Canal Boat - - This Month - with Julie Clark

Grow­ing a bon­sai tree; three stars in the skies this Christ­mas; our acros­tic quiz

We have a good ex­cuse not to be dig­ging around in pots of soil just now; most plants are sleep­ing dur­ing the long dark days of win­ter so there is sim­ply not much hap­pen­ing. How­ever, the short­est day of the year, in De­cem­ber, is the turn­around and for some, the first day of a new year with days al­most im­per­cep­ti­bly length­en­ing, which can only be good!

I do have some seedlings over­win­ter­ing so they will flower nice and early next year, and th­ese are my sweet peas. The tiny Cupid va­ri­ety is ideal for the boat; it is a true dwarf plant but very free flow­er­ing with the most won­der­ful scent. Keep the compost just moist with a lit­tle pro­tec­tion from the worst of the weather and with min­i­mal ef­fort you will have strong lit­tle plants flow­er­ing weeks ear­lier than spring-planted seeds.

On the gar­den­ing front, I am al­ways look­ing for a new project and a visit to one of the canal fes­ti­vals this year pro­vided just that – bon­sai trees. Rather like painted ware and pump-outs, bon­sai trees are either loved or loathed and I am be­gin­ning to love them.

I saw the most mag­nif­i­cent dis­play of th­ese tiny trees at Chelsea Flower Show this year and mar­velled at the im­mac­u­late, beau­ti­ful and an­cient lit­tle trees, so when I stum­bled across a lo­cal grower at the Northamp­ton Fes­ti­val, I was cap­ti­vated. Af­ter a chat about the ba­sics, the suit­abil­ity of grow­ing them on boats and a trio of lit­tle trees to take home, I felt ready to have a go.

A quick way to get started is to dig up a seedling, for ex­am­ple a beech seedling, trim the long thin tap root which an­chors the tree in the ground – it is not needed and this will en­cour­age the fi­brous roots to de­velop which are the ones that ac­tu­ally take up wa­ter and nu­tri­ents – pop it into a small pot with plenty of drainage and a free-drain­ing compost and al­low it to es­tab­lish for at least a year. Once your tree is grow­ing and branches have de­vel­oped, it can be pruned into a de­sired shape, a lit­tle wire around the trunk will en­able you bend the tree while it is grow­ing. Wa­ter­ing is prob­a­bly where most peo­ple lose their trees and it is rec­om­mended that the en­tire pot is sub­merged in a bowl of wa­ter as top wa­ter­ing is in­ef­fec­tive ow­ing to the mass of roots in the pot. If you are us­ing na­tive trees, they should be kept out­side through­out the year.

This hardly touches on the art of bon­sai and there is plenty of in­for­ma­tion avail­able to learn the finer de­tails. On the other hand, you can ask for a good book on the sub­ject for Christ­mas and since conifer trees make es­pe­cially good bon­sais – grow your own tiny Christ­mas tree for next year.

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