The eight ume (Prunus mume) plum trees in the garden produce a great quantity of fruit. But the harvesting window is quite short. Too early, and the fruits are too small; too late and they’re already too ripe. Once they turn yellow, they’re not suitable for making umeboshi pickled plums and other products. Each year I invite friends over for the harvest, and they all go home with enough to make a year’s supply of ume wine, juice and umeboshi.
In summer I make a special curry with a blend of some 20 spices. The turmeric rice is placed on the leaf of a Japanese bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia obovata). Its sweet scent evokes the fresh smell of the forest. Bigleaf magnolia, which has the largest leaves of all the plants in the satoyama (countryside) surroundings, is one of my great favorites. The tree favors locations with plenty of sunshine rather than the shade of other woodland trees. The mint planted beneath a buddleia (butterfly bush) grows well, and I pick it regularly to make tea and to add to salads. Myōga ginger buds prefer a half-shaded location, where they grow in masses. Chopped fresh myōga goes well with dry-cured ham for a tasty salad.
As the light begins to fade, a hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum L.) uses its long proboscis to drink nectar from flowers. The use of fewer chemicals in farming has led to a resurgence in the number of dragonflies seen from early summer through autumn. This brown shiokara-tonbo skimmer (Orthetrum albistylum speciosum) is a female; the males are a dull blue in color. The presence of spiders, like this wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi), is a good indicator of the health of an environment. This motivates me to ensure that they find my garden to their liking.
Vegetables are chosen not just for their harvest, but also their aesthetic effect. Okra produces a particularly lovely white flower, as delicate as lace and cool-looking even in the summer heat. Birds love the dark berries of the American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) that grows around my studio; they spread the seeds far and wide in their droppings. The hackberry trees, which fruit in summer, offer a valuable food source at a time of year when there is little else around. The quick-sighted birds are keen to devour the small, bright-yellow fruits.
Photographer and cut-paper artist Mitsuhiko Imamori contributed the text for this article. Born in 1954 in Shiga Prefecture, Imamori has won many prizes, including the 20th Kimura Ihei Memorial Award and the 28th Domon Ken Award. For more information, visit imamori-satoyama-world.com.
For more insight into Japan’s culture, arts and lifestyle, visit int.kateigaho.com.
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