Ted Stephens


Ted Stephens
Nurseries Caroliniana, Inc.
North Augusta, South Carolina

Japan Journal 2010

This year Rick Crowder, Fred Hooks and I left for Japan on November 8, 2010 from Atlanta. This is my first visit to Japan since 2007. I took the E-Z Ride shuttle from Augusta, Rick flew in from Charlotte and Fred had a driver bring him in from his home north of Atlanta. Rick got to the gate first, but when I came through, the underground train/transporter was broken, so I had to walk the entire length of the Atlanta airport all the way out to the International Terminal E. I never knew this busiest airport in the world was so large! When I reached Rick at our departure gate, he said that Fred had called and that he and his driver had been held up in traffic because of an accident on the interstate and was worried if he would make the flight. When Fred finally did get to the gate just before we started to board, he said that his driver had left the expressway and driven on back streets to make it on time. She was a native Atlantan so she knew all of the “secret” routes. The underground train was still out of commission when he came through as well.

Fred was able to take advantage of a service which his cell phone carrier had for international calling. The fee was $6.00 for the month. One could call from the Japan back to the U.S. for $1.99 a minute, but someone at home could call us for only $0.09 a minute. This worked out perfectly. If we wanted to call from Japan back home, then as soon as they received our call, they could hang up and then just press “re-dial.” My satellite watch could be set on Japan time, but then in the calendar area, it would show home time as well. So this really helped in knowing the best time to ball back home.

The flight left one hour earlier than it had in the past, 11:00 a.m. instead of 10:00. I sat right behind Fred, but Rick rode in the aristocratic class. Fred and I agreed that the ride was one of the smoothest that we had ever experienced, and we arrived at Narita Airport, Japan’s main international port outside Tokyo, one hour earlier than scheduled. As a result, the airport was deserted. The plane stopped at the gate at 1:55 p.m. Tuesday, November 10. By 3:15, we were through immigration and customs with our pictures, finger prints and temperatures taken, and by 3:40 p.m. we had gotten our luggage and exchanged our currency and were leaving the airport in the van with one of Taka’s young employees, Takahashi. This had to be a record for getting through all of the required hoops. As we left the airport, we could see planes lining up to land. Takahashi took us to meet Taka at a nursery in nearby Chiba where we got into his car. We drove into downtown Tokyo where Taka had a meeting with two of his group who formed a business to acquire new plants to grow in Japan, as well as distribute Japanese plants abroad. We were to meet them at an “eel” restaurant which only served ell in its many and various dishes. The first course was fried eel backbones. They were crisp and salty. That’s about all I can say for that. Even the Japanese didn’t finish this dish. The second course was a spoup made of ell intestines and maybe even some reproductive parts. Who knows! It was hard to tell!!! The third course was eel with eggs, actually pretty good. Well, at least they were chicken eggs, I think. Then there was eel soup followed by the main course which was barbequed eel over rice with a dish of chives on the side to sprinkle over it as well as the soup. I’m sure after reading this, Mike Dirr can’t wait to get to Japan and try some cheese ell burgers. Following the meal we were given tooth picks made from Lindera wood.

In the conversation it came up that because of the economy, all Japanese government workers had to take a 20% pay cut. Taka said that most government workers, including city workers, even the lower echelon, make at least $100,000 a year. The subject of variegated Abelias also surfaced and Taka was anxious to get ‘Margarita,’ which is a new cultivar that is not patented. I will be sending him some liners of these. He mentioned that Abelia is the number one plant used in Japanese landscapes, which surprised me. We saw some very beautiful Abelia schumanii when we were leaving the airport in full flower and this was mid November. But I had also seen this species in flower in the U. K. in the fall and it seems to make more of a show then than at any other time.

Taka took us to our hotel which we were staying in for the first time. He had called Rick and me earlier in the week to let us know that he had made reservations here, since it took half of the time for them to pick us up than at the other hotels where we had stayed in previous years. It was only one block from a train station as well. He informed us that Nakada, a young nurseryman whose nursery is only about 5 minutes from Taka’s Kobayashi Nursery, would be picking us up at our hotel the next morning and would be taking us to Mr. Suzuki’s nursery as well as other local establishments.

Wednesday, November 10
Nakada picked us up at the hotel promptly at 8:00 and took us to Mr. Suzuki’s nursery. We arrived there at 8:35. I gave him my gift pack of plants for which I had gotten a phytosanitary certificate at home before I left.

Here are the plants which I took as gifts, all Southeast U.S. natives:

Magnolia ashei
Physostegia virginiana ‘Eyeful Tower’
Vernonia lettermannii ‘Iron Butterfly’
Callicarpa americana ‘Carolina Sunrise’
Clinopodium georgianum ‘Desi Arnez’
Styrax americana
Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’
Cyrilla arida

These were all rooted cuttings or small seedlings. There was one of each except with the Magnolia ashei of which they received 3 or 4 each. The Japanese are so fond of our southern natives, that I brought only species or cultivars of these.

We exchanged pleasantries in his office and took several photos from pictures hung on his walls. One really outstanding specimen was of Magnolia obovata which had pale pink flowers. He said that Mr. Shibamichi was grafting it. It is also fragrant. He said that he had also found a golden leaf form which he had already grafted. Rick showed him pictures of the weeping burgundy leaf Albizia julibrissin which Dr. Tom Ranney had developed from seed collected at Rick’s nursery, and also Ray Jackson’s weeping Diospyros virginiana. There was a specimen bonsai of Pyrus complete with fruit sitting on a table in the office. There was also a picture of Ficus carica fruit with bright yellow stripes. I have this plant but it has yet to fruit for me. The flesh of the fruit is bright burgundy, but I don’t know if it is good eating quality.

I took a picture of Daphne ogisui pictured on the wall of Mr. Suzuki’s office which has a brilliant yellow inflorescence and appeared quite large. Professor Ogisui (pronounced O-ge-su) had discovered it in China and it had been named for him. Mr. Ishii would later give us a copy of Mr. Ogisui’s latest book. More on that later.

I inquired of him as to when he grafted the variegated Loquat, Eriobotrya japonica. Through Nakada our interpreter he said that he did it in March using a scion with 3 leaves and cutting each of these back to about 1.5”. One of the most impressive plants which we saw was a Euonymus oxyphyllus (after looking it up on the internet I’m not sure that this is the correct species) which had huge deep pink seed pods which hung from 6-8” pedicels all over the plant. This plant looked surreal with its multitudinous colorful seed capsules hanging from this very upright grower. His propagation house was filled with Loropetalum cuttings of an unimaginable large number of selections. One had iridescent pink new growth whose leaves harden off to deep burgundy. We took many pictures of these. He truly must be the Loropetalum king of the universe. Plants which we purchased from him:

Corylopsis spicata – when seeing this rather ordinary looking plant, I knew that there must be some reason for growing it. Upon asking, he said that it was fragrant.

Gardenia augusta ‘Ogon no Hana’ – the cultivar name literally translated means “Gold of flowers,” which in English would be “Flowers of Gold.” It is not the flowers that are gold (but they are double), but rather the foliage which has some of the most brilliant gold leaves that I have seen on almost any plant.
Eurya japonica with very wide white margins.
Forsythia intermedia with wide yellow margins to each leaf.
Stewartia pseudocamellia with unusually heavily variegated foliage.
Stachyurus sp. – an evergreen form with flowering racemes present.

Many plants that we saw were not for sale. We saw an extremely “blue” Podocarpus which Fred had brought him several years ago. He also expressed that he wanted cuttings of all of the cultivars which we have of our American native Illiciums.

We all noticed that Nakada spoke much better English on this visit than the first time that he had driven for us several years before. He never even used his little translation device which he frequently consulted before.

