Thursday, March 30, 2017

My own little piece of Ueno Park, right here in Indy

It's 桜 (さくら - sakura), or cherry blossom, season in Japan, a popular time for getting outside with friends, family, lovers, and coworkers. All over the country, throngs of picnickers can be seen participating in 花見 (はなみ - hanami), or flower viewing, as they sit under the trees and ponder the transience of beauty and life while enjoying tasty sakura-themed お弁当 (おべんとう - obentou) boxed lunches, 酒 (さけ - sake), and ビール (biiru - beer). But Japan isn't the only place where you can enjoy sakura in bloom. Guess what I found in my side yard on this rainy morning?

What an overcast sky! Are we sure this isn't Tokyo?
Can't see it? Check the bottom right area of the photo.

...still nothing? Here, I'll bring it in for a closer look.

The first blossoms on my new tree!
OK, so maybe it's not quite time to get the tarps out and start making merry on my lawn, but I'm tickled pink to be able to have my own little piece of Japan here in the American Midwest. Thanks to a nearby garden center, I no longer have to be relegated to viewing mere photos of sakura; I can look out the window and enjoy the real thing.

A shot of the planting process
Planting your own cherry tree is within reach, as long as your local climate isn't too harsh. Sakura are found all over Japan--even in the northern island of Hokkaido--so they can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. Before planting anything, it's always wise to check your Plant Hardiness Zone for a general idea of what should grow in your area, but remember to take micro-climates, soil makeup, and other factors into account. Even more importantly: call 811 before you dig! (Seriously--do it. Always better to be safe than sorry! It's easy and free, and now you can even fill out a locate request online via that link.)

Also, keep in mind that not all sakura are the same. Over 600 varieties are grown in Japan, and they can have rather striking differences. The specific type I chose to plant in my yard was the 染井吉野 / ソメイヨシノ (そめいよしの - somei yoshino), labeled by my local garden center as a "Yoshino Flowering Cherry" or Prunus yedoensis. (Pro tip: when in doubt, go with the scientific/Latin name to ensure you're getting the correct variety. Nerd tip: "Yedo" is an alternate romanized version of "Edo," Tokyo's former name!) The yoshino cherry is cold hardy to -10 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, safe enough for the average central Indiana winter, and should reach an average size of 40 feet tall by 30 feet wide.

Q: How do you get a cherry tree home? A: Very carefully.
Once you find a cherry tree you like, you have to act fast. I spotted a few great trees at the garden center on a Monday, and returned Wednesday night to find that all but one were gone. I don't own a truck, so we had to make do with what we had. I was skeptical that we would be able to get an 16 foot tree into my Nissan Versa (or Tiida in Japan), but my engineer husband found a way, and we carefully made our way home. Before this experience, I had never bought a tree for full price--much less paid for a tree to be delivered--so we made it work!

I chose to plant the yoshino cherry because Ueno Park is famous for this specific variety, as seen in one of my previous posts. Ueno Park holds a special place in my heart; it was the first place my husband and I really got to enjoy being surrounded by clouds of cherry blossoms during our first trip to Japan in 2013. The seasonal beauties drew crowds of people--big crowds--and the congestion and traffic caused us to miss our flight back to the U.S. Around this time last year, we had our first hanami in Ueno Park with my mother. She still talks about the delicious bento we prepared for the occasion.

While I'm a big proponent of native flora, I couldn't help but plant something that took me back to my time in Japan. My single cherry tree with its lonely couple of blossoms may not seem like much to passersby, but for my Japanese culture otaku self to have a reminder of a place I love so dearly in my own backyard, it's a true joy.

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