An Ugly Dwarf Boxwood Turns Into A Beautiful Small Bonsai Garden

My friend said, “Here, John, I found this plant in the reject pile and thought of you.”I knew what he was saying. He wasn’t calling me a reject, he had a gift for me.In my landscaping endeavors, I use a lot of plants.But, I need high quality plants, so I go to a couple of very good wholesale growers.

This time, though, my friend gave me a plant that was ugly and damaged; he wouldn’t be able to sell it. But he knew that I would know what to do with this ugly little plant. The plant was a dwarf boxwood and a tag identified the variety as “Grace Hendricks Phillips.”  The plant should have been a nice, perfectly round globe, but it had brown leaves, was unkempt, and had an entire side broken out.

Well, I knew the plant was a girl and I knew she was insecure and embarrassed because of her unkempt broken exterior. I said to her,

 “let me look, sweet lady. I think you have a surprise for me.”  And, sure enough, when I looked inside the broken foliage, I saw that we could do a little cosmetic surgery to make her beautiful.

making a bonsai from a broken plant
If you look inside the plant you will be surprised at the intricacy and potential

I asked her, “What do you want to look like when we get through?”And she said, “I’ve always wanted to look like a stately south Georgia water oak.”

“We can do that,” I answered. “We can do that, let me clean you up a bit and get a better look at your potential.” I got my little cutting shears out and patiently cleaned out all of the dead wood. I decided that a couple of limbs didn’t need to be there so I cut them out.

developing the trunk base of a bonsai creation
clean up the dead wood and remove any unwanted limbs.

An old priest at the monastery in Conyers, Georgia, long ago, said, “When pruning a small specimen, you should trim it so that a bird can fly through it.” I hope he meant for me to carry on his concept because he is gone now and I can probably qualify as the old man. I use the bird concept on all of my trees, though. It always looks good. So, I cleaned up the boxwood and as I worked, I began to see the water oak that she so much wanted to emulate.

trimming tips for new bonsai
carefully trim the tips so that the plant can grow out to its potential

I had found the shape inside, and now I needed to give her a “haircut” to finish off her transformation. I trimmed the tips and cleaned out discolored leaves. She was looking good.

–Here’s what she looked like when I finished the makeover.

a view of the side of the plant after pruning shows the tree form.
The preliminary cleaning and pruning has been completed (for now). We can see the shape of a grand live oak inside the miniature boxwood.

I needed a home for her. I didn’t have the money or the inclination to go find a pot to plant her in so I went out to my rock pile. (Did I tell you that I am a rock collector? Are you surprised?). After studying her, I asked, “Would you like to live on a mossy hillside? She smiled and said, “Oh, Yes. That would thrill me.” I started laying out rocks on a piece of flagstone in preparation of being glued in place. (Click here to see instructions for attaching the rocks).

preparing to make a stone bonsai container
The rocks will be glued to the flagstone. follow the link above to find the directions

The next day, after the glue had dried overnight, I studied the orientation of the plant in her new home.

initial planting of a bonsai plant
after the glue has dried overnight, we study the orientation of the plant.

I packed her roots carefully with a high quality potting soil, added moss to hold the soil together while the plant grew in and to make her look really, really good. She received an honored place in the garden.

ugly boxwood transformed into a beautiful bonsai.
The ugly boxwood has been named Daphne (read below) and she is very happy in her new home.

She never did tell me her name though, so I put her on Facebook and asked my friends. One friend, Claudia, knew exactly who she was. “Her name is ‘Daphne,’ after the Greek goddess who was turned into a beautiful laurel bush because she didn’t want to get it on with Apollo. Apollo, as you may know, pulls the sun across the sky with a team of horses. He still loves Daphne.”

 It was a cloudy day when I took Daphne out to the garden, but the moment I set her in place, the clouds opened up and the sun shined right on her.

I looked up and smiled.

—john schulz

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