New Orleans Japanese Haven

City Park in New Orleans has nestled in its midst the New Orleans Japanese Gardens, known formally as Yakumo Nihon Teien. Yakumo is the assumed Japanese name of the prominent New Orleans writer, Lafcadio Hearn. Lafcadio was deeply stirred and inspired by the Japanese culture in his visits to Japan, and brought much of what he saw and learned back to Louisiana through his prose and poetry. Nihon Teien translates to Japanese Garden. For beauty and the opportunity to enjoy quiet meditation in a natural setting, this is a place to visit when in New Orleans.

Japanese gardens date as far back as 500 A.D. when they were designed to replicate mountainous landscapes of China. Around 700 A.D. they began to be used as places for ceremonies and meditation. Tea houses were introduced to the gardens around the 1500’s. Tea houses are used as a place to teach the culture of Japanese and Confucian virtues.

The garden design acknowledges the importance of stones in Japanese gardens. Robin Tanner, a landscape architectural expert, and Vaughn Banting, a bonsai and horticultural expert, drove to Crossville, Tennessee to personally select stones for this garden, loaded them on their own truck and delivered them. They installed them in the garden where they became a permanent and central part of the landscape design. The garden was conceptualized in 1985 and realized in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. Many plants suffered or were lost completely in the flood, but the core landscape of the garden survived. In its restoration a tea house was added.

Upon entering the garden, the attention is drawn to the bamboo fence surrounding it. The garden design uses trees, bushes, and flowers native to Louisiana and incorporates them into the Garden with Asian plants, stone lanterns, and bamboo. The use of Stone lanterns in the Japanese garden dates back to the 1600’s when they were first used to light the pathways in Buddhist tea gardens.

The garden lends itself as a natural setting for bonsai, ikebana, and sado. Bonsai is the ancient art of growing miniature trees in trays and pots. Ikebana is a high art form of floral arrangement involving shape, line, and form and incorporating leaf and stem into the arrangement. It uses a technique called minimalism, which is the minimal use of blooms dispersed among the leaves and stalks of the arrangement. Sado is Japanese tea ceremony.

Words and pictures will never describe accurately the beauty of the garden. It simply must be experienced personally. The quiet time for meditation is a much needed commodity in any city, large or small, and the New Orleans Japanese Garden offers residents and visitors just such a place.

Ireland Japan Association – Earthquake Appeal

We have all seen the images and felt the pain. As lovers of Japanese Gardens and one of the original homes of Bonsai, we are asking for your help in ‘Helping Japan’.

The Ireland Japan Association has set up a special fund for those anxious to contribute
in a practical way to help those made homeless. The fund is called the “Ireland Japan Association – Earthquake Appeal”.

Bank Name: Bank of Ireland
Bank Address: St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2
Account Name: Ireland Japan Association – Earthquake Appeal
Account Number: 81235601
Sort Code: 900084
Swift Code: BOFIIE2D
IBAN: IE52 BOFI 9000 8481 2356 01

Aronia, A new commercial berry crop for America

Aronia melanocarpa is a woody, perennial shrub that is native to the northeastern quarter of the Umited States and Southeastern Canada.  It grows in full sun and along woodland edges.

