pleasures of small wonders
By Esther Williams
Most of us have seen and admired Bonsai, the gentle art of miniature
tree growing. The millennia-old art form that originated in China
and branched out to Japan is still growing strong today with many
species of trees from different countries becoming proper subjects
oriental art of creating miniature versions of nature's wondrous
trees is a hobby that we too can develop. Bonsai grower, Prof. Merrill
Perera shares his expertise in the area that he has dabbled in,
off and on during the past 40 years. "A vibrant three-dimensional
art form, a Bonsai is a living art that changes each day unlike
a painting," says he.
art has become popular in Sri Lanka over the past two decades, with
exhibitions held annually by the Bonsai Association. Outlining the
basic features he says Bonsai are essentially, outdoors plants,
and need plenty of bright sunshine. They need to be watered liberally
each day until the water drains out from under the pot. Stems and
leaves can be sprayed to appear fresh. While good ventilation is
necessary, strong winds and draughts need to be avoided. Bonsai
can be kept indoors for short periods but should be nurtured on
a daily basis for healthy survival and watched for possible signs
of ill health.
Choosing a pot: Different sizes of earthenware, cement,
ceramic or porcelain pots are available. Choose a shallow pot to
match the plant size, ensuring that it is not glazed on the inside.
Shallowness enhances the tree's trunk. Terracotta, cobalt blue or
shades of brown or green complement many trees. Ensure that the
pot has adequate drainage. Harmony between the tree and the container
should be your goal, as the plant will live in the chosen container
for many years.
a plant: In temperate climates, firs and pines are commonly used
but in Sri Lanka, the Bo, Nuga, Hawthorn, Dibul, Nelli, Beli, Candle
plant, Tamarind, and various other indigenous hardwood plants can
be captured in miniature form. Flowering plants and citrus fruit
tress can also be used. Small leafed plants look dainty. From plant
sales choose those that are short with thick trunks, many branches
and with a certain symmetry or asymmetry and nice curves. Plants
can also be collected when on trips to the countryside.
Keep available scissors and wire cutters and sieves measuring ½"
to 1/3rd". Children's toy implements such as shovels, brushes,
water sprayer and old pencils or pens can be used to prepare soil
and for planting. Copper or aluminium wire and green plastic mesh
can be purchased from hardware stores.
the soil: Equal proportions of cow dung, humus or compost, river
sand and red earth make up the soil. Throw in some broken chicken
bones or snail shells. Using sieves grade soil into different sizes
such as 1, 2 and 3 to stand for coarse, medium and fine.
Wash pot and cover drainage holes with green plastic mesh to conserve
soil and secure with wire. Line bottom of pot with broken bits of
bricks and tiles making a ½" layer. Add grade 1 soil
and then layer with grade 2 soil. Prune root and branches of plant
and place off centre in pot. Add 3rd grade soil and the finest on
top, piling it into the centre. Pat plant with pencil so that no
air is trapped within the soil. Scrape moss collected from walls
of old buildings and place on top. Place pot in a tub and pour water
into tub filling it until just below the brim.
for the plant: Keep plant indoors or in a cool shady place for two
weeks and do not disturb it. Always ensure that the water in the
tub is at the required level. Plant can be kept outdoors after two
weeks and allowed sunshine by which time one should see tiny shoots/buds.
Spray with water each day and wash and spray leaves. Look out for
pruning to maintain size and to enable new branches to grow. Wiring
can be done to reposition or straighten branches. Keep height at
6" as it will help thicken the trunk. Add fertilizer (plant
food - diluted as instructed on fertilizer cover) once in two weeks.
bonsai needs to be re-potted every 2-3 years and should be cared
for like a child. A well-looked after bonsai can last for many many
years. It can certainly be a rewarding pastime, for it is viewed
today as a hobby that allows a greater understanding of nature and
also a way to enhance one’s garden.