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I love Bonsai trees

  • I love Bonsai trees
  • I love Bonsai trees
  • I love Bonsai trees
  • I love Bonsai trees
  • I love Bonsai trees
  • I love Bonsai trees
  • I love Bonsai trees

The art of making Bonsai trees is truly a unique and special hobby, but oh so rewarding. Not for the impatient gardener though, as Bonsai trees grow veeeery slowly! Growing Bonsai is a Japanese art form using miniature trees grown in containers, although similar practises exists in other cultures. Bonsai can be created from nearly any perennial woody-stemmed tree or shrub species that produces true branches and can be cultivated to remain small through pot confinement with crown and root pruning. Bonsai is often confused with dwarfing, but dwarfing usually refers to creating cultivars of plant material that are permanent, genetic miniatures of existing species. Bonsai does not require genetically dwarfed trees, but rather depends on growing small trees from regular stock and seeds.

My pride and joy are two Bonsai trees of Parthenocissus henryana - Chinese Virginia creeper, and I made them from tiny cuttings. The cuttings were taken in 2004, making the Bonsais 10 years old this spring, and I have just found a home for one of them through Plant Swap so now I only got one left. It was a bit like seeing your child move out to live on their own when it left, a bit sad but exciting!

Parthenocissus henryana is a climber you probably have seen in many gardens and covering tall buildings and fully mature it reaches 10m tall and 3m spread. I have ‘borrowed’ a photo from the Internet, from a web-site called www.dyg.ie, just to show you what a Parthenocissus henryana - Chinese Virginia creeper actually looks like, as mine are very far from what you would normally see! They can cover a tall building in just a few years and look very impressive especially in the autumn when the leaves go red. Parthenocissus henryana was first discovered in central China in the mid 1880's by the famous plants man, Augustine Henry, hence the name ‘henryana’ which he used to add to many of the plants he discovered. I wrote about my Bonsais on my blog in 2011, and ‘borrowed’ this photo back then too, and I got a message from the owner of the website where the photo came from! I am sure he won’t mind me copying his message here, he wrote:

"Hi, Tig here from www.dyg.ie - glad that you found the Parthenocissus henryana image, taken at a house just down the road from us in Ashford, Co Wicklow. Incidentally, Augustine Henry was a Dubliner, and we worked on the garden of his house there where many of the original specimens that he collected are still growing beautifully. P. henryana is a gorgeous plant that seems to grow very well here in Ireland.
I like your bonsais of it - something that would never have crossed my mind.
Tig Mays"

My plant kept as a Bonsai will never grow bigger than it is now, and it no longer grow the long lianas it used to do. I have deliberately exposed some of the roots, as is normal for Bonsai trees, something I was a bit worried about – didn’t really know if Virginia creeper would like to have their roots exposed like this, but it doesn’t seem to bother them one bit – and I think the exposed, gnarly roots is one of the most exciting parts of the Bonsai tree! These are outdoor Bonsais and have gone through winter storms and snow, dry winters and really wet winters, just like their full size siblings would have done. They get new compost every 3-4 years and half strength fertiliser once a month from May to August. Mine get a snip with my secateurs every spring if they need it, but at this ripe old age they don’t grow much anymore.

Growing Bonsai trees is so fun, I have several other projects on the go!
I have a 10 year old honey suckle (photo above) and two 6 year old Jasminum officinale all growing as Bonsais – and new of this year is a lovely Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Ellwood's Pillar' which I will try to grow as a Bonsai tree, it will take many years before I know if it will accept to be restricted like this, but I’m giving it a go. I also have several miniature fuchsias new of this spring which I will try to grow as Bonsai trees, come back in 5-6 years, perhaps I will have something to show you. I told you this was not for those who wants instant gardening!

I must admit I am very much a novice when it comes to growing Bonsai trees, but I have read a bit here and there, and I do this exactly the same way as I do most things in my garden, using the trial and error method :-)

Comments (10)

  1. Grower

    Mark Hughes

    Hi Helene, I think there is something irresistibly charming about a bonsai - something so small, intricate and living. I had wanted one for my entire childhood, then finally I was given one for Christmas whilst at university. I left it in my bedroom parents house by accident and, unfortunately, it was in a poor state by the time I got back for half-term some 6 weeks later - I did not remind my parents it was there, so it died of thirst!

    I wondered whether you had any tips for keeping a bonsai for a novice (I won't even call myself a novice 'gardener' yet!)? I was looking at some in my local garden centre in Chiswick at the weekend, however I've had a few gardening horror stories recently, so I'm keen to read up before killing something else!!

    FYI I live in a flat in London and we don't get direct sunlight into the living-room, so not sure if that affects the advice you would give.

    Thanks and great post...