Early in the 20th century, aronia was introduced to Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and Russia where high quality, large fruited cultivars were selected.  In the last ten years, these improved cultivars have been reintroduced to the Unites States and are being planted for commercial berry production.
Aronia melanocarpa often goes by the common name “aronia” but it also has the rather unfortunate common name of “chokeberry.”  Aronia should not be confused with chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, which is native to most of North America.  Its leaves, stems, and seeds contain toxic amounts of hydrocyanic acid (Trinklein 2007). About the only thing that chokeberry and chokecherry have in common are their sound-alike common names.  To avoid confusion, aronia is the common name most often used for Aronia melanocarpa.
Aronia is cold hardy to at least USDA Zone 3.  Its late blooms usually avoid spring frosts.  The plants grow well on any soil as long as it is well-drained.  The optimum pH is slightly acid to neutral.
Mature plants of cultivars selected for fruit production grow up to 8 feet tall with 40 or more shoots.  Selective pruning of the oldest stems on a regular basis or pruning back to a height of three feet ever three to five years is used to renew the plants.
The fruit and the foliage are not severely affected by insects or diseases.  Birds do not eat the newly ripened fruit but, if not harvested, the fruit will be eaten by birds during the winter (Hardin 1973).
“My plants have never suffered from any disease and I’ve never seen any pest on the foliage or fruit,” said Jan Riggenbach, syndicated columnist who has grown aronia plants in her trial garden in southwest Iowa for more than 30 years (Riggenbach 2008).  Japanese beetles also leave her aronia plants alone (Jan Riggenbach, personal communication, September 5, 2008).
Two years after planting aronia in research plots or commercial fields in western Iowa, the plants usually produces about two pounds of berries per bush.  By the third year, berry production is about 10 to 15 pounds per bush.  Yields levels off at 30 to 40 pounds per plant by the fifth year (Eldon Everhart personal observations 2006-2008).
The violet-black berries are firm, one-quarter inch in diameter, and produced in pendulous, loose clusters of 10 to 30 berries at the ends of the shoots.  The fruit are ripe in late August or early September and have a harvest window of 4 to 6 weeks.  To avoid bird deprivation, the fruit should be harvested as soon as all the fruit has turned dark purple.  The berries can be harvested by hand or with a mechanical harvester (Trinklein 2007).
Aronia berries are high in tannins which puckers you mouth with a dry sensation.  They are also high in sugar (17 to 22 brix) with a pH of 4.5 to 5.  They can be eaten fresh or preserved by freezing or drying.  Fresh or frozen berries can be used in baked goods or used like any other berry.  Many products are made from the berries including aronia wine, juice, tea, syrup, and candy.  The berries are also used to flavor and color yogurt, sorbet, milk, and other products.
Aronia berries are high in vitamins, minerals, and folic acids.  They are one of the richest plant sources of proanthocyanins and anthocyanins (Oszmianski and Wojdylo 2005).
Aronia berries have higher antioxidant content than blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, elderberries, grapes, and raspberries, as well as imports such as the goji and acai.  Medical research has documented many health benefits of aronia berries.  Currently, there is no data in the literature about any unwanted effects of aronia fruits, juice, or extracts (Kulling and Rawel 2008 and 2006).
“Aronia berries top the list of more than 100 foods that have been scientifically tested for antioxidant capacity,” said Dr. Xianli Wu, in an interview published in the Des Moines Register on September 21, 2008.  Dr. Wu is a researcher and assistant professor at the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.  “Researchers have looked at how aronia affects cardiovascular disease, colon and breast cancers, liver failure, and obesity,” said Dr. Wu.  “I believe aronia berries have a huge potential to be a healthy food,” he said.  “Why people don’t produce them or market them, I don’t know.”  (Sagario 2008)
The interest in “eating healthy” has led to the phenomenal worldwide growth in the popularity of aronia berries and products made from them.  This in turn is leading to the planting of aronia as an alternative cash crop in the Midwest (Trinklein 2007).
Aronia is not a new crop.  It has been grown as a commercial crop in most Eastern European countries since the 1950s.  Large scale commercial cultivation of aronia started in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s, and reached 43,984 acres in 1984 (Kask 1987).  According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Warsaw, Poland, there were 11,119 acres in Poland in 2004.  One year later the number had grown to 12,355 acres.  One Polish company alone sold 40,000 tons of aronia juice (Kampuse and Kampuss 2006).
In Europe, new business start-ups, that use aronia berries as an ingredient, have increased from just two launches in 1997 to 108 in 2007 (McNally 2008).  In 2008, berries from aronia plants planted six years ago in Scotland, were sold for the first time on High Street in London, England (Clegg 2008).
The aronia berry industry in the United States is in the early stages of development.  Current production is centered in Harrison County in western Iowa but production does not meet the current demand.  The estimated total number of commercial acres of aronia berries currently in the US is 300 to 500.  Many of the new growers are planning to at least double their acres in 2012.  At least 50 new growers are expected to plant aronia in 2011 (Eldon Everhart client contact records).
“Public interest in eating healthy, the antioxidants, and organic products is driving the interest in aronia as a commercial, easy to grow organic crop,” said Charlie Caldwell, an aronia grower in Pottawattamie County.  “We need even more research, especially on production practices and marketing.”  He sees the market increasing, as more people learn about the fruit (Sagario 2008).
Literature Cited:
Clegg, David.  2008.  A Perthshire fruit growing company is claiming to be the first in Scotland to grow the healthiest fruit in the world.  The Courier, Dundee, Scotland, August 29.
Hardin, James W.  1973.  The enigmatic chokeberries (Aronia, Rosaceae).  Bulletin of the Botanical Club 100(3): 178-184.
Kampuse, S. and K. Kampuss.  2006.  Suitability of raspberry and blackcurrant cultivars for utilization of frozen berries in dessert and for getting of products with high contents of bio-active compounds.  NJF seminar 391.
Kask, K.  1987.  Large-fruited black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa).  Fruit Varieties Journal 41: 47.
Kulling S.E. and H.M. Rawel.  2008.  Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) – A Review on the Characteristic Components and Potential Health Effects.  Planta Medica 74(13):1625-1634.
McNally, Alex.  2008.  Demand for superfruit aronia rockets.  Decision News Media. January 8.
Oszmianski, Jan and Aneta Wojdylo.  2005.  Aronia melanocarpa phenolics and their antioxidant activity.  European Food Research and Technology 221(6): 809-813.
Riggenbach, Jan.  2008.  Midwest native black chokeberry is a favorite.  Globe Gazette, October 10.
Sagario, Dawn.  2008.  It’s the berries.  The Des Moines Register, September 21.
Trinklein, David  2007.  Aronia: A Berry Good Plant.  Missouri Environment & Garden 13(9):86.
More Aronia Information
For help starting a commercial aronia plantation or to schedule a power point presentation about aronia for a group contact:
Dr. Eldon Everhart
Everhart Horticulture Consulting
Phone: 712-254-4035