10:15 a.m. we leave for Kairoen (the ending “en” means “nursery” in Japanese), which has two retail establishments and a wholesale yard. One of the retail locations is the typical garden center with many bedding plants, bulbs, a large tropical greenhouse with an excellent assortment and a small “woodies” section outside. There was an incredible selection of numerous cultivars of Heathers and Heaths, similar to what one would see in England, as well as many new cultivars of Poinsettias which I had never seen in the states. We stayed here for a few minutes and then drove the two minute drive to the “collector” retail site. This spot is rather hidden and one has to know of its location to find it, because there are no signs advertising or leading to it. Here as usual we saw an awesome collection of Nandinas and Diospyros cathayensis, the small Chinese Persimmon with a plethora of cultivars. Actually there may be more than one species involved, because each year one will see more new cultivars. One of these had dark red narrow pointed fruit which always hung downward similar to an ornamental pepper. They are really quite showy. In the spring, they have one of the most incredible (have I used that word before?) collections of Hydrangea serrata. One of the more striking plants was one of an “Issai” form of Idesia polycarpa, which had a 2” caliper trunk and was only 20” tall with a number of red berry clusters hanging from its branches. It was grown in a bonsai pot and trained in a bonsai style. Don Shadow has gotten a form with both male and female flowers on the same plant. Of course it is normally dioecious. If this could be propagated, this would be a real winner for the foreign market.

At 11:00 a.m. we leave here for the two minute drive to their wholesale yard next door. They are always very friendly and allow us to buy at wholesale prices from here. Last year Fred and Rick had gotten a new selection of Ilex crenata with yellow margins to its leaves and a growth habit similar to ‘Helleri.’ I think this one has great commercial potential. It was really showy, so I purchased two of these and Rick got another one as well. I have always had very bad success with the edible fruiting Myrica rubra, but I was determined to try one more time. The cultivars that I purchased were ‘Moriguchi’ and ‘Zuiko.’ Nakada wrote their names in Japanese figures in my notebook. This time I plan to plant them directly in the ground when I get them from the inspection station. They had several named cultivars of Acca (Feijoa) sellowiana grown for their edible fruit. I really think that this plant has great potential for a home garden fruit in the states. Our plants at the nursery are seedling forms, but they always produce delicious edible fruit. Taka said that he grows 8 cultivars which are listed in his catalog that he gave us. These were all rooted cuttings and not grafted; whereas, we grow them from seed.

From here we drove over to Mr. Ishii’s nursery to pay him a visit. He and Mr. Yamaguchi were the first Japanese nurserymen to visit us eleven years ago. We visited him for a while and I gave him a pack of my gift plants. This year I made a color picture of all 8 plants in my gift package and printed a copy out for each recipient. A young Japanese nurseryman, Kojima and his newly married wife are interning with Brian Upchurch in Fletcher, NC. His father had given him and his wife 6 months in the U.S. for their wedding present. They visited us a few weeks previous, but they had to return to Japan to renew their visas, and had just returned before we left. So I sent him a copy of my gift plants with their descriptions and he and his wife translated them into Japanese and e-mailed them back as a PDF file. Before when I gave the Japanese the plant descriptions, they were all in English. Mr. Ishii then climbed up a ladder in his office and retrieved three copies of Prof. Ogisui’s newest book from a book case about 12 feet from the floor and gave each of us a copy. This is a real treasure because only 1000 copies were printed and mine was no. 27. It is written in Japanese, but the large number of plant pictures each have their Latin names accompanying them. From here we all go to lunch with Mr. Ishii and Nakada.

12:00 noon we ate lunch at a Japanese restaurant similar to our Denny’s but with a total Japanese menu. One usually gets a soup, a salad, and a meat with the ubiquitous bowl of rice.

1:15 p.m. we arrive at a “co-op” nursery where different growers bring their wares to sell. Nakada showed me his section. Many times there are great bargains to be had here. Several years ago there was a huge selection of variegated cultivars of Rhapis excelsa, the little Lady Palm, with dirt cheap prices. I wanted more of these, but there were none to be found. Maybe this is a warm weather plant for them. There was a huge greenhouse with tropicals which housed a rather large specimen of a variegated Pachira aquatica, resembling a Schefflera, but not in the Aralia family. It was unimaginably beautiful. For the remainder of our stay, we kept looking for a smaller specimen of this plant to bring back. Upon returning home I found a specimen on EBay in a 4 inch pot, which still had two weeks to go on the bidding, and it had already been bid up to over $250. It was located in Thailand.

Here I got a variegated Ophiopogon as well as several pots of the golden berried form of Chloranthus (Sarcandra) glabra. Our yellow berried forms here at the nursery fruited for the first time this year and they are spectacular. They must come true from seed because when I washed my plants, it appeared that there were a number of seedlings in a clump, which all separated when I washed them.

2:00 p.m. From here we drove over to Mr. Shibamichi’s nursery where we had an appointment. Actually it is his brother’s nursery, since in Japan the oldest son gets all of the inheritance . It was his brother’s son which discovered Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ in the wild in Japan. The original plants are growing at the end of one of his greenhouses. They have been topped at about 12-14’ and they make a solid hedge with each plant being about two feet in width. We give him our gifts of a Master’s cap from Rick, a head mounted flash light and some Magnolia macrophylla seed from Fred and my plants. He let’s us browse through his plant pictures for a while and be awed by his latest finds. His pictures of Rhodoleia henryi in flower and a new pink Styrax japonica just blew us all away. The Styrax had the deepest pink flowers that one could imagine.

We walk out into his nursery and he showed us plants of Magnolia (Michelia) maudiae that he said had pink flowers. We did not see a picture of this one, but he intends to protect it. The plants were only about 18” and covered in flower buds, grafted of course. At this point he pointed out to us that he had over 300 cultivars of Magnolias.

In one of his greenhouses he showed us plants with electric blue berries and small white flowers along its stems, but it was labeled as Lasianthus japonicus. But it looked nothing remotely like any Lasianthus that we were familiar with. In this same house was a number of 3 gallon plants of a cultivar of Rohdea japonica ‘Washi Taka Cuma’ which I had only seen in pictures. The top one third of the leaf is dark green with the remainder of the leaf being a bright cream yellow. Rick was able to coax him into selling one container that had three divisions. He said that he had never sold any before. He pointed out a pink double flowering Cornus florida in the field which would be nice to see in bloom.

We left the nursery and then drove over to his house where most everything is in the ground, and we observed a Miscanthus sinensis which was only about 30” tall with deep burgundy plumes. We observed an incredible white variegated Edgeworthia chrysantha, but my experience is that it is not very stable. Then behind his home we saw a bright yellow variegated form which I had never seen before.

Mr. Shibamichi had an appointment with a customer and since it gets dark at about 4:30 p.m. at this time of year, we left here and drove over to one of the several small “co-op” nurseries that we like to visit and arrived there at 4:25. This one is much smaller than the other co-op nursery that we visited earlier in the afternoon. They have numerous ones of these where small growers and even home gardeners leave their plant selections to be sold on consignment. The vendor is responsible for maintaining his own plants, but the manager/owner of the nursery keeps them watered. One can find a number of selections that are not found in the “open” market. I got four pots of a dwarf variegated Ophiopogon japonicus which resembled the cultivar ‘Torafu’ with irregular cream yellow banding throughout the leaf. The Japanese have a way of dwarfing a plant with a porous growing medium and using little fertilizer. Hopefully it is a more compact form, but it may be the same. I also acquired three species/cultivars of Tongue Ferns from the genus Pyrrosia which were grown in small bonsai pots. Also, a dwarf Serissa foetida with pink flowers and only 3 inches tall in a small bonsai pot. This one is a true dwarf with leaves only ”. I found a particular Nandina which had the most blue-green foliage that I had ever seen, but it had a 2.5 inch caliper and was growing in a large clay pot. The owner called the nurseryman to which the plant belonged and asked him if he had smaller plants of this selection. He said that this plant was the only one that he had. We debated about buying this plant and taking the cuttings from it, but then decided to think about it. Unfortunately we did not re-visit this nursery and missed the opportunity. But we will definitely go back here the next time to see if it still available. I do have good pictures of it, but it was practically dark when I took them, so I had to use my flash.

