Sharing a Piece of Nitobe Memorial Garden: Japanese Maple Sharing Event for Families 

On November 5th, 2023, we hosted our first Japanese maple sharing event for families at Nitobe Memorial Garden. We were happy to have 17 families and 50 people in total join us at this exciting event and share a piece of Nitobe Memorial Garden with them. Mini-maple enthusiasts had a wonderful time digging up Japanese maple seedlings and mosses from the Garden, potting them up, creating their original mini-garden, and learning about maples along the way.

Our hope for the event was to give children a hands-on experience in nature. By doing so, we wanted them to fall more in love with nature, because when it comes to tackling human-caused environmental problems, having a positive relationship with nature is essential.  

Participating kids putting soil in the pot as a growth medium with their parents.

We also hope that the children who joined the event will stay curious and continuously learn about nature after this event so they can take a good care of it. The participants now have their own mini-garden at home, so they can watch the plants grow as they grow, which is a great start to learning about nature! 

As a student worker at UBC Botanical Garden, I had the amazing opportunity to organize and lead this event, so I would like to share what this event was about and the story behind it with the lovely readers of the Garden Blog.  

We first would like to thank everyone who came to the event, for sharing a very heart-warming time with us. We hope that this event became a lovely fall memory for you, as it was for us! Also, I would like to personally thank Ryo, Tara, and Lauren for working with me to make this event so wholesome and successful. 





Lots of baby Japanese maples poking out of the ground!

It was Ryo Sugiyama, the curator of Nitobe Memorial Garden, who first suggested that we host a children-oriented Japanese maple sharing event at the garden. Ryo has been taking care of Nitobe Memorial Garden for more than ten years, and throughout this time, he has removed countless seedlings every year. Although removing seedlings is a necessary job because it helps maintain the garden, he felt like they were going to waste.  

After spending many years thinking of a way to share these blessings of nature with more people, Ryo came up with the idea of hosting an event where families could come, transplant the seedlings, and take them home. He also wanted to make this event children-oriented so it would be an excellent opportunity for children to become interested in nature and gardens. 

So how did we get so many Japanese maple seedlings in the garden? Well, the mature trees in the Garden release seeds, and the seeds fall to the ground, where mosses provided a perfect condition for the seeds to germinate. The beautiful Japanese maple trees that we are seeing at Nitobe Memorial Garden now once used to be small seedlings as well. They were 2-3 meters tall, and 10-20 years old when they were brought into the Garden from Japan in 1960. Now they are standing tall, providing shade for us in summer, and attracting visitors by dressing up in gorgeous colours in fall. 


Truly majestic view of colourful Japanese maples at Nitobe Memorial Garden

Despite the heavy rain forecast for the day of the event, we got lucky and the weather held out! Nitobe Memorial Garden was pretty busy with a lot of people visiting to catch the sight of beautiful fall colours before they are gone.  

At 11 am, our first session started. Families checked in at the gate, where children got to choose their favourite name tag from the options of “Tiny Tree Whisperer,” “Mini-Maple Enthusiast,” and “Gardener in Training.” We then walked inside the Garden where families were welcomed by the majestic reflection of colourful maple trees on the pond and the stunning contrast between vivid fall colours and the dusky sky. As a little ice breaker, we made a big circle and everyone introduced their name and favourite plant, getting to know new friends who they would be sharing the exciting transplanting experience with. 




The kids saying hi to koi fish in the pond.

We crossed the bridge and moved to our digging site. The kids got excited when they saw koi fish in the pond. The koi fish also seemed excited to have little guests in the Garden, and they were gathering near the bridge to say hi. The bridge and pond they had just crossed represent a bridge across the Pacific Ocean The west side of the pond is the Japanese side, with lots of Japanese maples planted. The east of the pond is the North American side, and here, you will find many vine maples, a maple species native to North America. 

After we had made our way to the Japanese side, families learned about the fascinating plant group, maples. We brainstormed as a group about the many uses of maples, and the number of maple species that exist in the world, and everyone learned something new. Quick question, do YOU know roughly how many maple species there are in the world? (You can find the answer after the picture!) 



