Saikei—Build a Garden on a Rock.

“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:

Jason's elf man garden
Elf-man gardens show up when you least expect to see them.

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.

blog Saikei blue star cypress
Blue Star Cypress is a slow-growing compact specimen. It is a great bonsai subject because it stays compact and shapes well.

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:

blog saikei planting 2
Preparing the Saikei base takes a lot of careful consideration.

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.

saikei glue gun
be sure to use an adhesive that contains a urethane base. Nothing else I tried gave anywhere near the results of urethane

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.

blog saikei planting 1
I tip the rocks back and apply the adhesive, being careful to maintain the orientation of the rocks.

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.

Saikei base in garden ready
She had to find just the right place in the garden. It will be an accent piece in just the right location

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.

blog saikei planting 3
It’s good to prune the roots of the plant and I need to rough up the root ball anyway to make it fit into the project

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.

blog saikei planting 4
We take a lot of time with the orientation of the plant and then pack the potting soil around it and then put moss over the soil for looks as well as to hold the soil.

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.

blog saikei planting 5
The Saikei project is finished for now. We may add plants or features and pruning will be often and careful until the desired shape has been reached.

If you would like to see some magnificent bonsai trees, Click here and scroll through the pictures

Thank you for visiting johntheplantman. I hope you enjoyed the show. I don’t posst on a regular basis so you may wish to subscribe for an emeail notification (upper right). If you don’t want to subscribe, it’s ok.

Published by John P.Schulz

I lost my vocal cords a while back due to throat cancer. The laryngectomy sent me on a quest to find and learn to use my new, altered voice. I am able to talk now with a really small and neat new prosthesis. My writing reflects what I have learned in my search for a voice. My site publishes a daily motivational quote and a personal comment. I write an article a week for my blog, which deals with a lot of the things that I do in the garden. I am also the author of Requiem for a Redneck and the new Redemption for a Redneck--novels portraying the lives and doings of folks around the north Georgia hills. I have an English Education degree from the University of Georgia and very happily married to the lovely Dekie Hicks. You may enjoy my daily Quotes and Notes at

3 thoughts on “Saikei—Build a Garden on a Rock.

  1. 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.

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