Nakada takes us back to our hotel and then he and Taka meets us at our hotel for dinner. But after conferring with the chef/hotel owner, Taka decides that we will go somewhere else. We mention to him this little restaurant run by a mother and daughter team which we have visited before. With a bar and one table, it only sits fourteen customers, but apparently when she is called, she was booked for the evening. But then magically, we drive up to the little restaurant. So what transpired in the interim to get us a table, we don’t know. But I think that this is the overall favorite spot for us to eat. Some of the items served to us were fish liver, ginkgo nuts, salad, oysters, soup with cow intestines, broiled fish, sweet potatoes, tofu on crackers and flounder. Sake flowed liberally to all but me with my faithful Coke. There is this service in Japan where one can call to get a driver to take you home. Of course two drivers come, one to drive your car and the other to take them home afterwards. I think Taka is one of their best customers.

Upon leaving the restaurant, I jokingly said that I wanted some ice cream. That’s all it took for Taka to have an excuse to eat ice cream. So we head with our drivers to a Baskin Robbins Ice Cream parlor which was only a block and a half from our hotel. It was around 10:00, so they were locking the doors as we left. My favorite ice cream now is “green tea” ice cream.

While at dinner, we discuss our agenda for the remainder of our stay. Taka proceeds to call different contacts from his cell phone to see if they will be available for a visit. He then arranges for us to take the bullet train Saturday night to Kyoto where we will be away from Kawaguchi for two days. On Sunday we will visit one of the leading Camellia growers in Japan as well as the acclaimed number one Japanese maple expert. On Monday, we will visit one of our favorites, Mr. Ishiguro and Mr. Yamaguchi as well as Chikori Nursery. We get to bed at a descent hour and I actually am able to sleep a little.

Thursday, November 11
At 9:00 a.m. Taka picks us up at the hotel and we drive to the nearby bus station where we pick up Makiko, his new assistant which will help with their new business of introducing new plants. Makiko spoke excellent English. She lived in Indiana for several years when her husband was in college. Her Japanese job is working at the newly opened bonsai museum which we visited the next day. But we eventually learned that she knew very little horticultural lingo. When she heard us use the word “variegated” we had to explain to her what this meant. But Taka had hired her for her overall knowledge and use of English.

From here we drove over to Mr. Fujinami’s nursery which was only about 15 minutes away. He is the one who discovered the original black mondograss Ophiopogon nigrescens nigra. He specializes in growing bonsai for the commercial market, but he still has some really unusual plant selections. He has always been a little stand-offish, but we all recognized that he was overly friendly this time. He had a dwarf elm bonsai with leaves less than 1/8th inch. He promised to propagate it for next year. Rick and I were particularly attracted to what appeared to be a very dwarf Ophiopogon or Liriope with bright yellow leaves. We each bought two pots each of this. He had a dwarf black Ophiopogon with leaves so stiff that they felt like a bristly brush, but he was not selling. He grows a Quercus myrsinifolia which emerges with white new growth in the spring, which slowly turns green. I noticed that they were on their own roots and not grafted. I asked him through Taka how he roots them. He said that he takes cuttings in March, covers them with white poly for three months and then leaves them under shade for a full year. He is very proud of them because he sells a 4” plant for 10,000 yen, about $120 at the present exchange rate. He was telling his wife that I had bought one some years before. I couldn’t believe that he remembered. He also has a strain of a variegated Firmiana simplex which we have failed to get to survive on two previous occasions, so we refrained from getting another one of these because they were over $300. Maybe we need to use Tony Avent’s admonition to not give up until we have killed a plant at least “three” times. But this could get expensive. He had many specimens of bonsai Osteomeles sp. which were really quite attractive. We also observed a pot of Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate.’ I inquired and he said that they were grown from root cuttings. We have surmised that we might try this with our ‘Merlot Majik’ cultivar which holds its color much better than ‘Summer Chocolate.’ We could do this with plants which have been tissue cultured. We all get a plant of a dwarf Distylium sp. which had nodes that appeared to be only 1/8 inch or less. It was literally a dwarf mound of only 2 x 3 inches.

From here we drive to what we always call the Selaginella Nursery where the owner grows many, many cultivars of S. tamariscina, a native Japanese species which is grown to be shown in the “Koten engei” style in decorative porcelain pots. This species will actually develop a trunk and an old specimen will resemble a small tree. He also has several other interesting plant selections. Here I purchase another Pyrrosia.

We leave here and drive over to a very small Rohdea nursery, which has really declined since we visited it 10 years before. We leave here and drive to a bonsai nursery that I had never visited before. Rick and Fred had visited it last year. We have passed it many times but never stopped. One of the most impressive plants was a specimen of Akebia trifoliata in fruit. I have good pictures, so one would have to see it to believe it. The huge fruit on this small bonsai! This species is actually grown for its edible fruit in Japan. We had to leave here for an appointment we had at Kobayashi Maple Nursery.

Taka takes us here and it is located across the street from his home and nursery, but one must go around the block to get to their entrance. Even though both have the name “Kobayashi” they are not related. Taka tells us that his name is as common in Japan as Smith is in America. This is the nursery that originated ‘Ryusen’ the weeping Acer palmatum. It is quite unreal seeing Acer palmatum in their fall glory in Japan. I offered him my pack of gift plants which he refused to take because they were not maples, but Fred gave his older father one of his head lamps which he was awed by and stayed occupied with the whole time that we were there. We had to leave and meet Mr. Areyama where he and Taka are loading two containers of large B&B specimens of “cloud” trained Ilex crenata and Taxus cuspidata for Italy and Germany. He had to sign some of the export documents. One container was loaded with Ilex crenata, which had already departed. The other container was being loaded with Taxus cuspidate. Since these are large B&B plants, each plant has to be observed by a government official being treated with their earthen balls being submerged in a nematicide until it stops “bubbling.” Of course we cannot bring anything into the U. S. with any soil on it. We are also limited to a plant of only 24” in height as well as being 2 years old or less. From here we drive a short distance to a restaurant that only sells pork. We had to wait outside for room to become available. Shortly, there were 15 to 20 young mothers emerging from the restaurant with their children in arms, where they all left on their bicycles with kids in tow riding with their little protective helmets in toddler seats on their mother’s bicycle. This was quite a sight. They seemed to enjoy having their pictures taken.

We left the restaurant around 2:00, and drove to Mr. Suzuki’s growing area which I had never visited before. Rick, Don and Fred had seen it in November, 2009. Here I picked up several more plants of the golden leaf Gardenia, Gardenia augusta ‘Ogon no Hana’ which literally means “gold of flowers,” but which we would translate into English as “flowers of gold.” Each of us also got a new variegated form of Clethra barbinervis with leaves heavily splashed with white. We all have another similar cultivar, but the leaves are much smaller. This one looked much more robust with leaves twice to three times the size. I also got a really nice variegated Forsythia with wide gold margins to its leaves. Here we see some of his numerous cultivars of Loropetalum. I also got a variegated form of Stewartia pseudocamellia as well as a stunningly variegated cultivar of Eurya japonica with wide white margins to its leaves. This selection was awesome. I had seen it three years before, but had never seen it for sale.

We left here at 3:30 and drove the short distance to one of his fields where his Loropetalum stock plants are planted. These plants were planted so closely that they were beginning to crowd one another out, so Mr. Suzuki had pruned them back quiet heavily. He had even lost his stock plant with the burgundy foliage and white flowers to borers. I have never seen any pest of Loropetalums in the U. S.
This evening we convince Taka to let us be on our own for dinner, so we ate at our hotel.

Friday, November 12
Kasahara, an old acquaintance and a close friend of Taka’s, picked us up at the hotel at 8:00 a.m. and we drive to his home, which surprised all of us that it was only about 5 minutes from our hotel. His neighbor has a specimen Acer buergerianum which had been trained in the cloud form. The 18 inch trunk diameter was exfoliating beautifully. When I got out to get a picture of it, I suddenly realized that I did not have my camera in my backpack. I had loaded my pictures on my laptop from my camera the previous night and had left it on my desk in my room. Fortunately we were only five minutes away from our hotel. When I retrieve my camera, we head out to Kanuma City Garden Center. This is the largest garden center that I have ever seen in any country, with acres of parking lots. It’s rather remarkable at how far away it is, not near any really large city. We had to get on the expressway to get there and I noticed Kasahara’s speedometer top 145 kilometers per hour! Often when we have come here, there are various flower shows going on, like bonsai Azaleas in the spring and Rohdeas and Chrysanthemums in the fall. But within several miles of this garden center, there are numerous other smaller nurseries, mostly specializing in Satsuki Azalea bonsais, which line the highway, taking advantage of the traffic coming here.

