Miniature Gardening and Bonsai

Growing Wood: Miniature Gardening and Bonsai

~ [Scene: Northwest Flower and Garden Show, February, 2011]

It was as if I was responsible for the misunderstanding in the bonsai hobby.

I met bonsai-expert-extraordinaire, Dan Robinson, at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show here in Seattle this past February. He was sitting in the corner of his display garden working on one of his beautiful bonsai projects, ready to educate and challenge whomever he came in contact with.

“It’s ‘bone-sigh,’” Dan said, quickly correcting my husband, Steve, who pronounced the word like most people do.

Elf Alberta Spruce - Picea glauce 'Elf'

I asked him about the project he was working on which of course opened up an introduction of what I was about. Using our miniature garden display on the Skybridge as an example of my work, Dan now had a reason to chew me out for all the mistakes people make about bonsai. (He also kept calling me a “master gardener” not hearing that I kept correcting him that I was a miniature gardener, so I knew he wasn’t listening to me at that point! I still stuck around to pick his brain tho…. :o)

Dan’s main issue was that the conifers sold in 4″ pots were being sold as bonsai starts.

“You gotta let them grow some wood,” he insisted.

Paraphrasing my man Dan: “Those small trees, when you root prune them when they are so young, they have no chance of getting a decent trunk on them in your lifetime. The trunk will always be skinny, because it needs the roots to get the food to grow the wood.”

Point taken, swallowed and digested.

[Scene change: Two months later.]

Every spring I stand in front of the seed racks at my local nursery and look for something fun and different to grow in my full-sized garden. I chuckled as I picked up a seed pack from Thompson and Morgan: “Bonsai, Conifer Trees Mixed. Grow your own bonsai. Guaranteed to Grow.”

I resisted the urge to get two, one for Dan, one for me.

Bonsai from seed? You'll need patience.

The growing instructions consisted of chilling the planted seeds in the fridge for 4 to 6 weeks, then moving the pot out into the warmer weather. Checking it regularly and removing the individual seedlings as they germinate into their own pot…. and do not begin pruning and training until the following year…. huh? What?!

“Alright,” I thought to myself, “If I’m going to get one for my man Dan, I want to be there when he opens it just to witness his response.” Needless to say, I only bought one. Dan and I are not that close. Maybe I should work on that. Lol! ;o)

[Enter: Miniature Gardening]

I have accidentally grown some wonderful bonsai specimens over the 10 years of experimenting with miniature and dwarf conifers. Or, rather, they could be wonderful bonsai specimens if I were to prune them as bonsai. I love the art of bonsai but I love low-maintenance of miniature gardening a lot more. I recognize that bonsai is an art form that requires due diligence and a lot of patience (- something that I only have in a limited capacity.)

But miniature gardening gives me the best of both worlds: I can grow trees small and I do not have to dote on them. I can get results instantly, I don’t have to wait for years. I can still “play” in the garden and with the garden if I want to. I can try new plants at any time and – I can go away on a vacation if needed and I don’t need to hire a bonsai-babysitter either.

My two main purposes for using these wee 4” conifers in my miniature gardens are because (a) the trees and shrubs look like “big” trees in miniature and (b) they are low maintenance and easy to grow. But, in doing so, I’ve been unconsciously “growing wood” – almost every tree that I have had for at least 5 years, has a spectacular trunk on it and tremendous bonsai potential.

So, my case remains in place Dan-my-man, with one qualifier: You can use the 4” miniature and dwarf conifers for bonsai starts if you plant them in a miniature garden or a regular pot for a few years before you start the bonsai process and grow some wood first. It will cost less and give you the bragging rights;

Find your miniature or dwarf conifer and get started growing your own bonsai today right here.

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The Smallest Miniature Garden, grown from seed.
Young Blue Spruces were started from seed. It’s taken about 5 years to get them “this big!”
Find miniature garden trees and plants.

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