Bonsai ~ My Other Love…

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Real, or Fake?

On those frequent occasions when my brain takes a hike and I am looking around my office for inspiration, I often find myself studying the items on my desk.

One of these is an artificial bonsai tree, although you have to look carefully to realise this. It is a white pine, brought from a specialist company called Bloom. They make the most amazing silk flowers and the occasional artificial tree, and the minute I saw it, I knew I had to treat myself.  It is stunningly life-like and beautifully made.

You wouldn’t think that a dyed in the wool bonsai enthusiast would give such a thing house room, but it appealed to me simply because it cannot die. It will always remain perfect no matter the weather, never lose it‘s leaves in the autumn, and I love it.

I cannot help but see the differences between this tree and the real ones just outside my window, and not just the obvious differences, like the time of the year. The makers have done their best, but the bark is just a little too smooth. There are no cracks or crevices in the bark for all the tiny spiders to live in, a necessary part of any healthy tree, for they control other nastier insects.

There is no living collection of mosses and lichen around the base of the trunk either, something all of my other trees have, and although this artificial tree keeps me company all through the year, when all the others are sleeping, their leaves just a memory, it cannot change my feelings for my babies.

The ones that are so old and have pride of place in my yard, and the ones that are still finding their way to maturity. Then there are the ones I grew from seed that may not ever amount to much in my lifetime, for it takes years to become an established bonsai. These are special to me, even if they don’t look quite right yet.

I think that growing anything, whether in a pot or in your garden, is a lot like writing. Until you know what you are doing, what you produce will be just a shadow of what it could be. And like a garden, your words need tender loving care too. Prune too hard, or badly, there are a million ways to ruin what is fragile at best and the results will be disappointing…

A Strange and Unexpected Visitor…

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It hasn’t rained for nearly two days and I was looking forward to escaping the confines of my office and getting some fresh air.  Anita called me to come outside and see something, and she was being very mysterious. I found her standing near my bonsai, pointing to the one on the end of the shelf.

I wondered what had caught her attention, for as far as I could tell, they were all there on the shelf, looking a bit scruffy to be fair for I haven’t been keeping them tidy due to the weather. None of them were missing or damaged, although I thought some of them were looking a bit like naughty children, revelling in my lack of attention.

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Image by Jaye Marie

That’s when I noticed what Anita was pointing to, a very small mushroom was happily growing in the pot alongside my bonsai tree. This tree was a gift from the birds some six years ago. I found it trying to grow between the cracks of the path, liked the shape and colour of the leaves and decided to keep it. I transferred it into a pot, but never did find out what it was called. So, after all this time, how did a mushroom manage to grow in the same pot?

 

Further along the shelf I noticed that my English cherry had changed into its autumn colour, a glorious red. I grew this tree from a cherry stone about seven years ago. It has never flowered, but I hope it will one day.

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Image by Jaye Marie

My eyes returned to the tiny mushroom, and I was reminded of our last unexpected visitor.

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Image by Jaye Marie

I had no idea this could happen, but have seen others since, so quite ordinary really…

©jayemarie

My Other Love ~ and my Little Miracle…

 

As someone who loves bonsai, my favourite treat is to visit Heron’s Bonsai in Surrey. It is an amazing place with beautiful bonsai in every conceivable shape, size and price. From small starter trees for just a few pounds to large mature specimens, some of them hundreds of years old and costing a small fortune.

I could walk around Herons for hours, and usually do, for Peter Chan, the owner, has his own personal collection there. Peter has won many ‘gold’s’ at Chelsea and teaches the art of bonsai. This is how I met him. He was the guest speaker at our local bonsai club in London, and by the time he had finished pruning and training an ordinary garden centre shrub into an impressive bonsai, I was well and truly hooked.

My own collection is  pretty eclectic. I have some wonderful specimens; some have been presents from my family, and some I have grown from seed. Others I have trained, as Peter showed me, from bushes I have found in my travels.

Going to Heron’s is potentially a very dangerous thing for me to do, for there will always be something I cannot live without.

These days, I am governed by the space I have available, so I tell myself I will just ‘window shop’.

Doesn’t always work, of course.

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Six years ago, on such a visit, I had been content to settle for some potting compost and was about to leave, when on the floor near the checkout, I saw a rather shabby looking plant with straggly branches and wilting leaves. It was about six inches tall and unrecognisable and didn’t look as though it would live to see tomorrow.