We arrive at 9:45 and get to park the closest that we have ever parked to the sales area. This garden center has a huge department for gardening tools and accompanying accessories. The selection of pots probably covers an acre. The largest part of the nursery is for consignment plants. There are some great bargains to be had here, many shown for the first time by a grower that might have found a new cultivar. Every time that we go here, our Japanese companions always buy a number of things. This was no exception as Kasahara bought several things. The landscaping around the sales yard has many trained specimens Ilex, Podocarpus, Taxus and Ilex crenata.

Their fruit selections were enormous. There were large bonsai specimens for sale with some as high as 300,000 yen, this would be $3,600 at the present exchange rate. My favorites were the small Chinese Persimmons, Diospyros cathayensis, which are actually edible, but they have a large seed. Each time we visit, there are more selections of these. Also, Kadsura japonica trained as a bonsai and loaded with fruit as well as bonsai specimens of Pseudocydonia sinensis with fruit! The trunks of the Pseudocydonia were showing the exfoliating patchwork bark characteristic of this species. Another popular plant for the Japanese is our own native Sourwood, Oxydendrum arboreum displayed in small pots with their brilliant red fall glory on full display. There was a particularly handsome specimen of a variegated Chloranthus (Sarcandra) glabra in full berry. I have this form, but it is not particularly stable with its white splash variegation. Other things for sale that we rarely see in the states are trays of mosses, with many different kinds available. They have an orchid house which is mind boggling with not a flower out of place. At this time of year they often have Chrysanthemum shows, which we probably missed by one or two weeks, and they had a number of Chrysanthemum cascades for sale. One vendor had fresh fruit and vegetables with large Asian pears priced at 1,000 yen each, approximately $12.00 U.S. Here is my list which I purchased here:
Diospyros cathayensis, a red fruiting form.
Aster sp., a native species.
Aster sp. ‘Kiyosumi shira yanagitsu’, (a place, “White Mountain”)one with magenta double flowers. This plant has great commercial potential in the states.
Ophiopogon planiscapus, a compact black form.
Camellia sinensis with white margins.
Chloranthus (Sarcandra) glabra with yellow berries.
Camellia japonica selection.
Eurya japonica with exceptionally good variegation.

We leave here at 11:07 and arrive at the variegated plant nursery at 11:17, so it was only a few minutes away, near the downtown of Kanuma. The owner here is the vice president of the Variegated Plant Preservation Society in Japan. Plants are literally crammed into two rather small houses. Here is where several years earlier we were offered a pot of a variegated Polygonatum for $10,000 which none of us fell for. Fred got a stunningly variegated Diospyros cathayensis. The gentleman told us that he propagated it by root cuttings as small as pencil lead. I found a variegated Dendropanax trifidus which was one of my main subjects on my “want list” for this trip. I had one previously, but squirrels had pulled it out of its pot and left it to dry out. It never recovered. Another plant on my wish list was a variegated Stauntonia hexaphylla which I also found here. What a find! The foliage emerges almost white and slowly turns greenish, but never completely loses its variegation. It is already putting on new growth in the greenhouse where we have bottom heat and lights for extended day length.

We leave here at about 12:15 and drive back to Kawaguchi to the new bonsai museum. Kasahara told us that cameras were not allowed, but once we got inside, we were shown two plants of which we could have taken pictures. But alas, our cameras were back in our van. But if you have ever said that you didn’t particularly care for bonsai, this visit would have made you relent. I will not even attempt to describe what we saw. Words are not adequate. Some specimens were five and six hundred years old. This is in an area of town which is referred to as the “Bonsai District.” We visited two different bonsai nurseries less than a block apart. There were plants for sale, but also there were specimen plants which they hold and maintain for the plant’s owners. When the owners have special occasions, such as dinners or parties, then these are carried to their homes to be displayed. I have never seen such security at any place in Japan as there was at these nurseries: cameras, motion detection devices, alarms, etc. One of the nurseries was operated by a Japanese TV celebrity where she gives classes on bonsai and also television programs. She had a class room full of students at the time we were there. Neither of these nurseries allowed pictures to be taken.

From here we went to Kasahara’s and his father’s nursery. They specialize in growing Cyclamen which they sell by mail order as well as pickup by the public. Again, it is hard to describe the precision with which they are grown. He said that they were about two weeks behind schedule because of the extremely hot summer which they had experienced. He had a pot of a particularly beautiful selection of Aspidistra of which he gave me a division. It was Aspidistra elatior ‘Amanogawa’ which had stripes and spots throughout its leaves. I have this same cultivar which I acquired in the states, but the leaves of this one were four times the size. What amazed me was that the Cyclamen were grown from seed and they can produce a very large specimen within a year. So every plant was different, even though different groups had the same color flower. One specimen was particularly stunning with its variegation and he gave this one to Fred. This evening we convince Kasahara to take us back to the hotel. I go to the nearby grocery store and Fred and Rick go to a restaurant serving Indian fare.

Saturday, November 13
We had decided to go down to Gotemba Nursery at the foot of Mt. Fuji today. Even though one has to drive through downtown Tokyo where one can see the Imperial Palace grounds from the multi-layered expressway, the traffic was horrendous. Apparently half the population of Tokyo had decided to go see the fall color in the mountains today. By 11:30, we were not even halfway there and we knew that we had to get the bullet train to Kyoto that evening. So we decided to turn around and head back. Our driver Keita Ibaraki (who by the way had an artificial leg as the result of a car accident several years before) called Taka to tell him of our decision, so Taka recommended that we come back by way of downtown Yokohama to visit a downtown garden center called Garden Center Yokohama. Well, this was the day that Obama and the international community were meeting here for one of their summits. I have never seen such a plethora of uniformed policemen in Japan. The traffic was terrible. But we finally got to the garden center at 12:30. This place is the only garden center that we had ever seen with a multi-leveled parking garage and it was packed with customers. There were lines of purchasers behind each of the multitude of cash registers. Poinsettias, Cyclamen, Pansies, Orchids and every thing that one could think of related to gardening was available, but very few woodies. The seed section was a store within itself. Rick and I got several Rohdeas at a very good price. We leave here at 1:00.

We arrive back at Taka’s nursery at 2:45 to unload our plants and then we go back to the hotel at 3:00 to get ready for the train ride later that evening. At 5:30, Taka meets us at the hotel where we walk the one block to the local train station. After getting our tickets, we leave at 5:54 for one of two of the main downtown Tokyo train stations to catch the bullet train to Kyoto. We have to change trains one time before arriving downtown. This is why one needs a Japanese to help in situations like this. We arrive close to 7:00 and then get some box meals to carry with us on the bullet train. One has to make reservations if one hopes to get a non-smoking car and also to be able to sit together. Taka had made reservations several days before. Both Rick and Fred told me that they had to take a “smoking” car last fall and both nearly died!!! We left at about 8:00 and arrived in Kyoto (the old imperial capital of Japan) at 10:42 p.m. I think we only make two stops along the way. We walk the short distance to the hotel which was booked full. We thought that we might have to share a room, but they had some cancellations. But one of us had to take a “smoking” room, so I volunteered for that. I was in my room by 11:00 and could not smell any sign of smoke at all. We had to get up early because we wanted to leave by 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

Sunday, November 14
I was up at 4:15 and we meet in the lobby of the hotel at 5:30 and proceed to walk to the car rental lot. We arrive at one location from which we are suppose to pick up our car, but it was closed, so Taka calls and our pickup place is about a block and a half away. At 5:50 we leave in our rental car where we are to travel to Mr. Masayoshi Yano’s home. He is most certainly Japan’s, if not the world’s foremost authority on Maples. We made good time, so we stop at a MacDonald’s for breakfast at 6:45 in a small town on the way. We arrive at his town at 7:20. Even this early on Sunday morning, we see girls going to play tennis in their school uniforms. We proceed to find Mr. Yano’s home with our GPS device. We pass several sawmills where they are milling Cryptomeria and Chamaecyparis for lumber. We arrive at his home at 8:00 and are invited in. Taka had told us that he was a real coffee connoisseur. We removed our shoes and were invited to sit on the floor at his dining table. He most certainly had no heat in the house and my socked feet nearly froze. He emerged with a tray coffee cups with cream and sugar, and it was quite delicious. He spoke no English, so Taka had to do all of the translating. We were able to get a copy of his book, Book for Maples (No, I didn’t make a mistake with the name) which he autographed for us in a most beautiful form with a brush. We were then invited around his home to examine all of his “maple” artifacts, with stacks of kimonos, all with maples in their fabric, whether leaves, seed, etc. He had a collection of maple syrups from all over the world and porcelain artifacts with maple leaves on them. But the most intriguing of all were small “creatures” made with various portions of maples and other plants. I took many pictures of these.

