I don’t have space for a garden, but I have a garden. No, it isn’t magical or imaginary, nor is it some technological feat. I am lucky to have something better- community support. This is a big topic of conversation with my English conversation school students. We often discuss community, ecology and … gardening! Otsu city has perfect climate for growing fruits and vegetables, and unlimited water supplied by Lake Biwa (the largest lake in Japan!)
The Garden – A Brief Introduction
What I have built is not a rental garden, nor is it a community garden. In fact, it is right next to my house, and it was a barren chunk of weeds when I started. Let me go back to the start of the story. In 2007 I moved to my current house, in Otsu City, Japan. My wife grew up in this house and she inherited it. Her family has lived in this house since it was built, back in 1991. When I moved in, I not only got a roof over my head, but also a pre-built community around me. From day one I have received only kindness from my neighbors, and this has made my life in Japan peaceful.
One community event I always enjoy is our bi-annual “Biwako Cleaning Day”, when all of the neighbors gather and clean up around the neighborhood. We clear weeds, cut the grass along the boulevards, and clean up the local community center and it’s grounds. This is done as a joint project between the city to protect the lake, and the local community centers for traffic safety (visibility) and community beautification. In fact, our community group even has a “Community Beautification Subcommittee”.
Neighbors working together, chatting, enjoying being outdoors, helping our community. A completely enjoyable experience. However, there was always one aspect I didn’t like- all the garbage! All of the organic trimmings- grass, weeds, branches and so on, were put into plastic bags and taken to the garbage incinerator. For many years I wondered about this problem.
I noticed that the little square of grass across from my house was being tended by a neighbor. She was planting beautiful flowers, building little garden boxes and making an otherwise unremarkable corner into a little oasis. I asked her about it and she said it was just a little hobby. I starting to think about the wedge of grass and weeds beside my house. Could I tend that patch? If I tended it myself, we wouldn’t have to spend time cleaning it up every year, and we wouldn’t create so many bags of waste.
The Garden – A Plan Forms
I discussed this plan with our community center chairperson, and he thought it was a wonderful idea. Then I discussed it with the beautification subcommittee chairs, and they also supported my plan. I started to make a plan.
First, I built a big box in the tallest corner of the wedge. I used scrap wood and unused building materials. A neighbor brought me some posts to use. Second, I trimmed all the grass and weeds from the whole wedge, and threw all of that organic waste into the big box. I did this regularly throughout the year for about 3 years, until the box was overflowing. Over these 3 years, I had made a huge box of composted soil. I had discovered all the nice native plants growing, hidden under the annual growth, and I had a plan to move forward.
Over this time I received many thanks from neighbors, as well as a lot of curiosity. What was Edward creating in this long, triangular green space? I told our neighbors I would be planting some fruits and vegetables, as well as maintaining the current native plants. In spring 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit us and suddenly I had to stay home. No travel, no commuting to work. My English conversation school’s classes were postponed or moved online. The perfect chance to plant my garden.
The Garden – Planting Begins
I started with the centerpiece- 2 apple trees. These will take a few years to reach maturity, but will eventually provide shade and food. Next I planted 4 strawberry plants, in a long rectangular space where they can spread themselves out. This first summer, we have already received a nice amount of berries- in the future these plants should provide a large quantity annually. Then I planted some peppers and cucumbers, to climb the box walls.
I was pleasantly surprised when a neighbor came by and asked if I wanted some flowers for the garden. I said that would be lovely and a few days later she brought me 2 nice plants. Another gardener donated a rose bush, which stands guard over the strawberries. Yet another gave us a gnarly, stunted old tree in a pot. He didn’t have space to plant it in his yard so it lived in the pot for years. After carefully cutting the pot off of the root ball (the roots were growing like mad through the drainage holes in the bottom), we planted it in the garden. Finally, a friend gave me some blackberry cuttings, which I planted (I love blackberries and miss the huge blackberry bushes of my youth).
The Garden- Feeling Proud!
We now have a nice green space beside our house. We get some food. Neighborhood children come over and pick and eat strawberries. We share green peppers and other veggies as they are ripe. Neighbors stop and chat beside the garden, discussing the various plants growing. We stopped over a hundred bags of garbage from going to the incinerator, twice a year! I am proud of this little project. It has been fun for me, and created a nice little community space. Life in Japan has been great, and Otsu city has been welcoming and wonderful. Our neighbors, friends and English conversation school students have supported us and this project is the result of all that support.