As I picked it up, Peter looked over at me, eyebrows raised. I must have had a question written all over my face too, for he just smiled and said I could have it. He must have thought the poor thing was beyond hope.

As I have always been a champion of dying houseplants, I took it home and began to cherish it. Turned out it was an azalea, and for several months there was no sign of improvement. A few new leaves and some that fell off. Not very encouraging.

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Then three weeks before Christmas, something strange started to happen. White buds appeared. In no time at all, the pathetic little branches were covered in beautiful, double white flowers. Unusual for an azalea, I discovered, they usually had single flowers and they never bloom at Christmas time.

All the next year I tended it with care, mindful of the display that might come again. I repotted it, carefully fertilised and watered it, but nothing I did seemed to make any difference. It just didn’t grow. I had heard of slow- growing, but this was ridiculous!

But another Christmas loomed and more white buds appeared.

I was puzzled. How could such a spindly specimen bloom so abundantly in the middle of winter?

So, in my bonsai collection, among all the healthy, vigorously growing trees, in pride of place is the white azalea. Eight years have passed and it hasn’t grown much, but it blooms in December without fail . The leaves look healthier though, so it isn’t dying any more.

It’s just my little magic tree…

©Jaye Marie

#My Other Love… Size Matters…

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Size Matters

 

Most people think bonsai are just small trees in pots, but they can be any size. There seems to be so many different names, too which makes it all very confusing.

Japanese classification Required hands to move bonsai Approximate size
     
Imperial Eight-handed bonsai 60 to 80 inches
Hachi-uye Six-handed bonsai 40 to 60 inches
Dai or Omono Four-handed bonsai 30 to 48 inches
     
Chiu or Chumono Two-handed bonsai 16 to 36 inches
Katade-mochi One-handed bonsai 10 to 18 inches
     
Komono One-handed bonsai 6 to 10 inches
Mame One-handed bonsai 5 to 8 inches
Shito or Keshitsubo Fingertip bonsai Under 2 inches

Traditionally, the size of bonsai was measured by the number of hands needed to carry the tree.

For some reason, I have never considered having a large bonsai. Probably because they are not too easy to handle or for the amount of space they would need. Wherever we have lived, and there have been a few moves, I must always steal space for my bonsai. I start with one, but soon acquire more, either from seed or gifts from the birds. Sadly, most of our moves have meant giving away my collection, and I have lost some good ones this way. But it never takes me long to start again!

 

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Image by Jaye Marie

 

Repotting even medium sized bonsai can be backbreaking, especially if you have several to cope with. When Anita brought home a 4-foot Christmas tree last year that had been abandoned in the Christmas rush, turning it into a bonsai never occurred to me. I was just so pleased that they hadn’t chopped off its roots and it has sat in its pot at the bottom of my garden ever since.

I was glad to adopt this tree, probably because of my despair at how many trees are killed every year in the name of Christmas. This one had been spared and that made it very precious to me. I have been meaning to plant it somewhere special, but finding the time do this and a suitable place in our jungle of a garden has not been easy. So, why has my mind, some 8 months later, come up with the idea that it could be my first large bonsai?

How the idea even found room in my head in the first place was amazing, for I haven’t been able to think of anything except my WIP for months.

My problem with ideas like these, is they tend to keep growing (a bit like the Christmas tree) So, just in case I haven’t enough to think about, I know I have a new project.

 

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Image by Jaye Marie

 

I spent a long time studying it yesterday and it wasn’t long before I realised this could well be an impossible task. There were such a lot of big branches and I don’t have a clue as to which ones to keep and which to prune.

I have a feeling that this project might take a lot longer than I thought…

©JayeMarie

 

 

My Other Love…

 

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For one reason or another this year, I haven’t been taking as much care as I would like with my collection of bonsai. Not entirely my fault either, as the weather has been all over the place, what with the heat waves and then torrential rain. Handy, in a way, because they love rainwater.

Some of them need repotting, and I only managed to get to a few which has been nagging me ever since. Repotting is important, especially for the smaller ones as they use up most of the goodness in their soil. This is usually done in the spring, before they start to grow again after the winter hibernation.

