Article 1-7
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Article 7

It was the end of March, just before Easter, when I paid a visit to Leiden, the Netherlands. Unrestrained by the terrain, a bitter wind blew from the North Sea. Upon entering the Tropical Greenhouses in the Hortus Botanicus, whose connection with Siebold remains unbroken, my glasses instantaneously fogged over.

In one corner of the Hortus Botanicus there is a Japanese garden, planted in memory of Siebold. Although the garden is not so very large, it is surrounded by a Bengali red colored wall on which Japanese roof tiles have been set. In addition, there is a "karesansui" or dry run (a typical Japanese landscape which includes the dry stone bed of a brook). The Von Siebold Memorial Garden symbolizes the inexhaustible friendship between the Dutch and Japanese people.

In the back of the arbor, there stands a bust of Siebold. Probably it is a likeness of him around the time when he first came to Japan. His expression is both youthful and spirited. Tracing his line of vision, I found a Somei Yoshino cherry tree (an early blooming variety) in full bloom, its blossoms trembling in the late winter wind. There in a foreign country, finding a cherry tree in full bloom in a garden landscaped in Japanese fashion, gives one pause... a surreal experience. As I considered Siebold's career in Japan, it occurred to me that the plant specimens he collected and the botanical paintings drawn by Japanese artists and placed into his hands rest here, remnants of his unfulfilled dream. 

A stately zelkova tree stands in the garden. It is said that Siebold brought the tree from Japan in 1830 and now the passage of the years is engraved in the rings of the tree. Altogether there are some fourteen varieties of plants in the garden which were brought over by Siebold. Not only was he involved in academic research, but he also actively pursued garden landscaping and decorating European gardens with Japanese plants. Siebold was also involved in the afforestation of mountain areas.

It is further said that Siebold's fame grew when it became known that he had brought a "Kanoko lily" (Linium speciosum Thuub.) back alive from Japan. His beautiful large-scale publication, Flora Japonica, was written in French rather than Latin in order to allow large numbers of people to read it. In it plants are categorized as medicinal, edible, useful for industrial arts, useful for construction, useful for fuel, etc.

Siebold was greatly interested in Ezo (now Hokkaido) and the Ainu and found the information he learned there practical in Europe. In 1859, after a 30 year absence, Siebold returned to Japan, his fervor unabated. He called upon a Japanese poet known as "Mori no Eiyu" (hero of the forests) to gather information about cedars. As a result of encroaching civilization, mountainous areas of Southern Europe had been deforested. It is known that he searched for means by which these areas could be replanted to regenerate the forests.

In the springtime, the botanical garden's colors are as yet pale, and other than the plants in the Tropical Greenhouses, the number of flowers which I can recall seeing there are few indeed. Among these flowers, however, the primulas stand out in my mind. Pink, yellow and white blossoms, some originating from the foothills of the Himalayas - indeed it is the primulas which make the first impression of the arrival of spring.

At any rate, our own "kakko-so's" scientific nomenclature, "Primula kisoana" originates from the specimen label with the word "kizo" written by Siebold. Perhaps it is just as well that this is the name which has prevailed instead of the tentative name assigned by Siebold, "Primula hirsuta." While this name accurately describes the plant's hairy leaves and stems, one cannot help but feel sorry that such a lovely flowering plant would be assigned such an unattractive sounding name.

Copyright (C) 2000 by Akiko Minosakii , Barbara Kamiayama
& Orijin Studio Miyamae
Kiryu Gunma 376-0046 Japan