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.