He showed us pictures of his breeding work where he is working on developing a red-leaf form of A. oliverianum. This would be ideal for warmer climates like the gulf coast here in the U. S. He has chosen two selections but plans on doing more crosses. We are then escorted outside where we take a tour of over 1600 named cultivars of Acers. He is trying to find a municipality that will take his collection, including all of his artifacts for a museum, but so far he hasn’t found any takers.

We walk outside to begin our tour of maples. I notice on a small table with a collection of plants of all types, but one stood out amongst all of the others, a small variegated Vaccinium-looking species which he said was a gift. This plant was truly stunning, low mounding with small red fruit and with each leaf having a pink margin. We later found it at Gotemba Nursery and it was identified as Oxycoccus quadripetalus.

He shows us a specimen of Acer pycnanthum which is the Japanese equivalent of our A. rubrum. He tells us that some branches will be male and some female, and also, that some will be female when young and then change to male when older. I found out that A. nikko is now A. maximowiczianum. I think that the best tea that I have ever had in Japan was from the leaves of this species served to us by Mr. Hagiwara’s wife. Mr. Yano is a professional photographer and he made all of the photos in his book.

I gave him my gift plants and Rick gave him a Master’s cap which he wore the whole time we were there, as well as Fred’s head lamp.

He had several rather large greenhouses filled with maples as well as two large fields where the plants had been dug and put in containers. One of the most surprising facts to me is the problem that many Japanese who live out in the country have with wild pigs decimating their gardens. Over his entire piece of property there were electric wires everywhere to protect his plants, but one could easily see that even the previous evening he had had many intruders. He had several small shade houses which contained his recent grafts.

We leave Mr. Yano’s at 11:10 and head for Toyota which was on the north side of Nagoya to see one of the foremost Camellia growers in Japan. We arrive a little early at about 1:00 p.m. We drive around for a few minutes but then go to his greenhouses where we are met by Kazuaki Maeda (pronounced Mida) the son of the owner. Taka also pointed out that his father Satoru Maeda was the president of one of the largest garden center chains in Japan. Taka said that he was always so friendly and smiling. They grow over 1,000 cultivars and seventeen species of Camellias. Some of their tropical species Camellias had leaves over 18 inches long with pronounced venation. The new growth on many were a deep burgundy. I asked him about the availability of C. amplexicaulis which I had gotten several years earlier and lost when I forgot to put it in the greenhouse for the winter. He grafts this cultivar and they were not ready. But then he showed me several plants with which he had crossed this species with C. japonica, and he gave me a large stem of each to take back and graft myself. I’m anxious to see if they will take. He showed me his first flower buds on one of these that looked like they would open in a few days.

The elder Maeda then arrived and Taka was right. He was quite congenial. Taka was anxious to meet him to see if he could develop a new customer. This is one of the added advantages with the Japanese accompanying us to different nurseries. After picking out a number of selections of Camellias and one Eurya, I saw several large plants of C. azalea (now the name C. changii has priority over the name C. azalea) which I thought Fred might be able to grow outside in Darien. It has survived several years outside in Savannah, so Fred bought two plants of this. This is a species which was only discovered and named in the mid 1980’s, but it is from a very mild area of southern China, so it was thought to be very cold tender. But it flowers year around if kept in a warm greenhouse. It flushes, sets flower buds and then they open almost immediately. In the U. S. an effort has been made to cross it with other species in an effort to produce a summer flowering Camellia but with very little success. But Kazuaki seems to be having good success with a number of crosses. I asked him about this and he talked as if there was very little problem.

Kazuaki spoke amazingly good English and showed us a large Pachysandra which he had found in China. He was looking for Camellias in the wild where the ground was covered in snow. He kept smelling something that was very fragrant and thought that it was a Camellia until he realized that it was this Pachysandra. It was more shrub-like than ground cover-like. The leaves were huge. He has yet to propagate it.

Mrs. Maeda arrives and prepares us tea and cookies, sitting on the floor of course at a table there at a small dining area at the nursery. One thing about the Japanese, they certainly don’t waste money on chairs. The Maeda’s agree to ship our plants back to Kawaguchi rather than having us carry them back ourselves. This arrangement has worked with great success before with many nurserymen on our travels doing this for us.

We then drive to downtown Nagoya, a large coastal city south of Tokyo, where we check into our hotel. Taka puts his car in one of the most fascinating innovations in Japan, the multi-staked garages where one’s car is driven onto a small deck and then with much rumbling and shuffling behind a closed garage door, it is mysteriously parked in staked shoe-box fashion. The next morning the attendant enters a code from your receipt and then again after some rumbling, your car magically appears as the door opens. Taka speaks highly of the spicy chicken wings for which Nagoya is noted. Shortly we find a restaurant with chairs! This is relief for my back. This was one of our most enjoyable meals that we had in Japan. I didn’t record the dishes, but as per Taka style, they kept coming until I had to stop eating. We discuss our agenda for the next day and decide to visit Mr. Yamaguchi in Mizunami, Gifu Prefecture First and then go on to Chikori Nursery further up in the mountains and then return back to Nagoya to visit Ishiguro Nursery. We get back to our rooms at a reasonable time, so I’m able to get to bed early.

Monday, November 15
I get up at 5:15 and we leave the hotel at 7:00, too early to get breakfast at the hotel, and head out of Nagoya for Mizunami. This is the inland direction and about an hour and a half away with a normal person driving, but with Taka, it’s only 45 minutes! We arrive in Mizunami at 7:45 and find a MacDonald’s for breakfast. We leave here at 8:30 for Mr. Yamaguchi’s and arrive there at about 9:00. The minute one leaves Mizunami for Mr. Yamaguchi’s, the roads are only one lane wide and very windy up in the mountains, with mirrors at almost every curve to see whom you are about to meet head on. When we arrive, there were two Chinese professors with him and we are escorted into his home. As usual, we look at many pictures. Mrs. Yamaguchi prepares green tea, then coffee, and serves them with cookies, raw peanuts and “squid chips.” No, that’s not a mistake. They looked like potato chips but a little redder, and were made of dried squid. Then she brought out my favorite, a bowl of sliced persimmon. Oh, so delicious! He shows us pictures of a selection of Hosta longipes which he says is a very late bloomer, as late as October, with extremely long trumpets. He later breaks off a number of flower stalks with green seed pods intact and gives them to me.

We then go outside to look at plants. The most showy plant that I saw was a dwarf Enkianthus in brilliant fall color. I think that this was the most brilliant red I have ever seen on a plant. In one of his greenhouses, there was an Ardisia with HUGE red berries. We later found that it was a new species that Mikadori Oguisu had found in China. It resembles A. crenata, but the leaves had a pewter-green color with a darker green margin. He gave me two small seedlings of this. I then saw a stunning small variegated Dogwood which was planted outside. He said that it was Cornus melanotrika which I thought was too cold tender for his area. He has literally many feet of snow in the winter and would probably be zone 6 at least, maybe even zone 5. He gave me two small plants of this which were completely defoliated by the time I got our plants from the inspection station. He also pulled up three color versions of Impatiens omeiensis, pink, burgundy and orange and gave them to me. He then took me into one of his houses and gave me two selections of a cross between Cornus hongkongensis and Cornus angustata which had pale pink flowers. The bracts were extremely broad and rounded. C. hongkongensis is probably a zone 8 plant, so maybe the added cold hardiness of C. angustata will give it a broader range. He then pulled up several plants of a variegated Dichroa febrifuga and gave them to me. He also gave us two separate species of Callicarpa, one I may already have.

