Downsizing to Bonzai


[First Maple 2008]

I have always been sort of a nature nut. Long walks in the woods and along country roads and growing foods and flowers have been a source of great joy and peace for the majority of my life.

Although I made extreme efforts to continue gardening in my Sherman Street Garden after arachnoiditis, eventually, it became evident that I would have to reduce the scale of my ambitions. In 2008 I was searching for a hobby for my father who was recovering from surgery. I came across a book in the library that was all about using Native Indigenous trees as Bonzai trees.  Although my father browsed through the book, it wasn’t really something that interested. He had every intention of resuming all of his usual hobbies and activities.

For me, this was a wonderful lead in to an artistic gardening strategy that did not demand too much from my body but gave some relief for the stress  and frustration of my arachnoiditis-burdened mind.

A short early spring stroll around the boundaries of my yard revealed numerous seedlings. I selected three maples and three pines. With a small gardening shovel I loosened them from the soil and put them in small pots to move closer to the house. Sheltered on the side of the garage, this was all that I had to do for the first season.

In the fall, I trimmed the tap roots (maples) back and placed a small flat stone under the roots of all of the tiny trees. I returned them to the soil and watered them. The flat rock underneath helps the roots to spread and keeps them from getting too wet. Trimming the tap root helps to stunt the growth of the tree. Although I did have some guilt about “stunting” anything on purpose at that time, this feeling eased with the knowledge that I was cultivating a companion which would otherwise have been eliminated due to its location related to the established foliage around the yard.

Every spring and fall I repeated these steps and mulched them heavily to protect them from the hardships of winter in upstate NY. The first year I used fallen leaves as mulch. The second, I used leftover mulch from my neglected flowerbeds. When I left my large three story house for a more manageable property near my pain clinic, it was not difficult to bring these potted trees with me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA[Same Maple, age 4 years]

Moving Day
Moving Day

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA [same maple, Spring 2014]

I have since collected other samples to add to my Bonzai garden. Each spring I trim the new leaves and branches to create a shape and form that I find aesthetically pleasing. I do make an effort to mimic the natural shape of the larger version of each type of tree but, sometimes, the artist in me sees something different.

I now have the original maples and an assortment of evergreens and two oaks that I found on brief walks in the woods. I have a small map of each new tree, type, and the date it was found and transplanted. Although I haven’t read anything to confirm it, I believe it is best not to do anything to the roots or “branches” of the oaks until the second year. For all of the samples, it is best to trim and shape new growth while it is still green to minimize the scarring on the surface of the tree. These trees are quite resilient and these markings heal over fairly quickly when done correctly. The trimming process helps to stimulate new growth of small leaves. Trimming the roots also helps to keep the size of the leaf in proportion with the size of the tree. Otherwise, the natural-sized leaf will appear and seems ginormous in comparison to the rest of the tree.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I have the ability and opportunity to spend time in nature, small rocks and stones seem to find their way into my pockets. Overtime, I have added these and some moss from the yard into my Bonzai garden. All of the indigenous trees in the garden still show seasonal changes. As fall temperatures drop and the pain in my body increases, I can simply sit on my back step and enjoy the vibrant reds and oranges of my mini maple trees.





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