South Island of New Zealand, was a standout in the dining category. One of our dinners was at Speight’s, where we enjoyed Dunedin’s own craft-brewed beers. Full disclosure… I am less of a beer fan and more of a cider fan, but I am in good company with Dr. Lyons, and Speight’s had an excellent apple cider. I hear the ales were just as good!
  7. Dinner at Larnach Castle: Although the food was delicious, this line item was truly all about the experience: beautiful dining room with an elegantly dressed dinner table, candlesticks and more utensils than we knew what to do with. Our 3-course meal culminated with tantalizing tale about the family of Larnach, complete with allusions of ghosts Hands down, one of the most fun dinners we had in New Zealand.


    Green-lipped mussels at Gusto Restaurant in New Plymouth. Delicious!

  8. Green-lipped Mussels: These vividly green shellfish are well known in New Zealand. They are delicious, which I discovered while dining at Gusto in New Plymouth. However, they are also apparently known for their additional curative benefits, including arthritis and asthma relief.


    Gary Shanks and Kevin Williams testing the L&P in Auckland.

  9. L & P: L & P, short for Lemon & Paeroa, is a uniquely New Zealand soda best described as a carbonated, lemony drink that tasted like carbonated lemon Nestea. It’s also a common mixer at New Zealand bars and infused into white chocolate for a creamy, lemony candy treat. (I speak from experience on the L & P chocolate.)


    Hokey Pokey and licorice ice cream cones in Oamaru.

  10. Hokey Pokey Ice Cream: One of my favorite discoveries! I am usually not a big ice cream person, but this creamy vanilla ice cream with crunchy honeycomb candy pieces was delightful.  After several scoops, I was hooked. We also had some other exciting ice cream flavors on our trip, including licorice, Bailey’s, crunchy hazelnut chocolate, and plum!

Overall, the class of 2015 thoroughly enjoyed this exciting culinary adventure. Do you have any recommendations for delicious foods that we should try here in the US? Send them our way!

International Experience New Zealand Day 14: Akaroa: Taunton and Fisherman’s Bay

After driving through dry scenery with spectacular hills and the ever-present sheep farms, we arrived at the understated entrance of Taunton Gardens. We weren’t sure what to expect when we exited the van; all we could see was a well worn plant nursery area.

As soon as we passed under an archway of vines, however, we knew we had entered a special place. Barry Sligh came out of his 1852, rebuilt stone house to meet us and lead us through forest openings, around curves, and over bridges to show us his plant treasures.

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He moved onto the property in the 1970’s, and within his first two years, he planted over 1000 trees. With no background in horticulture, he quickly learned how to care for many plants in a naturalistic setting, and in the nursery.


Some of the more interesting plants were: an Auraucaria witch’s broom, a hosta that he developed for Prince Charles (after which Barry was invited to the Prince’s garden) and a variegated maple tree with red/pink on the undersides of the leaves. This unusual coloration created a stunning display in the sun’s rays.

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Our final garden of our New Zealand trip was a lush oasis on a dry, windy cliff. Fisherman’s Bay Garden was created by Jill Simpson at her home nine years ago, but because New Zealand has no winter, the plants have grown in quickly. Jill is very conscious of her plantings since a nature preserve shares borders with her 100 hectares; she tries very hard to stick to natives and non-invasive plantings. Standing out among the many interesting hillside gardens, she has a myriad of hebes that vary in size, shape, and color. She attributes their vigor to the nearly frost-free climate and the salt carried by the wind.


Whether driving, helicoptering, or boating in, it is a lovely experience to enjoy a cup of tea while overlooking the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean.


Text by Sara Helm Wallace, photos by Bryan Thompsonowak

International Experience New Zealand Day 13 – Christchurch Botanic Garden with Jeremy Hawker


We set out with the sun casting its warmth through the midst of the chilly morning breeze as we made our way towards the Christchurch Botanic Garden. We were greeted by the pleasantly warm and friendly Jeremy Hawker, who is the team leader for the Garden and Heritage Parks in Christchurch. Jeremy has an impressive fourteen years of horticulture and management experience for the Botanic Gardens such as Christchurch Botanic Garden; City Heritage Parks such as Hagley Park; and other Central Business District Parks that have been placed under his care. Some of these gardens and parks are currently undergoing major re-development due to the earthquake damage during 2010 and 2011.

IMG_2208Christchurch Botanic Garden has over 1.1 million annual visitors to its 17 hectares garden. It was established in 1963 and is in its 150th year anniversary this year. It is mostly funded by the City Council and held events such as musical concerts, a wine festival, changing plant displays for the Flower Festival, and public education for the schools and community. At any one time, these events attract about 100,000 visitors to the Garden. Christchurch Botanic Garden has suffered its pain through the horrendous earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and is painstakingly in the midst of recovery. During the tremors of the earthquakes, Jeremy had to relocate the staff who were left homeless and provide additional support and counseling for them. The visitor center had to be relocated to the entrance of the Botanic Garden, while the bus depot was relocated to another end of the Garden. A police recovery center was set up to provide assistance to anyone who seeks it.   

IMG_2197Jeremy recalled that all the electricity was cut off and he suggested that a hard-copy of important telephone numbers and documents should be kept since all the computers were down due to the electrical failure. Water supply was no longer available to the plants, which struggled through the strenuous period of the aftermath of the earthquakes. Capital funding was utilized to re-build damaged recreation facilities and infrastructure such as the tennis courts at Hagley Park. Underground sewage spilled into the river system that flowed through the Botanic Garden and remained a priority for repairs as the staff scrambled to remove the spills from the river. Jeremy described with awe that during the earthquake, the water in the shallow rivers was seen bubbling furiously as if in a volcano eruption and then suddenly disappeared into the grounds below. 


Spontaneous pallet pavilion with bucket seats built immediately after the earthquakes of 2010 & 2011.

IMG_2254We left Christchurch Botanic Garden and walked around the city as Jeremy explained that the government is still in the midst of deciding whether to re-build the same damaged building or to replace the building with a brand new look. The damage around the city is being repaired and Jeremy estimated that the recovery for the entire Christchurch city would be within 25 – 30 years. Though the city looks devastating, the people of Christchurch lifted the dull and empty atmosphere with cheerful and creative art instruments, such as hand-made musical instruments made out of boards, brushes and pipes; enormous green and velvety furniture were erected and stand-up cafes were made out of shipping containers. The Christchurch city may be greatly damaged, but unity and love can definitely be seen and felt within each person’s heart. 

Blog by Felicia Chua, photos by Sara Helm Wallace