Plant a bonsai on a mountain side in a shallow dish

A friend gave my wife a beautiful small bonsai dish and then a few weeks later, the same friend presented me with a carefully-chosen small evergreen that was well shaped and only needed a touch up to become an excellent bonsai starter. The plant is chamaecyparis obtusa nana lutea

The dish was rather shallow and my friend suggested that I should get a deeper container for this beautiful (and expensive) plant. I decided to show off. Here are the pictures of me doing exactly that.

I like to use a good, porous potting soil for the process. I check out the plant to see how it will fit and to get a mental picture.

blog dwarf bonsai 1

I like to use a good, porous potting soil. The plant should like this just fine

I study the relationship of the plant to the container. I move it around and study the placement possibilities. The main rule I am following here is to “stay out of the center.” I get an idea of my direction with the project.

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Take lots of time studying the placement possibilities. Stay out of the center

Take the plant out of its container and study the root structure. This is the “soul of the plant” and sometimes that soul needs a bit of re-arranging. (I’m sure you can understand that).

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study the root ball to determine how you will modify it to fit the container

I carefully break up the root ball. Sometimes I have to use a hack saw or a knife to cut the bottom from the root ball but this one is easy. Pruning the roots of a plant adds strength to the plant by encouraging the remaining roots to branch out and develop more feeders.

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break up the bottom of the root ball so that it will fit in the container

After determining the placement of the plant, I place the soil around the root ball, packing it down firmly, and this gives me the basic shape for the “mountain.”

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Pile potting soil around the root ball and shape the mountain (sort of like with modelling clay)

I start to “build a mountainside” around the plant by adding well-chosen rocks which support the plant while they keep the soil in place. The rocks, in essence, increase the depth of the container in an attractive manner. At this point, I take care to make sure all roots are covered.

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continue to shape the mountain and add a rock or two if needed to hold the soil or stabilize the plant

Dekie and I keep a bucket of “neat rocks” that we have picked up here or there. Collecting rocks is fun. My next step in this project is to use a few of these to build “cliffs and mountainsides.” I make sure that everything fits tightly so it won’t fall out when the plant is moved.

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On a stable surface, pack the soil around the rocks and plant so that nothing moves.

I used to have to go to the aquarium department of a pet store to find the polished rocks, but I had spotted these flat, polished, black rocks in the Dollar Store one day. I bought them for just such an occasion as this. I start adding a stabilizing and attractive “ground cover” with the black rocks. As I work, I pack the soil over and over to make sure it will stand the test of time.

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add decorative roocks and perhaps a bit of gravel to paint a picture.

We cleaned off a prominent place on the patio for the mountain bonsai to live. After a couple of years of meditative pruning it should be a masterpiece.

blog dwarf bonsai 10 chamaecyparis obtusa nana lutea

The mountain bonsai looks good enough to earn a place of prominence.

And here’s a top view

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We named it “Betty.”

 

Other articles that pertain to this subject:

The basics of pruning-Pruning as an art form

A few years ago Dekie and I visited a bonsai show in Nashville at the Cheekwood gardens Here’s the story

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Trucking Buddies Stumble Upon a Bonsai Show

Dekie was studying the road atlas. She said, “Look, here’s a mention of what looks like a small botanical garden. Maybe it would be fun.” We had spent the night in Nashville on our way back to Georgia from the trip to Iowa—not because it was Nashville, but because it was a good place to stop. I’m always game for a garden and we went looking for it.

Heading South

Heading South

I’ll admit that we are a bit naïve and unaware at times. Neither of us knew that Cheekwood was a magnificent museum and garden on the U.S. National Register of Historical Places. I plan to write at least a couple of articles on this adventure. It was quite an experience for a Georgia boy and his sweetie. After paying a parking fee and another admission fee, we looked around and found that members of the Nashville Bonsai Society (or whatever they call themselves) were setting up a very nice show just for us.

A wonderful bonsai show was being set up just for us at Cheekwood

A wonderful bonsai show was being set up just for us at Cheekwood

My wife is intrigued with bonsai and I basically shape plants for a living so we were happy to walk through and study the beautiful trees. I love the way an old pine trunk looks after years of training:

This is probably a Japanese Black Pine

This bonsai is probably a Japanese Black Pine

One of the more tedious techniques for shaping the plants is wrapping and bending wire to get the desired shapes. Copper wire is heated to gain stiffness and is then wrapped carefully around trunks and limbs.

bonsai tree limbs wrapped with specially treated copper wire

bonsai tree limbs wrapped with specially treated copper wire

The bonsai process is totally detail oriented. At first glance we see and appreciate the overall shape of the tree. On closer inspection, though, we notice deeper and deeper layers of detail such as in this carefully formed and aged tree trunk.

A carefully sculptured and nurtured bonsai tree trunk

A carefully sculptured and nurtured bonsai tree trunk

We were enjoying the tree below when an “old guy” started telling us about it (to me “old guy” is my age or older and should usually be listened to and venerated). He told us that the tree had been found and transplanted from a nearby mountaintop by one of their members who had served as a bonsai apprentice in Japan. I asked him what it was like to be a bonsai apprentice and he replied, “There is little or no pay, they work you like a slave and they don’t feed you.” I remember the part about getting fed.

A wind swept tree from the top of a  mountain

A wind swept tree from the top of a mountain

Dekie is working on a juniper cascade at home and she was interested in the overall shape and size of this specimen.