Some years earlier, I had been assured by Mr. Oguisu that there was a yellow flowering Loropetalum. When I asked “How yellow?” he pointed to a small yellow chrysanthemum flower on my plate which was brilliant yellow. Ever since, I have been asking about this plant. We had been told that Mr. Yamaguchi had it, but when we asked him with Taka translating, he kind of laughed and pointed to a shrub which came from Mr. Oguisu, which he said was only a cream yellow. So I’m not too optimistic. But he broke off several branches and gave them to me. I have them stuck in my greenhouse here with bottom heat.

Mr. Yamaguchi had thousands of seedling Mahonias in several of his greenhouses. They were still in their seed trays.

We then put our plants into a box to head over to Chikori nursery at about 10:45. This is about an hour from Mr. Yamaguchi but further up in the mountains. We stop at a convenience store to grab something for lunch. We arrive at Chikori at 12:00. One can’t imagine the variety of plants in such a small area. It is nothing short of incredible. One will many times see “one-of-a-kind” type of plants which he has yet to propagate, so we often have to get used to hearing, “Not for sale.” The most incredible plant that we see here is a selection of Aucuba japonica that Mr. Oguisu found in China. It’s almost impossible to describe with its white leaves with green veins and heavily serrated leaves. Fred purchased it but left it in Japan to be propagated. It is almost impossible to root, so it has to be grafted. I know that this sounds odd for an Aucuba. But one thing that I have noticed in Japan is that the nurserymen never use a rooting hormone; whereas we do. And many plant selections that we commonly root, the Japanese still graft. So I’m wondering if they have ever even tried hormones with many of these plants. Another plant was a variegated Schizophragma hydrangeoides which had the most incredible variegation that I have ever seen, with pewter colored leaves and a white margin. Truly awesome! He promised to have it propagated for us next year. I have pictures of what appeared to be the same thing at our next stop, Ishiguro Nursery near Nagoya.

I purchased two unusual Tricyrtis which were destroyed by the inspection station. We all got an unusual Hedera helix with incredible leaves and we each got a very narrow leaf Aucuba japonica. I also got two different variegated evergreen Disporopsis and a variegated Osmanthus fragrans. We all got an unusual variegated Osmanthus heterophyllus which had purple new growth. I accidentally left my notebook here when we left which they mailed to me two days later.

At 1:30 we leave for Ishiguro Nursery back near Nagoya. We arrive here at 3:00. Mr. Yamaguchi leads the way on a very circuitous route all the way back to Nagoya with the two Chinese professors. We think that he was giving them a tour of the nursery distric here, which Taka says is one of the most concentrated outside of the nursery area around Yamaguchi. We have really found this nursery to be one of our best discoveries. It has more variety than many others, and everything is grown in mostly quart size pots or smaller. If one was here in the spring, one would buy four times as much, with so many perennials and woodies in flower. It is operated by Mr. Ishiguro and his daughter and son-in-law. They have many perennials as well as woodies. I give him my gift pack of plants and Rick gives him a Master’s cap which he keeps on the whole time and Fred gives him a head lamp.

I think that I got three new selections of Rhodoleia henryi. This plant is in the family Hamamelidaceae and has 1.5 inch wide rose red flowers with evergreen leaves of 2 to 3 inches on long petioles and extremely silvery undersides, only exceeded by the bottom of Croton alabamensis leaves. The flowers are awesome as they are flared out similar to Illicium floridanum. I took my first cuttings this year from plants which I purchased four years ago. They rooted nearly 100% using firm wood in late July and early August. The two parent plants have been left outside, unprotected for the entire time with no damage at all. Even last year with our coldest winter ever, they were unscathed. Most Americans are more familiar with Rhodoleia championii which is mostly considered a zone 9 plant, but I really believe that it is more hardy that that. R. henryi is listed in Flora of China as growing at elevations of over 8,000 feet. It is obvious that the Japanese are beginning to make selections of it that flower more heavily even on small plants. Most of the plants that I purchased were covered in flower buds as they are very prominent at this time of year. One of the selections that I purchased was even grafted.

Another fascinating find was a small plant with bronzed leaves. I asked the son-in-law what this was and he brought me one of his books and pointed out Abelia serrata var. buchwaldii with bight yellow flowers. The species A. serrata has white flowers with a yellow throat. It appears to be a deciduous species but it might give breeders in the U. S. something to work with to add this color to evergreen forms.

In one of his greenhouses I saw several of the plants that I had given him some years ago, including a variegated form of Myrsine africana with my name tag still attached. The plant had become a real specimen. I got several Irises for which I had been searching, but these have been destroyed at the inspection station. Here again, he agrees to ship our plants back to Yamaguchi so we won’t have to take them on the train.

We stay until it is practically dark and then head back into Nagoya to get the bullet train back to Tokyo. We get to the station in time to get a box meal to carry on the train. I love this ride when we have daylight, because there is such a majestic view of Mt. Fuji, but alas it was dark all the way. Even though we are getting back to Tokyo fairly late, the trains are crammed full all of the way out to our location in Kawaguchi. We have discussed with Taka that we would really like to visit Gotemba on Tuesday if he can find us a driver, since we could not get there on Saturday. He’s amazing. He’s gets it all worked out with a driver that speaks English, another young nurseryman.

Tuesday, November
Osawa, a young nurseryman who has driven us before, meets us at the hotel at 7:00 and we leave for Gotemba Nursery. Gotemba is a small town by Japanese standards, but appears to me to be about the size of Augusta. One doesn’t get far out of Tokyo when Mt. Fuji becomes visible if it is a clear day, and early on today it was beautiful. The drive is very pleasant and quite scenic as the trees are turning. But nothing measures up to the fall color in Appalachia. Rick and I agree it can’t be matched anywhere. We stop along the expressway for a break and for Fred and Rick to get their coffee “fix.” We arrive at Gotemba at about 9:45. We had looked forward to getting a closer picture of Mt. Fuji here, but even though the nursery was in the sun, the peak of Mt. Fuji was hidden in clouds.

This nursery is run by three brothers and an older father. We did not see the elder, so we don’t know if he is still with us, because when we last saw him, he was getting quite feeble. One of the bothers speaks fairly good English and they pull out all of their reference books when we arrive, so that when we ask about the identity of a particular plant, they can look it up and point to the Latin name. I picked out several small species Irises, but they were destroyed at the inspection station.

We found the small Vaccinium-like plant with the pink margins that we had seen at Mr. Yano’s (the Acer man) place on Sunday. They looked it up for us and showed us the name: Oxycoccus quadripetalus. Does anyone know this species? I think it was in their book of native Japanese plants. It is obviously in the family Ericaceae. Each of us got one of these. Here are some of the other plants that I purchased here:

Tricyrtis – a very broadleaf variegated form. (Destroyed by inspection station)

Epimedium – two evergreen forms. One of them emerges with white new growth in the spring which slowly turns light green with white flecking. I have always wanted to see the Epimediums in flower in Japan, but we would have to visit in March and April, an impossibility. In my estimation, this is one of my favorite perennials, but we are probably a little far south to grow it at its best. Although Ozzie Johnson really has some awesome specimens in his garden in Marietta, GA, just north of Atlanta.

Plantago sp. – burgundy foliage. I had gotten a Plantago lanceolata from them several years before with white margins, but I had lost it. I asked them about this but they longer had it.

Trachelospermum asiaticum – This is one of the most dwarf forms that I have ever seen and it has a yellow center to its leaves with green margins.

Schizophragma hydrangeoides – Rick and I got two different cultivars with variegated foliage, hoping that one of them will be the one that we saw at Chikori and Ishiguro Nurseries the day before.

