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.
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 :-)