“Saikei” is a Japanese art form that involves “a garden on a flat surface.” This art form usually involves bonsai, but it can lead to an intriguing chain of experiments.
In early 2018 I found and joined a Facebook group entitled “The art of Saikei.” Members of the group showed me many beautiful pictures and ideas related to the art form.
But here is something from my personal background that made it even more interesting…
Forty two years ago, my eight- year- old son Paul said he wanted a garden for his “elf man.” So we made an elf-man garden. Over the years we made a lot of elf-man gardens, large and small (with stairs, pathways, and even a “tire swing” from a broken matchbox truck”). I didn’t know until the Facebook post taught me a year ago that Paul and I had been making Saikei gardens. Paul would have enjoyed this site but he died three years ago. I still make elf-man gardens in his honor and give them away to 8-year-old kids who know how to behave. A man I know named Jason made an elf-man garden one time. It looked like this:
My wife, Dekie, and I had found a slow-growing but charming “Blue Star Cypress” in a nursery a couple of years ago. It was expensive but that’s because it’s a slow grower.
Dekie spent a couple of years shaping the plant and this year she wanted to use it in a Saikei garden. We got some special rocks together and I showed her how Paul and built these gardens long ago. The first thing that she had to do was to arrange the rocks exactly as she wanted them. We would put together a framework to hold the garden together. She spent a long time finding special rocks and in laying them out. Here’s what she did:
I spent a lot of time years ago finding the proper adhesive to stick the rocks on the slab. The kind that did best had a Urethane base. I found that silicone won’t hold up. I looked through the adhesives at the hardware store and found this “construction adhesive” that contained urethane. It was just what I wante. The caulking gun is cheap enough and it works.
I carefully turned each rock, one at a time, to the side and squirted the adhesive underneath. I did it so that if the rock squeezed any of the glue out it would be to the inside.
It took her another long time to figure out just where she wanted the project to be in the garden. You see, this plant will live outside all year (Northwest Georgia, U.S.) The saikei base is ready to go.
To get the plant ready for the container, I chopped the root ball in half with a hack saw and then I roughed up the remaining root ball so the roots would fit in the garden that awaited it.
We washed off the rocks and watered in the planting. Dekie packed soil around the base of the plant to fill in any places that needed it. Then it was time to carefully peel some moss from the ground in our moss garden and transfer it to the project for finishing. We were after soil-holding properties as well as looks. The moss was tucked in carefully and then watered.
And then came the best part—the part where you get to stand back and grin. Over the next few weeks, Dekie will carefully trim the tree so that it will grow to desired dimensions. She already told me that I had put the little bridge in the wrong place and that this was her project now. I can take a hint. I’ll stay out of the way.
If you would like to see some magnificent bonsai trees, Click here and scroll through the pictures
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3 thoughts on “Saikei—Build a Garden on a Rock.”
Thank you John. I love hearing from you!
Hello from southwest Florida, I thoroughly enjoyed your post and the description and photos of Dekie’s lovely Saikel garden. So much detail is a tiny space captures my rapt attention. I don’t know how your post ended up in my spam folder, but for some reason, instead of automatically deleting it, I decided to read it and was hooked. Let me add that I’m truly sorry that you lost a son. We are members of a ‘club’ which no one really wants to be a part of. The ‘dues’ are much too much. I have also lost a son who would be 32 now. He died suddenly at age 13 when playing at a friend’s house with a loaded gun, unsupervised by an adult. Keep on keeping on. Hang in there, John. Thank you for your musings on gardening. All good things, Sandi.