Life and works of Dan Robinson

Two months ago I was asked to review a book ‘Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees’ about the life and works of a great American Bonsai pioneer, ‘Dan Robinson’. Normally I can write copy fairly quickly, but this book stumped me (excuse the pun).

Dan Robinson is not just a Bonsai master, he is in the world of Bonsai an icon. A man who introduced many new techniques in styling and collecting Yamadori. He is also known for moving from eastern natural styling to the artistic form of tree manipulation, to put it bluntly. It would not be my style of Bonsai as I am a tree hugger I prefer the natural flow of a tree gently pruned into a desired shape, but this review is not about my opinion of modern Bonsai art, it is about a man, a book, that paints a portrait of an artist.
With this book you will find styling techniques and a biography that leads you, the reader, on a journey as a man as a tree. It is clever, different and not like any other Bonsai book that I have read. Not that I read many books from page one to index. Normally I am the hands on dude who uses a book as a reference tool so reading this was initially difficult.
The book starts out with a forward by Walter Pall, that describes the man who is seen by some of his fellow growers, as just another bonsai stylist and not a bonsai artist. Pretty unfair. The lead image shows how close Walter Pall and Dan Robinson are and the forward describes this in detail.
“In my eyes, Dan Robinson is a truly American bonsai artist. … His art is authentic, coming from nature, American nature…” by Walter Pall
Elandan Gardens, Kitsop peninsula, Washington state. You know the place, Washington state  were ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ happened. I diverse! Elandan Gardens is the home of Don and Diana Robinson. It is described as a tranquil place beside a lake surrounded by embankments that create that perfect place were an artist can think without distraction. It is close to were Dan as a child saw this tree, “A tree I’ve never seen before”.
We have all seen that tree, our own tree that inspires and creates that spark as it did with Dan. This chapter tells the story of Dan from an early childhood were he was moulded, shaped into what he is now. It is a literary description that gives you an introduction to what is behind Dan Robinson, his childhood, his family and friends. From a kid in short pants back in 42′, describing his pondering touches, a sort of early love affair with trees. You could say a very early tree hugger.
Dan in some ways is anti-establishment (my kind of dude). In the ‘Demo Years’ he describes many techniques including, how Yamadori are collected. One such technique credited to him by George Heffilinger is the ‘Papoose Wrap’. This technique increased the survival rate of Yamadori by a large percentage. Dan, being the gentleman, says that this technique originates from Vickie and Bruce Valentine, who used plastic bags to store their fresh Yamadori, as in growing boxes they would surely die. Dan describes how he uses chicken wire and plastic sheeting to wrap the root structure. It is an interesting chapter that has many stories on famous names in Bonsai and the journey. GnarlyBranches
On one such journey, Dan found that now famous celebrity tree ‘Jackie’, a tree named after ‘Jackie’s Gleason Dancing’. It took Dan four years to train Jackie before ‘he’ was presented to the American National Forestry Service in 1980. Jackie is a Ponderosa Pine or Western Yellow Pine and he is approximately 150 years old. Jackie is now permanently dancing at the American National Bonsai Foundation.
This book goes through the many stages of Dan’s life written in some ways like a ‘Mills and Boon’ novel, describing the love affair with trees and how one man has dedicated his life to his art form. Their are many great Bonsai artists, but not many who have achieved so much as Dan. To these non-Bonsai artisthobbyist this book ‘Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees’ would make a great read and occasional book. Yes you can put it on your coffee table and all who read it will enjoy, but to the Bonsai budding artist it is inspirational, full of stories and technique. In someways it does tell you how one man has tried to break the mould and carve a ‘truly American bonsai’.
Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees: The Life and Works of Dan Robinson – Bonsai Pioneer
by Will Hiltz
ISBN: 978-0-615-37850-3
Nara Press 2010, 292pp, Hardcover with dust jacket.
Photographed published with kind permission from Jason Gamby.

Anyone interested in ordering the book may do so through the Elandan Gardens web site.

Disclosure: I agreed to write this review and received the book free of charge. Anything I write is honest and upfront.