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Historically a city of merchants, Osaka is generally thought to have little greenery. But at its very heart, on the eastern portion of Nakanoshima, a small island sandwiched between the Dojima and Tosabori rivers, there is a lovely patch of green known as Nakanoshima Rose Garden.

The “Little Street of Roses” in Osaka’s Nakanoshima Garden

Nakanoshima Island is small, only 1.3 km long, and has an area of 13 hectares. Most of it is now built up with high-rise office buildings, with City Hall, the prefectural library and the Oriental Ceramic Museum at its center. The park where the rose garden is located was dedicated by the Osaka Prefectural Government in 1891.

Nakanoshima Rose Garden begins at Hokonagare-bashi Bridge and continues up to the Hanshin Expressway bridge. It is tiny, only 1.3 hectares, but as the saying goes, “Nice things come in small packages.”

Southern Magnolia

When the roses are at their peak (as they should be over the next couple of weeks), thousands of people come to enjoy the color and fragrance. You can see roses from Australia, China, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Holland, Japan, New Zealand and the United States — a truly international gathering. There are floribunda, hybrid tea and miniature roses. There are climbing roses and rambling roses, trained on long chains or on ropes hung between wooden posts.

Others are trained as standards. Basically, a standard rose is grown on stems almost a meter long. These stems were originally selected from wild roses, whose stems are naturally long; the long stem is known as the rootstock or scion. Selected hybrid tea or floribunda roses are then grafted onto the top of the rootstock — a “top graft.”

Nakanoshima is divided into three gardens, each with a different design. Closest to Hokonagare-bashi is Bara no Komichi (“Little Street of Roses”). Here you can see more than 17 different cultivars of climbing roses grown on fences. Among them is Altissimo, a dark-red climbing floribunda, developed by Delbard-Chabert of France in 1966. Swan Lake, raised by the well-known Northern Ireland rose breeder Sam McCreedy in 1968, is pink, tinged with white.

The Rose Square is the largest of the three, with an area of 6,000 sq. meters. Laid out in formal French style, the square is subdivided into four sections with a large, oval rose bed in the center; the central oval is also divided into smaller beds. Four large display beds can be seen on the outside of the central bed. One contains Friesia, a yellow floribunda rose developed in Germany in 1973; its large flowers are faintly fragrant. On either side of the pathway that divides this bed there are lovely standard roses, the light pink Nicola, developed in Germany in 1980, and Orange Silk, developed by McCreedy in 1968.

You must cross over Barasono Bridge (sono and niwa both mean garden in Japanese) to reach the third and final rose garden. Here there is a circular bed in the center, and around the perimeter there are both standards and “chain roses.” Among the standards is La Sevillana, a dark-red floribunda developed in France in 1982.

The garden is not limited to roses. There is a fine southern magnolia, also known as bull bay (taisanboku, Magnolia grandiflora). Here, on Nakanoshima, the southern magnolia has something close to the natural conditions of its native habitat: the rich, moist soils on the borders of rivers, swamps and pine-barren ponds in the U.S. from North Carolina to De Soto County, Fla., and westward through the Gulf States to the Mississippi River.

The southern magnolia was introduced to Japan in 1873. Its cream-white, scented flowers are 12-15 cm wide, each having six petals, and bloom in May and June. Its leaves also are large (12-25 cm), oblong in shape and have a tough, leathery (coriaceous) texture. The upper surface is very glossy and dark green. Even though not a Japanese native, this tree is occasionally planted in Japanese landscape gardens.

While walking around the garden you may note some lovely conifers with silvery blue-gray foliage. This is Boulevard, a cultivar of sawara cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera). Philipp Franz von Siebold introduced the sawara cypress to Europe from Japan in 1860. This cultivar originated at the Boulevard Nurseries of Newport, R.I., in 1934 and is now popular in Japan.

Nakanoshima’s trees also include the camphor tree (kusunoki, Cinnamomum camphor). This evergreen is commonly planted in the warm areas of Japan; its wood has a pleasant scent when scratched. Camphor trees grow very fast when young and can reach 30 meters in height. Given the correct microclimate, they will live for a millennium or more.

Chinese elm or lacebark (aki-nire, Ulmus parvifolia) is planted along with the camphor trees around the edge of the open space between the rose garden and Tenji-bashi Bridge. This species is very resistant to Dutch elm disease (Ceratocytus ulmi), and it holds its autumn color well. Its tiny flowers open in September.

In front of the old, red-brick City Hall, there is a short avenue of Japanese saw-leaf zelkova (keyaki, Zelkova serrata). Zelkovas are widely planted; they are beautiful trees, with serrated leaves that turn attractive shades of yellow in autumn. Throughout the summer they give much-needed shade.

We all need trees, no matter whether they are common or rare. Trees give shelter and privacy; they reduce noise and pollution, give off oxygen, and filter dust and soot from the air. A city without trees would be hard to live in. There can never be too many.