When you think of apartment gardening in Japanese style, a certain image pops into your head. You may imagine large, old-school wooden apartment buildings with narrow, winding, four-posteroned balconies and apartment gardens that sprout like small green plants from small, singular rooms. These images are typically of old Japan, but the ideals that underlie apartment gardening in Japanese style are much the same as they are for apartment gardening in America. In fact, the two concepts – growing with limited water and the use of natural materials – are the same. But in a way they’re also different. In American apartment gardening, we work with our local water resources and try to make as little water as possible to use what we can get.
In Japanese culture, space is at a premium. An apartment is often smaller than a home, so it’s important to maximize every square foot. Even the smallest apartment demands more thinking than a sprawling suburban yard. In apartment gardening, natural materials are used to limit space and give character to an apartment space. Plants are used to create visual interest and shade, while containers provide a place for plant food and maintenance.
Soil is the key to a successful garden in Japanese culture. In the United States, most gardens don’t take advantage of well-drained soils. The soil must be adequately moist but not soggy. This means using specialized equipment to test the soil, adding compost and fertilizer, and working on the soil to ensure that it’s rich in nutrients before planting. This is a lot of work for something that may look simple.
In apartment gardening in Japanese style, however, the soil is carefully prepared before the plants are seedlings. The garden is worked and tilled so that as little dirt is worked out as possible. The idea is to create as much room as possible, allowing the plants as much light as possible, removing the need for artificial light, and providing ample drainage to encourage healthy root growth.
One of the challenges of Japanese gardening is using soil that is acidic or alkaline, as is often the case with home gardening. Because the rocks in the soil are so hard, it’s important to keep the plants and soil at this specific acid or alkaline level. This is actually one of the aspects of Japanese gardening that makes the process so time-consuming.
To help get the soil ready, you can add gypsum to the mix to increase its hardness and use sulfur-based compost to improve the nitrogen content. The best way to get the plants growing is by transplanting them into a large terracotta pot, which will allow the roots to have room to grow up and spread out. Make sure that they’re watered well before you begin harvesting the vegetables.
As the plants begin to bloom, they will need to be divided regularly. You should divide your garden about once a month, to allow each plant space their turn to receive the full sunlight they require. Watering should also be done frequently to allow for complete root development and to prevent fungus from setting in. Harvesting should be done just after the plants have finished blooming, to prevent the loss of moisture in the soil.
If you plan to use any Japanese gardening equipment, remember to follow proper safety procedures. Always clean your equipment thoroughly between uses to ensure no harmful substances or bacteria are left. Vegetables may take a bit of work to grow, but it is worth the effort when you taste the fresh whole fruits and vegetables. Incorporate the beauty and elegance of traditional Japanese gardening into your own home by starting your own Japanese garden today!