Even before Japan's current energy concerns due to the earthquake, green curtains could be spotted everywhere. Usually constructed from goya (Okinawan bitter gourd), the vines twine their way up netting to provide an extra bit of shade during the summer months. (The most famous of these is the one clamoring over the Suginami Ward Office.)
This year, of course, as a result of the problems at the Daiichi Plant and the closing of Hamaoka for precautionary reasons, the summer may be hotter yet. Word on the street has it that people are advised to set their thermostats at 28-degrees Celsius (82.4 Fahrenheit) if they feel a need to run their air conditioners. Companies and households are asked to strive for a 15-percent drop in overall energy consumption, with large users facing a fine of up to 1 million yen if they fail to comply.
As they have since the March 11th quake, Japan is responding with extraordinary resolve. The university where we teach switched to Cool Biz wear (i.e. short-sleeve shirts with the optional tie) policy a month early. They've also put reflective material on the west facing windows of many of the buildings to keep the interiors a bit cooler. People are talking about purchasing ice pillows (pillows popped in the freezer and then slept on for a cooler night), eating more ice cream (maybe that's just me), and hanging bamboo shades over windows and to protect walls from direct sun exposure. Many of my adult students also mentioned growing a green curtain for the first time ever, too, and I've seen more and more of them going up around the neighborhood.
Our green curtain is also underway, but with a few changes this year. The goya vine is sending tendrils out already, but I mixed in morning glory, cucumber, and on a whim: scarlet runner beans. The last should add some terrific foliage, lovely red flowers, and some tasty beans, to boot. I'm also betting they'll add a nice bit of nitrogen to the pot, which the other plants will appreciate as they season goes along. (FYI, the seeds are still lying in wait in the top photo. Meanwhile, the other plants are working on climbing higher to enjoy their sunny view of the neighborhood.) Since I mix edible and ornamental in the garden it seemed only logical to bring that same philosophy to my balcony garden.
Use plants for shade or energy conservation techniques? If so, do tell! This summer promises to be a hot one, so I'm looking for all the ideas I can find.