August 31, 2012

Summer Japanese Flower Festivals at Home - The Asagao, and Chinese Lanterns Re-Imagined

MY JAPANESE MORNING GLORIES, OR ASAGAO, ARE RAISED FROM SEED WHICH I BROUGHT BACK FROM A TRIP TO JAPAN A FEW YEARS AGO.

This month in a part of Tokyo known as old downtown or Koishikawa, Bunkyo-ku, a temple known as Dentsuin hosts a very special Japanese Morning Glory festival ( it also hosts a rather special Chinese Lantern festival in October - you know, the orange husks of Physalis or Alkekengi). These floral events in Japan are very special and cherished by plant enthusiasts, as the culture of growing such plants can be traced back hundreds of years.



ASAGAO, JAPANESE MORNING GLORIES, ARE SOLD IN MARKETS AS GIFT ITEMS. THEY ARE TRAINED TO NOT BE LONG VINES, BUT RATHER TRIMMED DOWN NOT UNLIKE BONSAI, TO SHORT, PINCHED VINES ON BAMBOO TRELLIS'S.
 The Japanese have developed a detailed cultural relationship with the Asagao, and every detail, from how one raises the seedlings, to how one pots, trains and displays the plant has been documented and refined over the centuries. Moreso, artwork, weaving, textiles  and songs all celebrate the asagao.
Today, one can find pre-trained Asagao on the streets in Tokyo, and in the summer, plants can be found in markets and at street fairs aready blooming.

THE JAPANESE HAVE A DEEP RESPECT FOR NATURE, AND IN PARTICULAR, FOR ASAGAO - A MINDSET WHICH BEGAN IN THE EDO PERIOD, AND A TRADITION WHICH CONTINUES TODAY


Japanese gardeners are deeply engaged with gardening, so deep, that they often become rather obsessive about the tiniest details and variations that can occur within a species. Bonsai, Chrysanthemum, and Cherry Blossoms come to mind, but there are many more plants which escape the radar of the Western world where the Japanese plant enthusiast dives in deeper than anyone else on earth. Japanese gardeners take time to understand every little detail and nuance about specific plants, often favoring the strange and mutated over large and showy details. And so it goes with Japanese Morning Glories. A plant that frankly, I have never, ever considered as a collectible plant, until a friend in Tokyo a few years ago, asked me if I was interested in some mutated Japanese morning glory seeds.....I never looked at morning glories the same.





The Asagao has a rich heritage in Japan, woodcut prints from the 1400-1600's exist showing hundreds of Asagao cultivars, and today, some seeds of the most mutated, are sold for millions of yen. Even on eBay, it's possible to find Asago seed, but for the real rare varieties, those often with shredded flowers or needle-like or thread-like petals, seeds are virtually impossible to find. In Japan, the Asagao blossom as a graphic icon can be seen on money, on posters, on sewer lids, as a repetitive pattern in kimono's, everywhere. There are even Shinto shrines dedicated to Asagao, with flower and plant shows while the plants are in bloom in August and September.

MUTATED FORMS OF ASAGAO ARE THE MOST COLLECTIBLE IN JAPAN, OFTEN FETCHING MILLIONS OF YEN, JUST FOR THE SEEDS.


All of this obsession ( or better yet, appreciation) began in the Edo period, where most Japanese plant enthusiasts can trace back many of their favorite plants which remain popular  in Japan today. On terraces, tiny side alleys and back yards throughout Japan, tiny pots in tidy rows, each containing a single clipped and pruned Asagao vines - and they are all beginning to bloom. At Green Clubs, the Japanese equivalent of our plant societies, enthusiasts meet on Sunday mornings in public places, where enthusiasts bring both their most cherished Asaago to display, as well as seeds to share.

AN ASAGAO SHOW IN JAPAN, THE PLANTS ARE PINCHED AND PINCHED  LIKE BONSAI, TO ENCOURAGE SHORT STEMS AND LARGER FLOWERS.

AT HOME, I STARTED TO GROW THEM IN POTS AS IN JAPAN ( I USED FELT POTS) BUT THE VINES STILL GOT AWAY FROM ME. EACH SEED HAS PRODUCED A DIFFERENT FLOWER

THERE ARE FORMS WITH SHREDDED FLOWERS, SUCH AS THIS PINK ASAGAO WHICH I HAVE GROWING ON OUR BACK PORCH. IT IS JUST STARTING TO BLOOM WITH THE ONSET OF AUTUMN. THESE ARE COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE STARTING THIS YEAR, IN THE UNITED STATES IN SEED CATALOGS UNDER VARIOUS NAMES. I WOULD IMAGINE TO SEE MORE VARIETIES AVAILABLE SOON.


A PERIWINKLE COLORED ASAGAO, MY FAVORITE COLOR, BLOOMED THIS MORNING.


I brought back some Asagao seed from my last trip to Japan - I was unable to get some of the truly rare mutated forms, but even the garden center varieties, are beautiful with their variable blossoms and variegated foliage.


PHYSALIS OR CHINESE LANTERNS, ARE DISPLAYED BY STAFF AT A SHRINE, EACH WEARING A MATCHING COAT. AN ENTIRE WEEKEND IS DEDICATED TO THE FLOWERING AND CELEBRATIONS AROUND THIS PLANT.

STREET FESTIVALS AND TEMPLES CELEBRATE THE RIPENING OF THE HUSKS OF CHINESE LANTERNS IN JAPAN.  PLANTS ARE GROWN IN POTS, AND DISPLAYED AND CUT STEMS ARE SOLD IN MARKETS

CHINESE LANTERN PLANTS, FOR SALE IN AUGUST AT A STREET FAIR OUTSIDE OF TOKYO




FLOWER VIEWING IS A POPULAR WEEKEND EVENT AT MANY TEMPLES WHERE DIFFERENT PLANT SPECIES ARE FEATURES SEASONALLY, EACH WITH MEANINGS AND ASSOCIATIONS TO CERTAIN LIFE EVENTS OR SEASONAL EVENTS. THESE CHINESE LANTERN PLANTS ARE ON DISPLAY AT A SHRINE.

2 comments :

  1. A morning glory festival is a great idea - maybe we can start one here.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Seeing those wonderful chinese lanterns is making me think twice about ripping all of mine out. They are pesky but WOW they look wonderful there. I wonder if they get the same pinched-back treatment as the morning glories.

    ReplyDelete

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