Yuri Ugaya

Everyone has at least once wished that they could make a living out of doing something that they love. Ms. Ugaya is one of those people - she took her love of gardens and turned it into a job. She is also popular as the teacher of the Group Planting Class at OVE. We asked Ms. Ugaya, the author of Superb Must-see Kyoto Gardens, how she came to love gardens so much.

“I was the type of kid who ran around in the fields and hills when I was at elementary school and I loved being in contact with nature and flowers when my mom was gardening. But I forgot about this as I grew up.”

People who do what they love for a job are special. We just assumed that Ms. Ugaya had always been in this line but we were surprised by the truth.

After graduating from university, Ms. Ugaya got a job as an ordinary office worker. It was as if she had closed off her love for gardens and her life was void of nature, flowers and greenery. However, she gradually came to feel that something was wrong. It was then that she remembered that she was really someone who had loved nature when she was little.

When she realized this, Ms. Ugaya enrolled at Awaji Landscape Planning & Horticultural Academy on Awajishima Island with the same light footwork that can be seen in the way she works nowadays, travelling from country to country. Following this, she marched onwards, spending three years studying horticulture and garden design at Niagara Parks School of Horticulture in Canada and doing an internship in a British garden. Even so, this was an unknown path, different from what she had done before. Wasn’t she anxious?

“I enrolled at horticultural school in Japan but I was still unsure at the time. I did feel a sense of completeness at studying a subject that I was interested in but I didn’t know what would happen in the future. My breakthrough was when I went to study at the horticulture school in Niagara. When I really started working on operation and maintenance of a garden from scratch, I thought, ‘Ah! The thing that I love can be a job.’”

After returning to Japan, Ms. Ugaya started working in garden design, consulting and teaching, which was her life’s work, based in Kyoto where she originally comes from and has been doing this ever since.

When you take part in one of Ms. Ugaya’s Group Planting Classes, it is marvelous how, along with everyone’s laughter, you feel close to gardening and horticulture from which you had always been slightly separated. She teaches about gardens in an easy-to-understand manner, making comparisons to foreign culture and history. One of the attractions of these classes is that you get a different view of gardens than the one you had before. How does Ms. Ugaya herself perceive gardens and plants and flowers? We were intrigued so we asked for a professional view.

Cute! Cool! I love this!
This is apparently what Ms. Ugaya says when she first sees a garden she likes. Many of you may be a little surprised by this, thinking that she has the same reaction as you. But Ms. Ugaya says these feelings are very important. What is the true meaning of this?

“It is probably a good idea to have the knowledge and skills for planting flowers rather than not having them. But it’s no fun just learning all that. It all becomes a bit dry. Plants occur in nature and I think we should have a more relaxed attitude to enjoying them. What you see when you look at a garden or a flower depends on the person but I want everyone to value these feelings.”
“When you are curious about something or you like something, you certainly want to know more about it. There is no right or wrong about the feelings that you feel. I will be happy if I can manage to communicate the importance of feeling to everyone who participates in my Group Planting Class.”

Many of the class participants are unsure about where to plant what flower and what would happen if the flower didn’t survive. Ms. Ugaya tells them not to fret if a plant dies. She says they can just replace the dead plant with a new one.

In today’s information society, we live in a convenient world in which we can look up anything we don’t know on our smartphones. There is a lot of knowledge available and we can find diverse information about keeping plants alive. We can find out about the history of plants as well, if we look it up.
But you can’t look up the feeling of “I love flowers” on a smartphone. It is Ms. Ugaya who teaches us about the experience of feeling; it is a community-like circle that grows outwards from the self-styled garden-mad and stone-obsessed Ms. Ugaya.

Ms. Ugaya always looks like she is enjoying herself when she talks about gardens or plants. More than anything, she shines bright like a flower that has burst into bloom. This must be because she is very honest about her feelings concerning what she likes.

Having constructed our minds with a huge amount of knowledge, we may now have lost even the ability to experience our own feelings such as the ties of love. It is true that there are many things that are useful in our everyday lives because they are convenient and because we have knowledge. On the flip side of that, we realize that we have fewer and fewer opportunities to be deeply moved or surprised.

OVE SANSO events have aims but they are not competitive goals. These events permit your curiosity to run free and encounter new things. This may have nothing to do with physical objects but rather concerns your feelings.

You don’t always have to go in the same direction. After all, if you can feel the love in your everyday lives, you will probably want to make different stops along the way. Somehow that’s how you feel when you see Ms. Ugaya working with her plants. The plants around us will surely give us the experience to enrich our lives.


Yuri Ugaya

Graduated from Faculty of Letters, Doshisha University with a degree in Japanese Culture and History.  Graduated from the Horticulture Course at Hyogo Prefectural Awaji Landscape Planning & Horticultural Academy. Studied horticulture and design at Niagara Parks School of Horticulture in Canada and has experience of operation and maintenance at Niagara Botanical Gardens and an internship at Kew Gardens Wakehurst in the UK. Currently based in Kyoto, she conducts garden design and consulting and teaches gardening even for apartment balconies and small gardens. She proposes gardening that incorporates the enjoyment of plants into our everyday lives in a carefree manner. She has also published a book, Superb Must-see Kyoto Gardens (published by Kobunsha/Chie no Mori Bunko) to rave reviews in which she writes about gardens and cafés that she recommends in Kyoto.


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