At the end of a long uphill trek, a fantasy garden erupts from the arid hillside. To a Midwesterner accustomed to touchable cultivars, these plants were alien creatures extending aggressive protuberances with threatening spines. But they’re only displaying their perfect adaptation to the dry, Mediterranean climate – awesome plants in the truest sense of the word. This is a straight-out-of-camera photo — the colors were truly that brilliant.
I am quite ignorant of the correct botanical names for these species — cactus, aloe, and succulent is the extent of my knowledge of here, and even those I’m only guessing. My impression was that the gardens included both native and exotic plants, with many species from South Africa and the coastal Mediterranean region with a similar climate.
Cryptobiotic soil crust in action! At first glance, the soil throughout this garden looks like a sandy wasteland, but a closer examination reveals tiny plants and lichens clinging to a miniature landscape. Tiny black “cliffs” of cyanobacteria filaments form an intricate network on the surface, holding soil in place, fixing nitrogen and carbon for plant uptake, and increasing water absorption during infrequent rains. These vital but delicate parts of the ecosystem are easily damaged by trampling hooves or feet and vehicle traffic. Due to their slow growth rate, damaged crusts may never recover from grazing and recreational uses, leading to lifeless sand dunes. For more see: Cryptobiotic Soils: Holding the Place in Place
I enjoyed Dr. Seuss books as a small child, but never realized that the fanciful illustrations were based on genuine plants until my first visit to San Diego in 2006. I expected to see palm trees and cacti, the standard backdrops of TV and films, but had no idea of the diverse beauty of the chaparral. There is no such thing as “just a desert” in nature — it’s an amazing ecosystem of evolutionary marvels.
Edo (17th-19th c.) Era scroll painting.
“If you would be happy for a lifetime, grow chrysanthemums.” –Chinese saying
Introduced from China in the late 8th c, the chrysanthemum holds special cultural significance. First grown as a medicinal herb to promote health and longevity, numerous cultivars in a range of colors and forms were developed with blossoms symbolizing “unfolding perfection.” The Imperial Family claimed the single, sixteen petaled blossom as its crest (Kikumon), leading to its epithet, the Chrysanthemum Throne.
Decorative boss on a Samurai helmet features chrysanthemums.
Sixteen petal blossom gable decoration at Nijo Castle, Kyoto.
Bold carvings on Niomon Gate, Tosho-gu Shrine, Nikko.
Annual display at Nijo Castle, Kyoto.
During the late 19th c., public chrysanthemum exhibitions displayed highly stylized arrangements of plants in honor of the Imperial Family. The tradition continues today with the Festival of Happiness celebrated at the peak of bloom. Strict rules govern the forms, colors, and method of display to show blossoms to their best advantage. The following images are all from Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Tokyo.
In the Ogiku bed, 39 cultivars are represented by 311 plants of arranged in diagonal stripes.
The Kengai style features cascading cultivars that mimic wild cliff-growing plants.
A detail of the bamboo, branch, and metal structure supporting the cascade.
Grown from a single root division in one year, the Ozukuri style resembles a perfect flowering tree.
The elaborate training structure for the “thousand blooms” chrysanthemum rises above the single stem emerging from the container.
This young lady at Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto, wears kimono boldly decorated with chrysanthemums, showing the continued importance of the motif even in contemporary textile design.