[From August Issue 2011]
The number of people who have created “veranda saien” on their apartment balconies, by growing edible herbs and vegetables, has grown. Lined with pots full of fruit and vegetables, these balconies resemble small patches of farmland. People have various reasons for planting their saien: some don’t have a real garden but want to enjoy gardening, and others want to cut down on their food expenses.
SASAKI Yumiko, who lives in an apartment in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, has been working on her balcony garden for about two years. “I think the vegetables I grow and harvest myself are much tastier. It also makes economic sense because I don’t have to buy vegetables, and since I now use kitchen scraps for fertilizer, it is ecologically friendly, too,” she says.
At a DIY center in Saitama City, there is a wide selection of vegetable seedlings and seeds for growing tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers. The store clerk says that pots that are easy to use on balconies are selling well, and low maintenance mini-tomato seedlings are also popular.
Many customers ask for advice on how to start a balcony garden, and some of them have surprising ambitions to grow larger vegetables and fruit such as pumpkins and melons. Another popular vegetable that sells well every year and can tolerate the intense summer heat is goya (or bitter gourd), which many people use to create “green curtains.”
Green curtains are vines grown from goya or Japanese morning glory, whose rich foliage forms a green shade. KIKUMOTO Ruriko, an elementary school music teacher and an executive board member of the nonprofit organization Midori no Kaaten Ouendan (Green Curtain Support Group), has been promoting the green curtains since 2003.
Green curtains have become popular in recent years as a measure against global warming, since, in the severe heat of summer they block direct sunlight and external heat. There’s approximately a 10 degree (Celsius) temperature difference between a room with a green curtain compared to one without. These green curtains are now appearing, not only in households, but also in hospitals and corporate buildings.
“Thanks to the green curtains, summers can be very comfortable and cool. It’s even possible to go all summer long without turning on the air conditioning. The sunlight gently seeping through the leaves has a healing effect, as if you were in a forest,” Kikumoto says. Creating a green curtain also contributes to energy conservation because it’s not necessary to use the air conditioner, which in turn prevents air conditioner sickness. Moreover, it is a healthy, and appetizing enjoyable eco-friendly option.
Recently, Kikumoto has started the “temporary housing × green curtain” project to aid survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake. She is touring the temporary housing in disaster-stricken areas and evacuation centers to set up green curtains. With hopes to further conserve energy and expense, the popularity of balcony gardens and green curtains is sure to increase in Japan.
Text: MUKAI Natsuko