 

Finding the right soil mix has become difficult too, as my usual supplier has run out and shows no sign of restocking. The right soil is important, as free draining is essential. Waterlogged roots will eventually kill the tree.

 

My great niece found me sniffing the soil of one of my bonsai the other day and wanted to know what I was doing. She probably thought I had lost my marbles, as it must have looked a bit strange. I explained that a healthy bonsai with a good root system and the right soil, would have a very pleasant and distinctive smell, and is a good way of checking you are taking care of it properly.

 

We have more hot weather to come they say, so I will find out if any of my trees need emergency repotting. If any of them wilt in the heat it will mean their roots have little or no protection from the elements. I don’t want to disturb the roots, not this close to autumn, so will have to replace what soil I can, leaving the roots undisturbed.

 

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Hawthorn: Tree of the Week: Image by Pixabay.com

 

Progress Report

There have been no new signs of life from the rescued Oakey Dokey yet, but the few leaves he has are still green and healthy. He is probably busy beneath the soil, creating new roots.

 

©JayeMarie

 

 

 

More of the Other Love…

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The Oak   cont.

 

The morning after the marathon dig, I awoke with a stiff neck and pounding headache. The result, no doubt, of spending what seemed like hours on my knees, with my head and shoulders bent over a muddy hole as I tried to convince a stubborn young oak tree that it was time to change residence.

Said oak tree was now reclining in a bucket of water in my yard and today, I had to trim the taproots and introduce it to its new home. At this stage this was an old washing up bowl, the only thing I had big enough to give it the room it needed to establish a good root ball.

This could take a year or more, so it was important to make the tree as comfortable as possible while all this was going on. Unfortunately, I had to trim back most of the top growth to enable it to concentrate on root production.

This tree has taxed my imagination and my determination. Not to mention most of my strength. My sore muscles and badly bruised arms are testament to how difficult it was to dig the tree up without killing it.

Sitting in the sunshine on my old work bench, the tree looked as battle scarred as I was. I knew we would both heal in time, but first I had to make him comfortable. I used the best soil mixture and a sprinkling of Rootgrow, a mycorrhizal fungi guaranteed to encourage root growth. I also used hormone rooting powder at strategic points around the base of the tree.

I was dealing with a fair-sized lump of wood and it was important to anchor it firmly in the soil so it couldn’t rock about. I found some soft cords in my sewing basket which were perfect for the job.

 

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The family have named him, Oakey Dokey!

 

All the time I was working on the oak, I was growing more and more confident about the success of my venture. Considering the trees history and what had just happened to it, it looked quite healthy and one day it would look magnificent!

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The Other Love… continued

 

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The  Oak Tree

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The weather had turned hot, not exactly digging weather and the oak was growing at the front of the house in full view of the sun.

I tried to judge when would be a good time to start, but it wasn’t looking good. The hot sun was constant, not losing heat until it began to set at around 7pm. I prayed for more cloud or even rain, as it wouldn’t be the first time I had been gardening in the pouring rain. In an emergency, I once put up 20 feet of fencing like that. If I need to do something, a little water will not stop me.

It doesn’t get dark until nearly 10pm, I would have three hours to get the job done.

 

When the time came, I had a few words with my target before I started digging. Not asking for a miracle or any cooperation, you understand, for I knew what I was in for. More to explain what I wanted to do. After all, this was an oak, once sacred and maybe still could be. It had been trying to grow in the wrong place for nearly 12 years, so although it was only two feet high, the roots would be extensive and most of them would be thick tap roots.

 

I started digging the trench around the tree again, meeting several large tap roots in the process. I severed these and kept digging. These were primarily for stability and wouldn’t be needed for what I had in mind.

The trench could only extend halfway around the tree for it was growing so close to our ancient wall. At this point, the job was beginning to look impossible. The trench was nearly 2 feet deep, but the tree wasn’t moving.

 

Time to start undercutting, so I produced my kneeling pad and set to work.

Several enormous tap roots later, there was still no movement and there had to be a reason. One last tap root was holding the tree in place, but I hadn’t spotted (or felt it) yet.

Despite the sun going down, it didn’t seem any cooler. I was dripping with sweat, very muddy and bleeding from several nasty gouges on both arms.

This oak wasn’t playing nice and I was exhausted, but not beaten or about to give up.

I cleared more soil to find the offending root.