Sarcococca hookerana dygina – It looked a little different from the form that I have.

Deutzia crenata – Splashed yellow leaves which I had never seen before.

Our driver Osawa spotted a rooted cutting of a variegated form of Illicium floridanum. It was a sport of Illicium floridanum ‘Variegated’ (which has an irregular yellow blotch in the middle of the leaf) and which they had purchased from Bob McCartney at Woodlanders some years before. Bob says that they are regular customers. Osawa bought this and they were able to find another rooted cutting which Fred purchased, and it is now in my custody. It only has one leaf.

From here we drive the five minutes to Nonohana garden center and arrive there at 10:05. If one took the name of this nursery literally, in English it would translate “Of Of Flowers” but I’m sure that’s not the meaning in Japanese. My main purpose here was to look for Campylotropis macrocarpa. I have the clone which is in America, but their selection has bronze new growth and the leaves are much smaller. This makes the flowers show off much better. For those not familiar with this species, it could be easily confused with a Lespedeza species. I had purchased this plant here four years ago and had two of them in 3 gallon containers when we had an early October freeze in 2008 with a low of 19F. This killed both plants outright even though this species is listed as being hardy to zone 5, but they were both in active growth. I also purchased a plant of Farfugium japonicum with the most lacy-serrated foliage that I have ever seen. It puts the cultivar ‘Cristata’ to shame. We all got several plants of a beautiful little Carex sp. It had narrow leaves with white margins and they had used it extensively in many combination pot arrangements throughout the nursery. There was a cultivar of Parthenocissus henryana which emerges with almost white new growth. It slowly hardens off to the pewter colored leaf of the species. I think with vine connoisseurs, this will really be a hit. Barry Yinger referred to this cultivar as ‘Dusted.’ I purchased two plants of this.

This little garden center has one of the most unique “sitting” rooms which serves as a garden display as well. There are many seasonal specimen plants in addition to combination plantings arranged in the “Koten Engei” fashion on multi-level “stair-step-like” shelves which are about 50 feet long, with a sofa in the front where one might sit and enjoy the plants on exhibit. In another area in the main greenhouse there are several steel cabinets with access controlled by lock and key. Things here are so valuable, that they must be protected against prying fingers. I have often said that Japanese would not think of stealing money, but now plants, that’s an entirely different matter!!!

Another unusual aspect of this nursery is that there are always Christian hymns playing on the intercom all over the nursery. I commented on their music several years back and the owner’s wife commented, “Yes, we Christians.” I saw some of my plants for sale in the nursery that I had taken them in a gift pack on previous visits. Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Duet’ was one. When the owner rang up my basket of selections, I gave him my business card. He then seemed to remember me, even though I had not been here in three years. He motioned for me to wait while he ran into a back room. He emerged with something wrapped in newspapers and held it out to me with both hands and said, “Gift.” I thanked him as well as I could in English. When I got back to our van I unwrapped it and it was a hand-made porcelain cup and saucer. There was a handsome price tag attached to the bottom of the saucer. We leave here at 10:40 to head back towards home. The drive is rather imposing with numerous tunnels and majestic mountainous views. But we did learn one good thing from this outing: don’t ever go to Gotemba in the fall on a weekend.

Taka called Osawa on his cell phone and told him to take us back through Yokohama to visit this new garden center which had just opened the previous summer. Makiko had told us about this several days earlier. We arrived here at about 12:45. It was designed on an English format, but we all thought that it did not fit Japan at all. Even the plant selection was very poor by Japanese standards, mostly catering to the nouveau gardener. One even has to pay a fee to tour their “English” garden, but it needed several more years to mature properly. But they had an excellent restaurant which we all thought was quite good. From here we drive back to Yamaguchi. We leave our plants at Kobayashi Nursery and Osawa takes us back to our hotel.

We found out that we made a mistake here. We should have started our plant washing process this afternoon instead of waiting until the next day. We live and learn. It really takes about a day and a half to adequately complete the process.

Taka meets us at our hotel and we go and pick up Mr. Shibamichi and Mr. Suzuki who are going to eat with us for dinner. We come back to the hotel and park the van, then begin to walk around looking for a restaurant. When we find one that is not packed with customers, we take a table and sit on the floor. Or course we Americans look for a place against the wall where we can sit. Taka begins to order and we begin to eat. Just next to us was a table of men who were really enjoying themselves with plenty of sake. They were getting rather rowdy when one of them got up and started singing. Everyone in the restaurant began singing and clapping with him. Taka told us that the song was from a movie out of the 50’s which everyone in Japan knows because they play it every year on television. The singer was really quite good!

The next waitress who walked over to our table with my Coke, looked so familiar, but I knew that with the millions of Japanese living in this area that surely I would not be able to recognize one from a previous visit. Then when she handed me my drink, she just screamed and pointed at me. Then it dawned on me that she operated the small restaurant to which we were always taken for our first meal upon our arrival in Japan. She squeezed in to sit by me at the table. Now she was operating this restaurant. What a surprise! I won’t tell you how much sake the others had imbibed, but I was getting anxious to get back to the hotel to work on our plant list for the Japanese inspection station. So I began to get up to leave when all of the others followed. We were walking the couple of blocks to the hotel when the others lingered behind and went in to another “pub.” Well, I heard them come to their rooms about an hour and a half later. It still took me another hour to finish the list. Several years earlier Taka had given me a Latin-to-Japanese dictionary on a CD for my computer where I can drag and drop an item into a plant list. Before, we would have to leave a list with Dr. Yakoi and he would do this for us for the inspection station. But it still lacks a lot of plants that we purchase – Stachyurus is a good example of one of the genera that are missing from it.

Wednesday, November
We go out at 7:00 a.m. to look for a place to get some breakfast. I’m about the only one that has to have real food for breakfast. I think Fred and Rick could live on coffee alone. Osawa picks us up at the hotel at 8:00 to take us over to Kobayashi Nursery to begin the most laborious task of all – washing plants in preparation for packing them for the Japanese inspection station. We have found that a plant retains enough moisture from just the washing process to pack them in zip-lock bags. Often when we use sphagnum or other damp materials to pack them in, it almost keeps the plants too moist. The day was miserable: cold, misty and windy. I had put on three shirts and two pairs of pants and two pairs of socks. We are making fairly good progress when Osawa shows back up with a “heat pack” for each of us. He pulls up the back of our shirts and puts them there against our backs. That really helped. These nurserymen are so thoughtful.

At noon, one of Taka’s new employees, Wakana Kaneko, a beautiful young lady comes and introduces herself to us and tells us that she has come to take us to lunch. She speaks excellent English. We walk a few hundred yards down the alley-size street to a small mom-and-pop restaurant which we had eaten at many times before. The only table available was occupied, so we have to sit on the floor once again. Upon removing my shoes, I found a friendly wall on which to lean. Wakana ordered for us and we had a sumptuous meal. There were two older ladies who came in later and sat at the table next to us. They kept looking in our direction (believe me, Fred Hooks and Rick Crowder are hard to miss in Japan) and said something to Wakana. Wakana said that they had told her to tell us that we handled chop sticks really well to be Americans! Well, how about that!

We asked Wakana where she had learned her English and she replied that she had learned it from school and English conversation classes which meet once a week on Thursday evenings. She was planning a visit to San Diego in 2011 for her first visit outside of Japan. I got her to write her name with Roman letters in my notebook, and then I got her to write it using the classic Japanese alphabet as well as with the phonetic alphabet. That would really be fascinating to learn. Taka has an account here so she would not allow us to pay. Apparently the owner just writes it down because nothing is ever signed.

Upon getting up to leave, Fred told Wakana to tell those in the restaurant how much we really love Japan and especially the people, which she promptly did. The others were leaving when I was last to get out of my corner and struggling to get into my shoes, when an old man got up from another table, came up to me smiling, put out hands with outstretched arms, grabbed both of my hands, and then drew me to himself and hugged me. To be frank, I was close to tears; it was such a moving moment. When I went outside, I told the others what had just happened and Rick commented, “I think I would have cried.” There are many momentous moments on our visits. This has to be one of the most memorable.

