Yumenoshima Botanical Garden is impressively set off on its own on a former landfill in Tokyo Bay. To its right, a sharp pillar – the chimney of the Shin-Koto incineration plant – shoots out over the trees of the sprawling park surrounding the tri-domed botanical garden. The path leading to its wrought-iron gate entrance is contoured by the massive, hangar-like, hilariously named sports facility BumB.
Under the main dome’s windows dripping with condensation, towering, slightly drunk-looking Cyathea lepifera (the better common name being Flying Spider-monkey Tree Ferns) soar up to the tallest panes, pink Bougainvilleas spilling over their leafy aerial fronds.
Along the path, proudly displayed, are vibrant and incredibly fragrant Cattleya orchids, stringy Caesalpinia pulcherrimas of orange and red, and unbelievably purple and pink Tillandsia cyaneas.
On the outside, Yumenoshima looks like a promising adventure. And although I spent a solid three-and-a-half hours strolling back and forth among the three domes, the experience, for some reason, paled compared to my nearly half-day excursion to Shinjuku Imperial Botanical Garden.
Although there’s no grand dome nor a remarkable pathway leading to the building’s rather simple, Tulip Tree–lined entrance, there’s something inviting and appealing about its spiral, latticed design, a design that seems to be inspired by the very Crassula succulents it holds inside. In its second dome, Yumenoshima allows visitors to climb up stone steps that take them into the thicket, with leaves and flowers drooping into the path. An adventure. The explorer, obstructed by the thick palms, can’t see what’s coming next.
Each garden has its strong point, Yumenoshima its interactive layout and Shinjuku its overwhelming and aesthetically placed plants.
I’ve been studying and thinking a lot about garden design lately, visiting as many small parks in the Tokyo center as possible, taking photos, and reimagining them with improved landscape, better plants, and a more inviting look to entice passersby to come in and explore.
One of my favorite things about Japanese gardens, especially here in Koriyama, are the trellises of wisteria suspended over garden and house entrances; these and expertly trained pine branches create an air of mystery and an invitation to explore more inside.
That being said, old Japanese women, in my experience, do not particularly enjoy curious foreigners traipsing through their backyard lawns and greenhouses.