    Mark

  2. Grower

    Helene U Taylor

    Hi Mark, lovely to hear you are interested in Bonsais!
    I have actually only grown one Bonsai tree indoors, and that one died –a very fussy one called 'Serissa Foetida' which often is advertised as easy to care for. Well, tell me if this is easy: it requires minimum 12 hours daylight and a temperature of 15-25 degrees and high humidity but not waterlogged. I got mine for Christmas some years ago and I usually have my heating off at night. This was during one of the very cold winters so the temperature during the night was well below 15 degrees. And during the day the heating made sure any humidity was instantly evaporated. And of course there were nowhere near 12 hours daylight – I got it in December, you could never have 12 hours daylight except for in the spring and summer! Before end of March my Bonsai was dead.

    I am not telling you this story to discourage you, by all means, there are lots of different Bonsai trees to choose from, I have just had so much more success with Bonsai trees outdoors, where the light level is optimal and humidity great and as long as you choose a hardy variety they can just live outdoors all year round. You don’t say whether you have any outdoor space at all, do you have a garden? A balcony? A window basket under your bedroom window?? Any outdoor space would be suitable as a Bonsai tree doesn’t have to be big.

    I am afraid I can’t recommend any particular type for you if you want to go for an indoor Bonsai, you would be better off having a chat with someone where they sell them and hope they have a bit of knowledge, although don’t expect expert advice in a garden centre unless you are really lucky. As for outdoor ones, it would really depend on where you would grow it, light, aspect etc. and as I said in my post, you can grow nearly any tree or shrub into a Bonsai if you are patient enough.

    However, if you just want to grow something interesting or unusual as a houseplant there are other plants that are easier to start with than Bonsais :-) And whatever plant you go for you need to decide WHERE to have it before you decide WHAT to have. Do you have a window sill in your living room or kitchen? If so, then your plants can stay there and get lots of light, depending on which way your rooms are facing. South facing means full-sun loving plants, north facing means plants that needs a bright position out of direct sun. West and East facing is between the two first with sun part of the day. If you can’t have plants in any window, consider plants that need low light level, like plants that doesn’t flower, cacti and begonias. If you Google you will find many examples.

    Here is a list of suggestions for you, for indoor plants that doesn’t require direct sunlight, or can tolerate east or north facing window sill, if you Google them you can see photos and how to take care of them.

    Dionaea muscipula
    Begonia rex
    Dracaena sanderiana
    Aloë vera

    Aechmea fasciata

    Good luck!
    Helene

  3. Grower

    Angie's Garden

    Not a great hobby for someone like me - no patience what so ever!!
    My local nursery keeps the National Scottish Bonsai collection - they truly are a wonderful sight.
    As usual Helene, a very well written post - you really are a very knowledgeable gardener :)

  4. Grower

    Helene U Taylor

    Thanks Angie, much appreciated :-)
    I would have loved to see the National Bonsai collection, I have seen some collections in the past, many years ago, but none of them were very big. I have seen some great ones online, but that’s not the same as being there!

  5. Grower

    Mark Hughes

    Hi Helene, thanks for that - I'll be sure to take that list with me when I go to buy one!

    Mark

  6. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    This is a great post Helene. Like Mark I have long been fascinated by the idea and look of bonsai, but have never tried it. Yours are clearly very successful and I can quite imagine how you felt giving up one of your P. henryana - like losing a twin! I also love the very authentic-looking pots you use, which being shallow help emphasise the exposed roots and moss.

  7. Grower

    Gray J

    Hi Helene great to see someone else is a bonsai fan wish you weren't so far away and yes it is no good for those without patience but well worth the effort Wish I had started years ago, one thing that should be considered it that a bonsai tree is NEVER finished even if it is over 150 years old so make sure you have the formula to live forever I can let you have it if you should want it

  8. Grower

    Helene U Taylor

    The formula to live forever? Not sure if I would want to do that! But I would like many more Bonsai trees, my next project is a Bonsai from a Callicarpa. Have no idea if I will succeed, but ask me again in 10 years’ time!

    Have you got a grower page here? If not, you should consider making one so we all can see what you are growing and see some photos from your garden – makes it so much nicer when writing to each other :-)
    Have a good day in the garden!

  9. Grower

    Gray J

    Hi Helene, you are right I must put together a page of my own, will try to as the weather is getting better now. Interesting subject a Callicarpa bonsai excellent choice good luck! Thank you for your encouragement, really nice of you. I will let you know when my page is started that is if I can find you again. Best regards and thanks again Graham

  10. Grower

    Helene U Taylor

    Hi Graham
    It is easy to find growers now, you just go to the ‘Local Growers’ tab (look at the top of the page), and then on the right side, under the map there is a search box for growers. There is only me (so far!) who writes their name Helen with an ‘e’ in the end, but even if you write just Helen you won’t get too many growers up and can just browser through them. You just have to remember my name :-)
    Alternatively, you can always save my grower page in your favourites.
    Would be great with a reminder from you when your grower page is up and running.
    Take care,
    Helene


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