Table Speech

Gardens, however small, can impress hundreds of thousands of people --- Getting the idea from scratch

May 27, 2015

Mr. Kazuyuki Ishihara
President, Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory
Landscape Artist

 I was born in Nagasaki City thirteen years after the atomic bomb had hit the area. My parents’ house escaped damage, thanks to a small hill that shaded the blast. I grew up in an area richly endowed with nature where beautiful fireflies filled the air in June and a crowd of dragonflies in August. Such beautiful memories are unforgettable and I became fascinated with flowers.

 My father had raised cattle for a living, but due to town development he switched to growing flowers to be shipped to market. As a university student, I started to learn the art of flower arrangement at Ikeno-bo, a prominent school of Ikebana in Japan. I was fascinated to see how we could create the landscape with just three branches. To tell you the truth, I started my career doing things totally unrelated to nature that included participation in motorcycle races. After some years, however, I made a decision to pursue my career in the flower business.

 I started selling flowers as a street vendor and mastered the tactics of selling not only flowers but also myself. At the age of 29, I had my own flower shop, and over time I had 80 shops across Japan. My ambition further took me to China and Vietnam to grow flowers, but it did not go well. Just then, I was asked to landscape a garden, which gave me a chance to expand my scope into gardening and landscaping.

 Japan once had the largest number of gardeners and enjoyed the most advanced gardening culture in the world during the Edo period. The word “garden” originates from “creating Eden in a guarded space.” Gardens and greenery facilitate communication either in families or in cities.

 I got information on the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show in London through the internet and visited the Show for the first time in 2003. I was overwhelmed to find all the participants represented their country with government sponsorships. I resolved to take part in the Show and made a phone call to Buckingham Palace. I was advised to contact the Royal Horticulture Society, which welcomed my participation in 2004. I sold my house to sponsor myself and brought 25 million yen with me, without knowing how much it could actually cost to participate in a Show overseas. Just a small garden could cost 50 million yen, as you have to bring your own staff from Japan and pay many times more for materials that you actually use for your production. I created my fist garden for the Show with leftover plants given by entrants from other countries and won the Silver-Gilt Award. I have been participating in the Show for 11 consecutive years. This year I won my 4th Gold Award in the “Artisan Gardens” category for my work entitled “Edo no Niwa (Garden of Edo).” Regrettably the number of Japanese artisans including carpenters, plasterers and gardeners keeps decreasing, and I created my garden wishing that children in Japan will be interested in the world-class Japanese artisan skills and come to create their own gardens around the world in the future.

 Now, let me share some pictures of my gardens. Firstly, I created the “Christmas Sugar Mountain” in the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, which attracts 4 million visitors every year. My concept was to create an edible garden with strawberries and lettuces. I also made a Midget (three-wheeler vehicle) with moss to make children happy. Secondly, I created the “Flower Paradise” at Haneda Airport Terminal One in 2012. In the previous year, I was devastated to observe the damages done by the Great East Japan Earthquake and wished to bring back the beautiful landscapes of Japan. This is the garden of the Westin Tokyo in Ebisu. I planted 300 different kinds of plants that provide a natural living habitat for creatures like owls and fireflies.

 This is the “Edo no Niwa” created for the Chelsea Flower Show this year. 30 staff members worked on 3 shifts for 6 days to create the garden, arbor, waterfall and pond. We filled the 5-meter-wide, 7-meter-long garden with 20 kinds of Japanese maples with different color variations that made the garden look more spacious. We also planted iris, hydrangea and plants found in satoyama (countryside forest) to replicate the garden found in our daily life.

 This is the photo taken with Prince Charles at the Chelsea Flower Show. Among over 600 gardens exhibited for the 4-day Show, the Royal Family members actually see only a dozen of them. I was honored to have a few words with Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh upon their visit.

 Currently, I work with 100 gardeners to create gardens in Japan and overseas. I named 2020 the year of “Garden Olympics” with the hope that visitors from around the world will be impressed by the beauty of Japan. We also organize “open gardens” at various places and work in partnerships. We hope to expand our network to people in many different countries. I sincerely hope people will give some serious thought to greenery and try to maintain its beauty.

 My dream is to organize a garden contest similar to the Chelsea Flower Show in Japan. The other day, I had a chance to meet the Governor of Okinawa Mr. Onaga, as I designed the garden of Aeon Mall Okinawa Rycom that opened last month. Next time I meet the Governor, I am planning to talk about sending out the message of peace with flowers and greenery from Okinawa that was once turned into a bloody battlefield.