When we return to our plant washing, Taka checks on our progress, and we see that it will be impossible to get our plants finished for the pickup by UPS at 4:00 to take them to his broker. His broker is going to get our phytosanitary certificate and ship our plants to the U.S.D.A. Inspection Station in the U. S. I was constantly going back and forth to my laptop adding plants which we found that were not on our list. We put them all in two large boxes and then Taka tells us that we have to have a packing list for the separate boxes as to the particular plants that are in those boxes. So here’s another task. We have to unpack them, make a list as to what is in that particular box and then make a packing list for each box. And you folks all thought that we just come over here to play!!! I have a portable printer that I carry with me so that we can get all of this accomplished. Then after all of this, we have to have an invoice for U. S. Customs, but Taka said that he could take our list and prepare the Customs invoice using his nursery’s letterhead.

We finally finish and leave for the hotel around 7:00. Taka is to meet us here for our going away dinner of blow fish. The hotel chef which is also the owner has the tables set for us in the small hotel dining room. Then the courses begin to be presented. Now, blow fish is a fish whose internal organs are deadly poisonous, so one has to really know what they are doing when preparing it so that no poisonous organs come in contact with the edible parts. I had to run up to my room to get my camera, because half of the experience in eating Japanese food is the presentation which is done so artistically. We were brought various courses of salads, soups, etc. The first course of the blow fish was prepared in a wok on a burner at our tables in boiling water, with added vegetables such as mushrooms, cabbage, various greens, etc. This part of the blow fish was so bony that ceramic urns were set on the table in which to put the bones. Each succeeding course was better and tastier. Ginkgo “nuts” were brought out. I find these really delicious. At one point the chef brought out a dish with round crusted objects. Taka said, “I’ll bet you can’t guess what this is. It’s the eyes of something.” I tried to think of the most bizarre thing that the Japanese eat and then I replied, “Squid eyes.” Taka then replied, “How did you know?” This is one time my guess was right. As we ate our dinner a number of other nurseryman friends begin to show up: Areyama, Ryuji (whom we had not seen on this visit) and Kasahara, and the chef and waitress continued bringing in the various courses for them that we had already been served. So they must be prepared for this unpredictability of their fellow countrymen.

Taka decides that we don’t need to leave for the airport the next morning until 9:00 a.m. because we don’t have to be at the inspection station. Taka’s broker is taking care of that. So we head back to our rooms to pack.

Thursday, November 18
At 8:55 Takahashi, Taka’s employee who picked us up on our in-coming flight, met us at our hotel. He takes us back to Kobayashi Nursery. Taka hands me my note book which came in the mail and I had left at Chikori nursery on Monday. He then handed me a bag containing a camera. Now I must regress a few months.

Back in February I get a call on my cell phone which began with “81,” the Japanese country code. It was Mr. Ishii, mentioned earlier in my notes. He, along with Mr. Yamaguchi was the first two nurserymen that visited our nursery eleven years ago and this began my Japanese saga. Mr. Ishii informed me that he and a nursery companion were coming to Augusta the next day and he wanted me to pick them up at the airport and to make hotel reservations for them. They were to arrive at 9:00 p.m. He also asked me if they could visit the “Augusta International Golf Course” (the Augusta National Golf Club where the Master’s tournament is played). I promptly informed him that this would be impossible since it was a very exclusive private club. This seemed to settle the issue. Apparently his companion was an avid golfer and also a plant broker in the Tokyo area.

I was at the Augusta airport well before 9:00 p.m. the next evening, but no Mr. Ishii. In a few minutes I get a call on my cell phone with the tell tale “81” leading the number. Apparently he and his companion were flying into Atlanta from Houston and weren’t aware of the time change, so they missed their Augusta flight from Atlanta and had to wait for the next one, which would not arrive in Augusta until 11:30 p.m. Upon claiming their luggage and loading them into my pickup, Mr. Ishii informed me that he needed to go to our office because he had to get a fax. Sure enough, we get to our office at about 12:15 a.m. and there was the fax. He was apparently preparing a bid, because he worked with some figures for some time and then faxed it back to Japan. We finally got to their hotel at about 1:30 a.m. and I arrange to pick them up at 7:00 the next morning.

They were ready at 7:00 and we went for breakfast, then on to our nursery. We begin walking our fields and his companion starts to pick out a number of plants and Mr. Ishii starts to make an order list for himself. Then it dawned on me that I have a friend who is an avid plantsman and he is also a member of the Augusta National Gold Club. In addition, he is head of the grounds committee at the club. I called him and gave him the request. I told him that I had two Japanese nurserymen who would think that they had died and gone to heaven if they could see the Augusta National. But I emphasized that if he had to say “no” that that would be no problem because they weren’t expecting it anyway. He said that he had a luncheon at 12 noon but if I could meet him in front the club, then we could get into his vehicle and he “would give them a tour that they would never forget.” Well, after packing the plants and taking Mr. Ishii’s order which he wants us to ship to him, we go for lunch and then meet my friend at 1:30. Sure enough, they got the tour of their lives. The course was actually well under way in getting set up for the Master’s tournament, but he showed them every nook and cranny of the course. We went all over the course as well as in the background of all of the preparations. He allowed them to take all of the pictures that they wanted. As we were leaving, my friend said that he wished he had time to take them into the pro shop but he was afraid that we could not get them to the airport by 3:30. I assured him that we had time for a 10 minute stop. In 5 minutes they had piled $1,500 worth of purchases on the counter. I’m sure most of them were for gifts. And yes we did get to the airport on time.

Now back to our last day in Japan. Every few days Taka would tell me that Mr. Ishii’s companion had called to see what kind of food l liked because he wanted to take me out to dinner. Taka laughed and said that he really wanted to play the Augusta National. Now in the bag that Taka handed me was a Sony digital camera that had a GPS device in it and would record wherever a picture was taken. I have since found that this camera cost over $1,000 here in the states!!! The moral to this story: don’t ever carry someone to the Augusta National as a favor. Having grown up in the Augusta area, it has never seemed to be that big of a deal with me. We have often sold them plants. But a friend of mine was on the waiting list for tickets for nineteen years before she got tickets. The last person who I knew was on the waiting list was on it for 23 years before he got tickets. So it must be a pretty big deal to some folks.

We leave Kobayashi Nursery at 9:15 for the Narita Airport, Japan’s main international airport. After very slow traveling for the first 45 minutes we get on to the main expressway to Narita and then traffic speed really picks up. On the way we pass what our driver called the Tokyo Sky Tree. This was a humongous tower similar in appearance to the Seattle Sky Needle, but much larger. It is about two thirds complete and when finished it is suppose to be the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest man-made structure. One can “Google” it to see pictures. We arrive at the airport at 10:45 in what seems to be record time and Takahashi puts us out at the door. We walked into an almost empty lobby. In the past, we could not check in until just a couple of hours before our flight and the line would wrap around the airport. But Rick walked up to the counter and asked the attendant if we could go ahead and check in. We were allowed to check in then with no line at all. We were finished by 11:00 and then we went through security and customs. By 11:20, we were already in the Delta Lounge. WOW!!! Oh what luxury. The food and drinks are everything that one could imagine. Computers were all around the outside solid glass windows looking over the airport. The flower arrangements were over six feet tall and were some of the most exquisite that one could imagine. Rick’s flight was to leave at 2:30; whereas, Fred’s and mine did not leave until 3:30, so he had to leave the lounge at 1:30. His flight was to go back through Detroit and then on to Charlotte.

Fred and I left the lounge at 2:30 and were able to board shortly thereafter. Fred had an inside seat but was able to get it changed to an aisle seat. This flight was very smooth, just like the flight over and we arrive in Atlanta at 1:50, Thursday, which means we get back before we leave! Of course we cross back over the international date line. But it took two hours to get through immigration, customs and claim our luggage. The luggage was the big hold up. I met my van at 5:30. I called my sister Donna who was to pick me up at the Augusta EZ Ride station at 8:15.

Our plants got to the inspection station in good order and we were able to get them potted so that we will have some new great plants to offer to America.


Copyright © 2006 Nurseries Caroliniana, Inc.