Tuesday, 2 August 2011

02.08. Another Bonsai

Today has been another warm day, it passed 30 degrees this afternoon, but we had no sun the whole day….imagine how hot it could have been if we had got full sun :-) I spent the day in the garden, pottering about, doing a bit here and a bit there; everywhere I turn there are jobs to be done, after 6 weeks of practically doing no gardening at all. But I did one thing today which I have wanted to do for a while; taking care of the Bonsai trees.
 
Maybe you remember from earlier this year that I got a Bonsai tree as a present in February? Although I was very pleased with the present, I was unsure of how to keep it alive, since they require 12 hours of daylight all year around, and this particular one could not survive below 13 degrees C, and required a moist room… and could not be moved once placed! I put it in the kitchen and hoped for the best, but already next day it started throwing leaves and it never stopped; it just dropped leaves faster than it produced new. Finally, when there were almost no leaves left and the plant looked really miserable I put it upstairs in my bedroom where it is lighter, in the hope that it would recover. I am sad to say that it didn’t help to put it upstairs, as you can see from this photo, the Bonsai is well and truly dead and went in the bin today.

The arrival of the Bonsai back in February did spark off an interest I always have had though, and I started reading about how to make Bonsais. The result of that were two Bonsai trees I made from some old cuttings I had in my garden. You can see the post I made about them on the 18th April, and back then I had no idea whether they would survive the brutal treatment necessary to convert a potted cutting into a Bosai tree. I am pleased to say not only have they survived, but today I made another one, in the Bonsai dish where the dead Bonsai used to grow. It looks very nice in that black gloss dish :-) This plant is a Parthenocisus henryana - Chinese Virginia creeper, a climber that is related to the grape family and the most colourful of all Virginia creepers. Fully mature it can reach 10m tall and 3m spread. My plant kept as a Bonsai is 7 (seven!) years old, and will never grow bigger than this. If this plant is grown in part or full sun, the leaves turn bright red in the autumn, before they drop off when the temperature goes below 5 degrees.

Many people think that the bonsai tree originated in Japan. While Bonsai is now a Japanese word, with "bon" meaning tray and "sai" meaning plant, the term and idea actually came from ancient China where scholars, monks and noble classes practiced the art. And here is the tray with the two Bonsai trees I made back in April, don’t they look good? One of them is the same Virginia creeper, the other one is a Honey suckle, another tall climber which definitely isn’t meant to be kept back this way. The Honey suckle has just flowered beautifully – there is one flower left if you look closely, and it is now producing berries, so I don’t think it is particularly stressed about the growing conditions it has been given! I am so pleased about the result here that I am going to take some cuttings for future Bonsai trees from my garden, not sure what will be suitable but I am definitely going to try to make a Bonsai out of the Japanese maple I have. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the pictures of the finished article though, it took 7 years to grow these cuttings into the right shape, it might take just as long to grow cuttings from the Japanese maple….I really don’t know; I haven’t tried yet :-)

OK, enough about Bonsais, how about this amazing thing for a flower? Yes, it is actually a flower, it comes from a plant called Achanthus spinosa, a native to tropical and warm temperate regions of the Roman World, with the highest species diversity in the Mediterranean Basin and Asia. Common names include Acanthus and Bear's breeches. The genus comprises herbaceous perennial plants, with spiny leaves and flower spikes bearing white or purplish flowers. Size varies from 0.4 to 2 m. I have grown my plant from a seed I took from someone else’s plant in 2004, and I am quite chuffed that it is still alive and doing so well.

Here you can see the whole plant, with the incredible spikes with flowers going right up to the top. Some years I get only one spike, this year I have two, and some years I have even had three spikes. I have heard that in Mediterranean countries, this plant can be a bit invasive, and that it self-seeds and ends up along motorways and on roundabouts, being more of a nuisance than a pleasure. Here in the UK, that isn’t really a problem, it needs a sheltered spot and some TLC during the winter to survive, but in my London garden it thrives and looks great, although I think it would have preferred a bit more water the last few weeks as the leaves look a bit yellow.

That was it for tonight, we are promised same weather tomorrow as we had today; and then we are supposed to get a day with rain on Thursday! I hope they are right, because I don’t plan to do any watering tomorrow :-) Until next time, take care.

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