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Saturday, May 31, 2003


Flower power and the heathen gardener

It's time to water your garden. What garden? You mean you haven't planted your garden yet? Oh, you're too busy? Don't have enough space? No more excuses. I'll tell you how you can make a Japanese-style flower garden in just 30 seconds a day. Heck, you learned Japanese in 10 minutes a day, right?

Most of what I've learned about Japanese gardening comes from my neighbor Kazuko. Usually a mild-mannered woman, Kazuko becomes a heathen when in the garden. "Mo dame!" ("Already finished!") she exclaims while whacking off the heads of the tulips during their last hour of blooming. "Mo dame!" she says while yanking out daisies in their last moments of glory. Anything short of perfect gets the ax.

But don't let this scare you. Over the years, her seeds of advice have elevated my own garden to Japanese standards. By passing this information on directly to you, you'll have a successful garden in a mere 3 1/2 minutes. Ready to get started?

Day 1 (30 seconds): Fill planters with store-bought soil. The only sensible type of flower garden in Japan is a container garden. The idea is to elevate the dirt. This is because in Japan, the ground is a dangerous place for flowers. Think of the ground as a large graveyard where planting something is as good as burying it, since it will soon die anyway. This is because Japanese soil is a combination of sand and Godzilla DNA, so your flowers have a very small chance of survival. Thus, container gardens.

Day 2 (30 sec.): Choose from predetermined flower combinations. Once you've chosen your pots, you'll need to consider which flowers should share the same pot. What? You were going to give an entire pot to one type of flower? Don't be so simplistic. Choose predetermined flower combinations that retain the "sempai-kohai" relationship inside the pot in order to generate flowerpot harmony. For example, tall yellow marigolds, short purple petunias and something that bows, such as ivy, go well in the same pot. Do not try your own combinations. Planting geraniums and petunias in the same pot, for example, is an unacceptable combination that will cause undue stress on the frowning muscles of your neighbors.

Day 3 (30 sec.): Put up lattice. You can never have too much lattice. A good half your garden should be lattice, which is necessary for hanging cute thingies, such as hanging pots and English signs. Lattice can be put anywhere. It can even share your veranda with the laundry.

Day 4 (30 sec.): Put up more lattice.

Day 5 (30 sec.): Add an English phrase. In Japan, the English phrase is a necessary component of any flower garden. You can't have a proper flower garden without some English conversation in the form of a sign or plaque. The most popular sign is the one that says, "Welcome to my garden." But there are several other meaningless ones to choose from. Mine says, "Every birdie loves his own nest best." These signs are hung on the lattice, of course.

Day 6 (30 sec.): Add more nonplant decorations such as wooden cartoon characters on sticks next to the flowers. Small ceramic figures, such as farm animals or gnomes, can be set on the soil in the container next to the plants. You can never really have enough of these.

Day 7 (30 sec.): Yank like a heathen! Yank out any soon-to-expire blooms or plants while exclaiming "Mo dame!" Make sure there are no fallen petals on the soil. Replace flowers promptly with something in bloom.

Now, go water your plants. Welcome to your garden.

Check out Amy Chavez's new column, "Parents Do the Strangest Things," at www.amychavez.com.

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