About Bellingen Seedsavers

We are a group of like-minded growers of edible and useful heritage plant varieties in the Bellingen area of northeast New South Wales, Australia.

Our climate varies from frost-free coastal areas to inland river valleys and highlands with frosts. Bellingen has an average annual rainfall of 1507ml.

Sunday 26 June 2011

Growing Vegetables and using Bamboo; Ideas from Japan

We thought folk might be interested in how vegetables are still grown by many semi-urban and rural Japanese. Carol and I took a few photos as we explored Kyoto, Takayama, Hiroshima and Osaka by rail and bus. Don't forget a double click enlarges the photo.

This sign did catch the eye and seemed most appropriate for the Bellingen Seed Savers blog. In reality this shop was selling clothing.

 We were visiting in early to mid June and the weather was very hot and steamy, just like a NSW Mid North Coast summer but following the very cold Japanese winter. Many of these gardens were in a rural village in the mountains surrounded by still snowy peaks. Black plastic was commonly used to warm the soil for some crops and to suppress weeds. Interesting to see here the use of recycled plastic stakes in a land that has made the use of bamboo an art.

Japanese cities merge into villages with rice fields and vegetable gardens. Only the hilly and mountainous ground remains uncultivated. Note the onion tops bent over to ripen the onions before harvesting.

I think these might be tree onions.

Another vegetable garden seen from the train between Kyoto and Takayama. These gardens were alongside the tracks in the river valleys.

I suspect these are cucumbers, started with black plastic to warm the soil. Outside Takayama we visited a 'traditional' village where we could get close up to many more vegetable gardens.

I would never have thought of growing a potato patch with black plastic but these plants seemed to be flourishing.

These are climbing beans, still out of season when we visited.  However, we ate soybeans in tempura (delicious) and salads and drank lots of soy milk in coffee (not so delicious). Maybe soy beans would be a useful crop in our gardens as well?

Beans, tomatoes, eggplants and capsicums. The netting was commonly used to grow beans.

Why not grow a raft of water-loving vegetables or herbs on our ponds? This raft also sheltered the fish.

We could also grow a grapevine in a pot on the terrace. It might be easier to protect the fruit from the birds on a plant in a pot.

Ancient pomegranate trees, pruned and shaped for beauty over many years, were still producing fruit. It was rare to see a tree in a garden that had not been heavily pruned and shaped and sometimes supported. This allowed a dense planting in ornamental gardens.

An ancient plum tree orchard at the Shukkeien Garden, in this case the plum trees are grown more for the flowers in Spring rather than the fruit. Note the support for an ancient branch trained for a weeping effect.

When you see the meticulous pruning of the branch tips to induce a 'cloud pruning' effect it is easy to understand the time and care the Japanese expend on their trees. It might take a few days to prune a pine tree this size. You can clearly see the technique removes the growing green tip and leaves a smaller twig now inclined to branch and to grow densely and horizontally rather than vertically.

In the Bellingen area we often grow bamboo to use around the house and yard. Here are a few ways the Japanese use bamboo. It is used extensively, in this case to retain a bank.

Bamboo makes a useful barrier.......

.... or fence, here a lattice attached to pine poles. The lattice is screwed or wired to the poles  and the black cord is tied over the screw to achieve a more authentic effect.

Here the bamboo is used to contain the bushy tips of the plant to achieve a brush effect. There is also a small gate inserted to allow access to this bamboo grove on the outskirts of Kyoto.

Here the bamboo lathes are used cleverly to disguise a PVC pipe emptying storm water into a garden drain.

Larger bamboo poles make a comfortable seat when tied to a steel frame.

This gate is more decorative than useful but the design could easily be adapted to achieve a gate more resistant to livestock.

If you are growing Camelia Chinensis (tea) at home, the bushes do thrive in our climate, then you may be interested in this small tea garden in the larger Shukkeien Garden in Hiroshima. The bushes are kept to waist height. Small tea gardens, this size, were seen attached to many houses on the outskirts of the cities and towns. I think I will be taking cuttings from my bush and planting out more to achieve at least a row of bushes. I grew to enjoy the green tea easily made from the tips of the bush.

A miniature rice paddy with irises grown for effect in the same garden.

All this pruning, shaping of trees and the use of bamboo adds up to a truly beautiful garden. The Shukkeien Garden is now restored to its full glory. The buildings and vegetation were restored after the A-bombing of Hiroshima.

Camphor Laurel trees are treasured in Japan and used extensively. They are constantly pruned to manage their growth and to create a cloud effect but I doubt their fruits are a problem to the native bush in Japan. These trees (below) grow around the A-bomb dome in Hiroshima, a sacred site for many. Folk in Bellingen, with its controversial Camphor Laurel trees, may be particularly interested in this photo.


  1. Wow. These are truly one of the amazing ideas I have just learned. I grow my own veggie garden and in fact, I just wrote "Build Your Own Garden" at http://www.gardenware.com.au/blog/veggie-garden/ and I missed to include these fascinating facts about bamboo and how it can be so helpful. These are definitely one of the best tips we can advice to gardeners. Great article!

  2. Loving the lattice bamboo gate, which has given us ideas for our garden. Hubby has already made me a lovely archway from bamboo, plus all our stakes for tomatoes, gladiolis etc are bamboo. We have an endless supply from a nearby paddock and it saves us so much money, especially as we garden on a very restricted budget since retiring.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...