A bonsai in the classic "cascade" shape

A bonsai in the classic “cascade” shape

I have decided that the next plant I purchase for myself will be a Hinoki cypress—which is really not a cypress but a “cameacyperus” or false cypress. Here is a picture of a bonsai Hinoki. I also like them when they are allowed to get big.

Hinoki cypress bonsai

Hinoki cypress bonsai

I was rather taken with this three-piece arrangement. The artist will spend quite a bit of time adjusting all three of the components to just the right placement and orientation.

bonsai arrangement on a formal stand

bonsai arrangement on a formal stand

A good thing to know is that these arrangements are NOT house plants and that they are NOT static. The plants are usually grown outside or in a greenhouse and moved inside the home only for short-term display.

bonsai arrangement on polished driftwood

bonsai arrangement on polished driftwood

You may wish to play around with bonsai. I wrote an article a few years ago that is rather popular. Click here for ‘how to start a bonsai’

Another popular article, click here for “Pruning as an art form, the basics of pruning”

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

From Wikipedia on where the Cheek’s money came from:

”Christopher Cheek founded a wholesale grocery business in Nashville in the 1880s. His son, Leslie Cheek, joined him as a partner, and by 1915 was president of the family-owned company. Leslie’s wife, Mabel Wood, was a member of a prominent Clarksville, Tennessee, family. Meanwhile, Joel Cheek, Leslie’s cousin, had developed an acclaimed blend of coffee that was marketed through Nashville’s finest hotel, the Maxwell House Hotel. Cheek’s extended family, including Leslie and Mabel Cheek, were investors. In 1928, the Postum Cereals Company (now General Foods) purchasedMaxwell House‘s parent company, Cheek-Neal Coffee, for more than $40 million.[2]

Foundation planting with containers

 

Today’s article is about what I call a “Barbie Doll Garden.”  Here’s the story:

One of my favorite clients for a number of years is very easy to please as long as she gets ­exactly what she wants.  The problem is that I sometimes have to get really creative to reach that goal.  I spent a lot of time trying to get the entrance planting just right but she kept asking me to move this or change that.  Finally, in order to make the moving and changing easier, I got some nice clay pots and created a garden that can be moved around and changed easily.  I got tickled when I figured out that it was kind of like playing with a doll house and being able to change things easily and at will.

Containers in foundation planting for easy maintenance and change
Containers in foundation planting for easy maintenance and change

The planting is divided into three sections.  In this one by the drive, we installed a fieldstone border and added pea gravel for the “floor.  We set containers where we thought they should go and planted a combination of evergreen and flowering plants. The plants have been pruned to shape using bonsai techniques. Whenever Betty decides that something doesn’t look right, we can move it, prune it, or change the plant out for another one.  The next picture shows the end of the planting area which is framed with an arborvitae in a cast iron urn

containers in the foundation planting. Not the urn framing the end.
containers in the foundation planting. Note the urn framing the end.

The second section takes in a porch by the drive and curves around the corner to the main entrance.  I like the way pots of impatiens and caladiums flash their colors from an area behind the autumn ferns. We are able to move the accent plants around to get the placement just right.  As they say on the infomercials, “It really, really works.”

Containers of impatiens behind autumn ferns
Containers of impatiens behind autumn ferns

Permanent plantings of well shaped lorapetalum and dwarf nandina give a background for a bed of containers on the house side of the walkway to the front entrance.  We chose a combination of variegated cypress, dwarf procumbens juniper, dwarf yaupon, and frost proof gardenia for the perennial evergreens.  The bed is bordered with rock and has been filled and leveled with compost and cypress mulch for stability and levelling

cypress chips, rocks, and containers with shaped evergreens
cypress chips, rocks, and containers with shaped evergreens

We also left room to plant flowers.  I love the dragon wing begonias.  These are the most dependable begonias I ever worked with.  They can be used as bedding plants or in containers.  The begonias are replaced with pansies for the winter garden.

Bedding plants form a nice frame for the containerized evergreens.  I love the gardenia bloom
Bedding plants form a nice frame for the containerized evergreens. I love the gardenia bloom

To add balance for the planting at the end of the walkway, we added one more small bed around the cast iron horse head.  I selected three upright junipers and pruned them into an interesting topiary.  These plants will never be finished.  I have a picture in my head of each of the limbs having a flat top with rounded edges.  The final picture will take years.

Three carefully shaped topiaries in containers anchor the end of the stone walkway
Three carefully shaped topiaries in containers anchor the end of the stone walkway

To add color, I found a large dragon wing hanging basket and planted it in this terra cotta pot.  The plant had been root bound in the basket and it almost exploded when it received room for its roots and a goodly dose of liquid fertilizer.

Dragon wing begonia and procumbuns juniper in separate containers
Dragon wing begonia and procumbuns juniper in separate containers

I really like this garden.  I like the way it looks and I like the fact that when something doesn’t look right I can move it or easily change it.  When some of the plants become root bound or out of shape I can plant them in the yard and replace them with new ones.  I am planning to renovate my new wife’s back yard and I think that we will use the “Barbie Doll” concept for at least one or two sections. I love the aspect of being able to modify the scope and balance by easily moving or changing a plant here or there.

This is also a wonderful concept for someone who finds instant gratification a bit on the slow side.

Other articles relating to this topic:

How to start a bonsai

The basics of pruning

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

If you would like a consultation with John Schulz, Landscape Artist, in your yard,Please contact me by email

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