 

My heart almost stopped when I found it. Covered in mud, it had been almost invisible and the size of it was incredible. It was the size of my arm!

Time to attack it with my branch saw.

 

I battled for another hour, determined to succeed in walking away with the sacred oak in my arms.

When it finally came free, I almost crawled around to my back yard, where I dumped it unceremoniously into a large bucket of water…

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Tune in later for what happened next…

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#Jaye’s Journal… week 28

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Beaten by a Tree!

 

I failed to rescue the oak sapling.

 

 

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The oak sapling!

 

I tried my best but as I hacked away at the weeds surrounding it, it became apparent that it would not be an easy task.

We had always called it a sapling for it was only a foot high, completely forgetting how many times it had been cut back over the years.

I discovered that the base of this tree was very large and mostly rotten. It was also growing so close to the wall and I suspected the roots would be entangled in the brickwork.

But was I disheartened?

Not even a little bit. This is where being stubborn can pay dividends, but whether this would be a good day for stubbornness remained to be seen.

I dug a trench around the tree, severing several rather large tap roots in the process.  These would not be needed if I succeeded in creating a bonsai out of it. Tap roots are mainly for stability, and it’s the fine fibrous roots you need to protect.

When I tried to lever the root ball out of the hole with my trusty garden fork, it wouldn’t budge. Doubt began to sink in, nudging my determination to one side, so I tried to tug at it with all my strength, just to see some kind of movement. Anything to justify digging deeper.

This is when my determination failed, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to save this tree. It had been there too long and probably had tap roots in Australia.

I felt very sad at this point, for the tree would have to removed somehow, probably in pieces before it brought the wall down. But if my detemination pays another visit, I may have another go!

The wall in question was probably as old as our house, built in 1887 so saving it was more important than anything I wanted to do with the oak. (at least, that’s what common sense was telling me!)

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Todays disapointment reminded me of another one of my failures, one even sadder that happened several years ago. I tried to rescue a beautiful red acer from a demolition site. I couldn’t bear the thought of it being mown down by a bulldozer, so asked the builder in charge if he minded my removing it.  I knew it would be difficult, for whoever planted it had built a rockery around it, creating quite a lovely Chinese garden.

But before I could get started, the helpful builder took it upon himself to rip it up and present it to me, so proud of his handy work.

It hung there in his hand, already limp, the roots bare and damaged and I knew he had probably just killed it.

I did my best for that tree, carefully planted it in the best soil. I kept it in the shade and misted the leaves regularly to help it recover. Gradually, despite my efforts, I watched it die and all my prayers and efforts came to nothing.

I think a little piece of me died that day too…

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The Other Love… cont.

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Bonsai…

 

When most people think of Bonsai, they see the ones that win medals, every branch and leaf in just the right position, but this is the end result when it comes to growing Bonsai.

Reaching perfection can take years, hundreds of years in some cases because you are dealing with a living thing and results are not always desirable.

I was checking mine the other day and noticed that the moss that grows around most of my trees needed trimming. Some enthusiasts prefer not to use moss, keeping the image neat and tidy with fine gravel instead.

I like the mosses, for apart from being pretty, I find they keep the soil moist, especially in warm weather. What do you think?

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I spotted this image the other day, of a fuchsia trained as a Bonsai. I rather like the flowering Bonsai, and this fuchsia is just one of our garden flowers that find themselves in a Bonsai pot.

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My absolute favourite are the Japanese azaleas and have seen several different coloured flowers on one plant.

Then there is the wisteria, although how they manage to keep these small and in flower is a miracle…

 

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The Other Love (in my life) part two

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As I am not able to do much about anything bonsai this week, owing to being in the uneven and weird world of having one good eye and one that is frankly rubbish, I thought I would share the other part of bonsai that I love.

And this is watching someone else create a beautiful bonsai.

This video is from Graham W Potter and I must have watched him work so many times. To say he has been a constant source of inspiration would be an understatement!

While we are looking at an expert, I have remembered something I want to do next week, once the restriction on bending over is lifted. My neighbour has a sapling oak tree that is growing up against a wall in the front garden, and when I heard that she would be removing it and would likely kill it, I volunteered to rescue it. It has been there some years now, kept small by all the constant pruning and from what I can see, has developed a good trunk.

I will have my camera handy and will document the rescue somehow…

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