Vine maples that you can find on the North American side of the Garden.

There are approximately 130 maple species in the world! What’s cool about it is that we have about half of all the maple species in the main UBC Botanical Garden. Our collection of maples is ranked second in the world for conservation importance, so if you want to check out an amazing diversity of maples, UBC Botanical Garden is a place to go! 







A kid gently digging up the seedlings from the ground.

Families learned some fun facts about maples, and now it was time for the most exciting part of the event! The kids chose a Japanese maple seedling that spoke to them, and with Ryo and other garden staff’s help, they gently dug up the seedling from the ground and put it in a pot, along with some mosses. Filled with excitement to be a proud owner of Japanese maple, the kids went back to our working site, where they took the seedling out to add soil to the pot, put the seedling back in, and added the finishing touch to their mini-garden with some pebbles. 






The mini-gardeners creatively decorating their gardens.

Beautifully symmetrical pebbles were chosen for this mini-garden!

We were very impressed by the kids’ creativity; some kids arranged the pebbles in a beautiful circle, and other kids carefully chose the colours of the pebbles to fit their creative aesthetic. Everyone’s mini-garden looked wonderful and had a special charm, unique to the child who made it! The children named their mini-garden and put a name tag on the pot matching their own.  






Showing off their final product!

At the end of the session, children got a handbook that will help them navigate their journey of growing Japanese maples and mosses at home. The handbooks also had a gardener’s journal on the last page, where children can sketch their plants as they grow and take observations. Warm tea and Japanese snacks were provided on the way out, as a cherry on top to a perfect day. The first session finished successfully with smiles on everyone’s face. We had another session at 1 pm, and more children became proud owners of Japanese maples.  




We were glad to receive amazing feedback from the participants after the event. Some of the children’s favourite parts of the event included choosing and digging up the seedlings themselves, adding pebbles, meeting new friends, spending time in the beautiful garden, and of course, snacks! Positive feedback showed us that we were able to successfully achieve our goal of the event, which was for children to fall more in love with nature. 

Thank you so much to everyone who came to the event! We hope that everyone’s mini-garden will flourish, and that everyone will enjoy their experience as a gardener. Also, we would love to see the growth of your mini-Japanese garden in the future! Please post a photo of your garden and tag us @nitobegarden on Instagram. 

We are planning to make this an annual event, so if you are interested in participating and bringing home a piece of Nitobe Memorial Garden, keep an eye on the event page on the garden website around next October and November.

6 responses to “Sharing a Piece of Nitobe Memorial Garden: Japanese Maple Sharing Event for Families ”

  1. Kai Owa

    Hi Emily,
    Thank you for your excellent question.
    It would take about 30 years for the seedlings to become 10 meters tall, or 33 in feet, if all the conditions are perfect including light, water, space, etc. AND if nobody prunes it. During that time, you can control the size by pruning, and you can also decide to transplant it if needed. Pruning allows you to avoid the situation where the tree grows too big for your property. Also, we recommend that you don’t plant it too close to the house because that could lead to structural damages to the house if the tree falls. Hope this helps and you are able to join us next year!

  2. Emily

    I was very interested in attending this event, but had wondered: what do we do with the little tree? If we plant them in the ground, would they eventually end up to be 20′ tall?! I can’t think of any space on my property where I’d be able to plant this!

  3. Tiiu. Mayer

    What a wonderful event!!! I hope other gardens around the world copy this idea and help educate our young people in a fun way. Kudos to all involved!!!

  4. Jo Turner

    Eloquent, lovely description of a very creative, inspiring event. Good work all!! Very glad to hear it will continue as an annual event. Brilliant.

  5. Heather Johnston

    What a great idea, and a lovely article. Good work all.

  6. Hudson Holdcroft

    This is hands-down the best article i’ve ever read. 100/10. I’m going to come to the garden every day because of this extremely well written article.

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