First I bought one of those books, you know, where an expert tells you how to do it. I purchased all of the kit; the hideously costly china trays and the expensive soft wire for shaping branches. I tried his every suggestion. I sowed seeds in an empty half an orange, as he advised; the fruit skin rotted, taking everything else with it. I got my nascent bonsai going in a pot. I took them out and root pruned, shaped as if they were growing out of a hemispherical citrus. I removed a few leaves, to reduce the strain on the plant. They pegged it immediately, fell off the twig, so to speak.
Small scale forest
I decided to come at the problem from the other end. I started cultivating Acers (maple) in large containers. This was the only way that I could give them the moisture that they required, since specimens plonked in my sandy soil give up the ghost, no matter how much compost is tucked under their chins. My courtyard is sheltered from the wind on three sides, thus eliminating another cause of scorched foliage. The burgeoning forest faces easterly, so such burning sunshine as we see doesn’t reach namby pamby leaves. We’re good to go.
Cuphea hyssopifolia (false heather)
Bonsai were inspired by diminutive trees shaped by nature and subsisting in a teaspoon of soil on a gusty mountainside. I was on the lookout for samples when I passed some majestic horse chestnuts, complete with small boys grubbing for conkers beneath. It was a simple matter to intimidate them into allowing me to fill my pockets with nuts. Twirling my spade like a ninja did the trick. The chainsaw would have been overkill and I wasn’t going to see the results if given a long sentence in Holloway. Strewn onto seed trays, the kernels sprouted with ease. I grew them on and cherished three in small, elegant containers. After ten years of loving care I cut them in half without mercy, thus forcing them to spread. Sorbus (rowan, mountain ash) put in an appearance amongst the alpines, from next door’s incontinent specimen. These were retrieved and potted up into cramped cribs, where they flourished in miniature. Cuphea hyssopifolia (Serissa, false heather) is a tiny tender shrub which makes a wonderful instant bonsai, utterly out of keeping with the aesthetic behind the art but pretty.
Aesculus hippocastanum (horse chestnut)
Acer pseudoplatanus (sycamore) spread themselves profusely. Tiny plants are sprinkled free around the feet of their parent, so you can experiment with single specimens, groups or root over rock style, without paying for it in anything other than guilt at murdering the poor sods. I saw some shooting beside the cemetery gate and knowing that these would prove a problem for large patrons if allowed to grow, I sent Attila to hoick them out. The only difficulty now that he has a mission, is stopping him from bringing them home. Pine cones are a good source of material. Leave them in a quiet, sunny place to open; the seeds are winged and will float away if left in a site of heavy human traffic. Sown in a tray of soil covered with vermiculite and you will have another string to your bow. Birches are springing up in borders where they are not wanted. Such appealing, miniscule leaves make perfect bonsai, so I’ve crammed them into inadequate quarters and chopped their tops off. I hauled the remaining uppermost branch upright and wired it in place as the leader, exactly as the specialist instructed. I used the copper wire which has been gathering dust on a shelf for twenty years. I call that a result.