Sunday, October 23, 2011

My first bonsai show

Yesterday I went to my first bonsai show ever. The Capitol City Bonsai Association (Sacramento) had their 12th anniversary show this past weekend, and it was a great opportunity to see prime examples of bonsai.

My understanding of bonsai is quite rudimentary but I’ve been saying for a couple of years now that bonsai seems like the perfect hobby for me when I retire. But since that won’t happen for another 15 years or so, there’s no point in waiting that long to find out more about it.

I attended a hands-on demonstration on Sunday but it was about rock planting (see below) and not about creating bonsai specimens. The philosophy is quite similar in many ways to the philosophy behind Japanese gardens. From what I was able to glean, the goal of bonsai is to create a idealized miniature version of nature where everything about the plant is perfectly proportional to its size. In other words, you don’t want a small tree with leaves that are much too big for the trunk and branches. How that is achieved is still a mystery, but I plan to delve into this subject more over the winter (I hope our local library has a good supply of bonsai books).

Here are some of the photos I took of exhibits in the show. Unfortunately, I only brought my compact camera and opted not to use flash, so the photos show quite a bit of noise (grain). Still, you should get a good idea of what can be done. I was blown by many of these miniature masterpieces.

Sierra juniper
Sierra juniper
Hinoki cypress
Collected California juniper
Moon maple
This specimen looked very old, but at the same time, the leaves seemed to be out of proportion to the massive (relatively speaking) trunk. I was intrigued by the look, but I thought this exhibit lacked the refinement and ethereal beauty of many others.
Another cotoneaster
There were quite a few crabapple exhibits, and they were among my favorites.
The size of the fruit is perfect for the size of the tree.
Crabapple closeup
This was also labeled as a crabapple but the fruit looks different from the ones above
I loved this one, probably because I was surprised to see what is a very common tree in our area, or maybe it was the fact that it had a couple of perfect fruits.
Pomegranate close-up
Another big surprise. I have no idea how you get ivy to grow like this. Absolutely fascinating.
A tiny flowering quince. I don’t know how the grower got it to flower out of season.
Each main exhibit (usually a tree or shrub) also had a tiny companion piece, usually a completely unrelated plant. This one is a very small crassula or sedum, can’t really tell which.
This is not a bonsai exhibit per se (the spider web sempervivum was regular sized), but rather a very interesting recreation of a sand garden. Quietly beautiful in its own way.

The demonstration I watched was on rock planting. This involves planting bonsai’ed plants in rocks or rock arrangements. The guy doing the demonstration (I unfortunately missed his name) was clearly a master at it. He had cemented together five pieces of lava rock (lots of crevices) to form a shape that looked like the bow of a ship climbing a wave, i.e. thrust toward the sky at approximately a 45° angle.

He then proceeded to plant the rock ensemble with cypress, rhododendron and cotoneaster as well as saxifrage and gentian for flower color. What amazed me the most was how he handled the roots, ripping or clipping off large chunks of roots that weren’t needed. I cringed inside when I saw that, but obviously the plants are OK with this rough treatment.

After he had placed the plants in their assigned spot, he affixed them with a mixture of clay, peat and pumice that had the consistency of firm Play-Doh. Once it hardens, it keeps the plants in place—for life! He spent quite a bit of time pushing this clay mixture into all the cracks and crevices around the roots of each plant because that’s all the “soil” they will have. The result was stunning, but it’s certainly not something you can put on a table and forget about. A strict watering and fertilization regime is necessary to keep the plants alive, and vigorous pruning is required to maintain the proportions and health of the arrangement.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good photo of the final result, but here’s a two-part video from YouTube that illustrates the process:

Rock planting tutorial
Rock planting tutorial

I hope these photos reflected some of the awe I felt when seeing these infinitely fascinating pieces.

A few updates

Last week was very busy at work and I wasn’t able to write as many posts as I normally do. I hope things will calm down next week.

In the meantime, here are some updates on posts from earlier this year. I find it interesting and useful to compare progress between now and then. Look for more updates as the gardening year winds down.

Next  Silver carpet (Dymondia margaretae)

Originally published on May 29, 2011, this post describes planting silver carpet (Dymondia margaretae), a tough South African native, in the narrow strip between our front lawn and the flag stone walkway. I planted 12 small plugs which initially didn’t look like much.

Dymondia margaretae on 5/28/11, right after I planted it

Now, five months later, these small plugs have completely filled in, suppressing all the weeds that would have started to grow there by now. The rate of growth of Dymondia margaretae has been a very positive surprise. I’m very happy with the outcome and can’t wait to see the small daisy-like flowers next spring.

Same planting strip on 10/22/11
(never mind all the plants sitting on the walkway; I’m getting things organized for the winter)
The Dymondia margaretae has filled in completely

CLICK HERE for an update on Dymondia margaretae (August 2012).

Next Bamboo muhly in full flower

On June 9, 2011, I wrote about the wretched state of our bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), a lacy desert grass that bears a superficial resemble to Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata subsp.aztecorum). It had begun to flower on a large scale to the point where most of the leaves dried up completely. I still have no explanation for this phenomenon; it reminded me of the mass flowering of bamboos but in spite of its name this grass is not a bamboo.

Muhlenbergia dumosa in full flower on 5/27/11

I’m happy to report that the plants have recovered fully and look great again.

Potted Muhlenbergia dumosa on 10/22/11
In-ground Muhlenbergia dumosa on 10/22/11

Next Bye bye calla lilies

On June 5, 2011, I wrote about our calla lilies beginning to look tired in the early summer heat. I cut back all the foliage and let the plants rest.

Calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) on 5/30/11

In September, new leaves started to emerge, and now this planting strip is looking great. A few more weeks, and we’ll have calla lilies in flower!

Calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) on 10/22/11
Calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) on 10/22/11

Next Queen of the night

In mid-August a segment of a Queen of the Night cactus (Cereus hildmannianus susp. hildmannianus) I had rescued from the yardwaste pile produced four gorgeous blossoms. Each flower lasts only one night, opening at dusk and closing in mid-morning the following day.

Cereus hildmannianus susp. hildmannianus on 8/17/11

Three flowers were in bloom at the same time. I used a small brush and transferred pollen between the three flowers. I’m happy to say that my efforts were successful, and we now have three fruits in the process of ripening. They’re still hard so it looks like we’ll still have a few weeks to go before they’re ripe. They are supposed to be very tasty. I’ll keep you posted.

Cereus hildmannianus susp. hildmannianus fruit on 10/22/11

Next Angel wing begonia

In late April, I received a small angel wing begonia (Begonia aconitifolia x coccinea) cutting as part of a plant trade. I potted it up and kept it in the shade on our front porch where it has thrived.

Angel wing begonia (Begonia aconitifolia x coccinea) cutting I received on 4/28/11

Just recently it produced its first bloom, which to me is a clear sign that it’s happy with the way I’ve treated it—keeping it moist and occasionally giving it some all-purpose Miracle-Gro fertilizer.

Same cutting blooming on 10/22/11
Close-up of flower

Unfortunately, our climate is too cold for angel wing begonias to stay outside through the winter, so it will join the ever growing rank of plants I’ll have to bring inside. This will be an interesting winter for sure, considering I’ve never had to overwinter plants in the house.

Friday, October 21, 2011

UC Santa Cruz Arboretum: Australian Garden

To read part 1 of my visit to the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum, please click here.

With more than 2,000 different species, the Australian Garden at UCSC Arboretum claims to have the largest collection of Australian plants outside of Australia. As with the South African Garden, what impressed me was the naturalistic layout. I didn’t feel like I was walking through a man-made space but rather through a natural environment. Admittedly, this naturalistic effect is easier to achieve with trees and shrubs than with small bedding plants, but the lack of artifice was refreshing nonetheless.

As befits a world-class collection of antipodean natives, the Arboretum has impressive eucalyptus specimens, including the ones you see in the first group of photos. While some eucalyptus (or “gum trees,” as they’re commonly referred to in Australia) are fairly common in Northern California, there are so many different species (about 700) that any botanical garden can only scratch the surface.

Darling Range ghost gum (Eucalyptus laeliae)
Candlebark (Eucalyptus rubida)
Candlebark (Eucalyptus rubida)
Snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora)
Snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora)
Albany blackbutt (Eucalyptus staeri)

Having a soft spot for spiky-leafed plants such as nolinas, yuccas, and hesperaloes, it doesn’t come as a surprise that I’m a big fan of xanthorrhoeas (say that five times fast). Sometimes called the Australian grass tree, this is a very slow-growing plant, eventually growing to impressive heights. As Wikipedia says, “while a five-metre [15 ft.] tall member of the fastest growing Xanthorrhoea may be 200 years old, a member of a more slowly-growing species of equal height may have aged to 600 years.”

Outside of Australia, xanthorrhoeas are rare indeed. The specimen in the following photos is just beginning to come into its own. I look forward to revisiting it in 10 years.

Xanthorrhoea australis
Xanthorrhoea australis

Moving on to flowering bushes, the first I saw in the Australian Garden was this Christmas bush (Correa reflexa), called that because it flowers in the winter (this one must have been early). Native to eastern Australia, these bushes are reputed to be easy to grow. This is the first I’ve seen in the U.S. so I’m not sure how common they are on our shores.

Correa reflexa

When we visited our friends in Sydney a couple of years ago, one of my favorite shrubs was the grevillea. I was hoping to see more of them at the UCSC Aboretum, but I only found the one in the next photo, and it was just a bit past its prime. Grevilleas are in the Proteaceae family, together with many of the South African shrubs I talked about in my previous post. Like all Proteaceae, it needs a mild climate to thrive.

Grevillea species

Yet another member of the Proteaceae family is the genus Banksia. Banksias are among the most iconic Australian plants. Their impressive flowers are rich in nectar and therefore a significant food source for many animals, including birds, rodents, possums, bats, and bees. In addition, banksia wood is often made into ornamental pieces; some of them can be seen here.

In the garden, banksias add a flair of the unusual and dramatic. Unfortunately, a frost-free climate is a requirement, which severely limits the areas in the U.S. where they can be grown successfully. But even if you’ll never have a banksia light up your own yard, you can enjoy them vicariously in the photos below.

Banksia speciosa, both old and new flowers
Banksia speciosa, new flower still a few weeks from being in full bloom.
Also check out the fantastic leaves.
Banksia speciosa, old flowers
Banksia speciosa, old flower and new leaves emerging
Banksia speciosa, seed cone
Banksia speciosa, seed cones
Banksia baxteri flower
Banksia baxteri flower and one-of-a-kind leaves.
I don’t know of any other plant that has leaves quite like these.
Banksia grandis
Banksia grandis seed cones and immature flowers
Banksia grandis seed cone
Banksia attenuata in bloom
Banksia attenuata in bloom. This was the only banksia that was in full flower.
And what flowers they were!
Banksia attenuata
Banksia attenuata. Check out the ants in the photo on the right. Ants may, indeed, be one of the pollinators of banksias although the literature isn’t conclusive.

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