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Nonogenarian has life-long love affair with flowers

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2009-05-30

Uto Yohena loves gardening, and knows just about everything there is to know about both tangerines and hydrangea gardens.

The nonagenarian—that’s a person who’s lived at least 90, but less than 100 years—has spent her very full life in northern Okinawa, raising both flowers and children. Uto is eying the sky this spring and worrying “somehow the sky doesn’t cry this year. It looks like the sky is thirsty,” referring to the shortage of rain before the season began a week ago. She’s convinced the weather will bring things around, and says although the garden’s “a little late”, she predicts the transformation from 50~60% blossoms will fill her hydrangea garden to full stature by next week.

Uto’s been raising hydrangea for about 30 years now, having made the switch from tangerines. “My garden was actually a tangerine field until 30 years ago,” she says, “but I love flowers so I planted the hydrangea flower garden along the paths between tangerine trees.” Her love for the purple flowers blossomed, then became a passion as tourists “began visiting my small flower and tangerine garden,” she says. “Tourists increased more and more so I decided to make it a hydrangea garden only.”

The 92-year-old grandmother now has more than 9,000 hydrangea scattered across the 9,900 square meters of garden at her home in Motobu Town’s Izumi area. Of the 78 species of hydrangea, Uto has about three dozen, mostly 1-3 meter tall shrubs. She’s proud that “my garden is a member of the nationwide Hydrangea Flower Association,” and that “my garden won the sixth best award from the West District Japan Hydrangea Garden Contest last year.”

Her hydrangea change colors depending on the soil’s acidity rate, but Uto says most are growing very well. “There are many colors blooming this year, like pink, white and blue,” Uto notes. “All together, more than 30 colors are now showing in my flowers.” She loves having tourists drop by and visit, although conceding it’s plenty of work. Still, that drives her, and she’s expanded the garden through the years because of her pride.

The garden is open most days, with the entrance fee ¥300 for adults and ¥100 for kids 6~18. “I had to begin asking visitors to pay an entrance fee for the past nine years,” Uto explains, “because operating the garden requires a lot of upkeep and maintenance, and that means expenses. Parking is available nearby.

To get to Ajisai-en drive north past central Nago on Hwy 58, and then turn left towards Motobu and Ocean Expo Park onto Route 84. Continue until you see a Jomo gasoline stand on the right across a police box on the left, turn immediately to left and Ajisai-en is on the left about 200 meters from the turn.

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