Bonsai is the art of aesthetic miniaturization of trees, or of developing woody or semi-woody plants shaped as trees, by growing them in containers. Cultivation includes techniques for shaping, watering, and repotting in various styles of containers. ‘Bonsai’ is a Japanese pronunciation of the earlier Chinese term penzai (盆栽). A ‘bon’ is a tray-like pot typically used in bonsai culture. The word bonsai is used in the West as an umbrella term for all miniature trees in containers or pots.*
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The opening photo is purely ornamental and has absolutely zero to do with the project. It is Camellia sasanqua ‘Chansonette’ now in bloom. We like to begin stories with something pleasing to the eye. Onward.
Several hypertufa troughs were made in late summer to be given as gifts to family members at the Fairegarden family fun get together this Thanksgiving. Several weeks are needed to cure the pots, allowing the lime in the cement to leach out to make a more neutral PH planting container. Since we are once again attempting to make a Bonsai, copper wires have been inserted from the bottom drainage holes to hold the miniature trees in place. The planting depth is shallow, about five inches, so the roots will need some help to stay put during wind, rain and accidental bumping by the gardener. Coffee filters are used to cover the holes to prevent the soil from exiting through the necessary drainage holes that were made at the time of the trough creation. Packaged cactus mix will be the planting medium. Over our many years of gardening, Bonsai has been attempted more times than we like to recall. With the best of intentions, little trees, conifers and Japanese maple seedlings mostly, have been planted lovingly in special pots. Every one has ended in failure, usually something to do with improper watering and/or hardiness miscalculations. With age comes wisdom it is rumored however, and this time there has been much studying of the method online. Here we go.
One reason for the optimistism this time around as we enter the Bonsai realm, besides the nice sized trough planter, is the choice of plant material, dwarf Chinese elms, Ulmus x hollandica ‘Jacqueline Hillier’, (formerly known as U. elegantissima) babies from a generously maturing mother planted on the slope behind the main house. This mother tree is one of two that were given to me by a fellow who owned a landscaping supply business in northeast Tennessee. We had just started a small enterprise of garden design and planting there and had purchased quite a bit of mulch and stone for some of our clients from him. He had cuttings of this small leaved Elm that had come from a tree at the J.C. Raulston Arboretum, he claimed, that he graciously shared with me. One was planted at the house where we now reside in southeast Tennessee where our daughters Semi and Chickenpoet were then living. The other was potted up and made the move with us to Texas and then back to this garden. Both were planted on the slope, one on each side of the center concrete steps, but the one that had been planted in the ground succumbed shortly after being moved. Over the years there have been babies noticed at the base of the remaining specimen, suckers from the roots perhaps. These little ones have been potted, given away and planted here and there in the garden. Some have not survived, but the overall mortality rate has been good.
The cactus mix was spread in the pot to about half full. Rocks from the property were placed in the soil to stabilize the tree roots, with some of the roots on top of the stones. The wires were wrapped tightly but not strangling the two largest trees. These wires will be removed and rewound as the trees grow.
The smaller trees were planted in clusters at the edges with stones holding them in place. More soil was added and the trough was watered well. The Bonsai style planned is the Forest style, with naturalistic pruning to mimic a miniature woodland by using several trees of the same type.
Several waterings later we were satisfied that the soil was saturated completely. The roots of the trees had not been pruned much but some of the roots were cut to allow for draping over the rocks and down into the soil. When the positioning looked promising for future growth, mosses were added, taken from the wall and the older trough planters. This combination of mosses looks a little busy right now, but we’ll see how they weave themselves together, some may have to be removed.
Now we wait. Since it is the sin edge of the wedge of winter now, there will be no pruning done. Selecting the branching and shape desired is a major part of growing Bonsai and we eagerly await the return of warm weather to begin. There is anticipation folded into the patience necessary for success. If any of you gentle readers have some bonsai pruning tips, I would love to hear them.
Inspiration for this project came, in part, from a visit to the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville in October. The Bonsai display was astounding. The staff had brought inside the more tender specimens. It was noted that the Chinese Elms were allowed to winter over on the protective shelves outside. As often happens, the light bulb illuminated inside the cerebral cortex and shouted, “We can do that”! This remains to be seen. Updates will follow.
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*Information from Wikipedia, click here to visit the page.