Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Karate Kid IV

This spring Bruce and I went to the Garden show in Boston. There were bonsai vendors amidst the floral art and beautiful themed displays.

When I said, "Lets look," he was as captivated by the tiny junipers as I was. We picked one out with the care we give to a Christmas tree, or maybe even to picking out a pet, and made plans to pick it up later after we finished with the garden show.

That's when we learned we might have, in fact, bought a "pet," or a reasonable facsimile.

"Listen to this," I said reading from the instructions we were given with the bonsai. "It says they provide boarding for trees. Who would board a tree?"

As it turns out, many. They require individualized attention; each has its own watering and temperature needs and many board their plants when vacationing.

It also turns out that juniper, the tree we'd chosen because it was among the least expensive, should live outside from late April until just before the frost. Like a junkyard dog, I thought. I wanted a "pet" that would sleep at the foot of my bed.

So the next day we drove north to another bonsai place and picked up a tropical plant that will live in our bay window year round.

I picture bonsai care as rather spiritual, ala Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid, something done serenely in peaceful surroundings.

Only in the movies.

"That one needs to be clipped," says Bruce who bought some old pruning sheers at the bonsai center that he's already spruced up with WD-40.

"Not yet. Let it get settled," I say. "I don't want to nip off its growth right away."

"You're supposed to nip it off," he insists. "Otherwise they get too big."

"I want to see its shape first I say. Then I'll decide where to snip."

A day later he points out the new growth again. And the next.

Oh, damn, so I'll snip already. Serenely, breathing slowly.

Mr. Gadget has also gone and bought a probe that he sticks into the soil of each plant to monitor the moisture level. The juniper should never dry out, yet it doesn't like "wet feet" either. It seems a fussy line to walk. The tropical plant likes a good soaking after which it should become dry.

Bruce gives me daily reports of which plant needed watering. He handles it while I work, but on weekends we have little non-serene discussions about the virtue of monitoring moisture levels with a cold metallic probe versus a human finger in the soil.

"Why would you use your finger when the probe is accurate?" he asks.

"My finger certainly knows when the soil is moist," I say.

It reminds me of the baby days, discussing who needed a bottle instead of crying himself to sleep. The kids survived. I trust the bonsais will too.
...a bonsai truly represents the fusion of nature and human wisdom; it is an art that at once pursues the spirits of both nature and beauty. ~Amy Liang


Josie said...

Oh gosh! That seems like a lot of work for a plant. But I know a bonsai is a very special plant. I have a coffee plant that I just love, it gives coffee beans every few months, and I have had the plant for 24 years. Sometimes I even forget to water it, but it forgives me.

I use the finger/moisture method too, to tell if it needs watering or not. Dry = water it. Not dry = ignore it for a while longer.

leslie said...

Seems everything I plant ends up crackling dry...even my cacti! lol But I do have a silk ivy - it does well even when covered with dust. Every once in a while, I put it in the sink and let the water run over it until it's clean and shiny. Everyone thinks it's real.

Janice Thomson said...

I love bonsai and have a few but don't do much snipping and definitely don't wire them - seems a bit inhumane to do that to a tree. I have an azalea that took on its own shape and hangs over the edge beautifully - it's about 10 years old now. The neighbor has a teacup, teapot and a few others beautifully trimmed (boxwood). It is a neat art.

Ruth D~ said...

aplus1aplus2Josie, The finger method will probably be what I adopt hen we determine that these trees are hardier that we were told. I hope so anyway.

Leslie, I laughed at your silk plant. Today's artificial plants look realer than real.

Janice, I checked into the "mistreatment" of the tree factor and came away satisfied that this is nothing more than selective pruning with an artistic eye. The wires are so flexible that you'd wonder how they could shape a tree. Anyway, it's nothing like the practice of Chinese feet binding. Some trees continue to live to incredible ages. I did ask if the trees were happy, and were assured they were. :>)

Tere said...

I am with Leslie on the silk plant thing. And that is good because if I was responsible for a tree's life, there would be fewer trees in the world. I know my limitations.

Lisa said...

I love bonsai! Kudos to you and Bruce for taking on these beauties! You'll have to keep us updated on their progress. :)

Barbara said...

Congratulations on your new acquisition! That was undoubtedly my favorite part of The Karate Kid. May your little tree prosper under your care!