Lovely trees on trays

SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: Admiring a bonsai. — Photo: G.R.N. Somashekar

SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: Admiring a bonsai. — Photo: G.R.N. Somashekar  

WANT TO add beauty to your house? Go for bonsai. It has its roots in China but was developed to its present advanced state by the Japanese. In Indian history, a picture depicting the children of Ashoka the Great carrying bonsai as a gift for a Chinese emperor is well known. The word "bonsai" means "trees in trays." It is a process that involves miniaturising huge trees and growing them as dwarfs.

You can pick up a bonsai in any nursery across the city for a price ranging between Rs. 200 and Rs. 1,000. It is a lifetime investment and can be handed down from generation to generation. "While purchasing a bonsai, one must remember that the older the plant, the more value it has," says Leela, a housewife who has been raising bonsai for the last 15 years.

In today's fast growing cities, it is next to impossible to have a garden. So, the concept of growing numerous trees in a limited space is catching on. Ficus and Juniferous trees are suitable as they develop into bonsai easily. But palms of any kind cannot be.

According to Narayan Murthy, Assistant Director, Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, "The best way to develop a bonsai is stem-grafting or from a seedling." Take three parts of red soil, two parts of compost and one part of sand. Mix well and plant the seedling or stem graft in a shallow container. Water once a day; provide ample drainage; and ensure that they get sunlight. Prune the shoots to develop the desired shape and then regularly prune them to maintain miniature size.

Twist a soft and thin wire around the tip of each shoot and bend it down to the surface of the pot. You may tie it to a twine below the rim of the pot. After one year, the stem will have a permanent bend and the wire must be removed.

At the end of the growing season, prune all the thick roots severely, leaving only fibrous roots. Leave upper roots above compost to create gnarled trunk bases. Re-pot in a bonsai container.

Though bonsai cannot be kept indoors all the time, they can be brought in for a week at a time and kept in a cool, well-lit place. Multiple plants can be grouped together in a single pot and by adding water bodies, paths and bridges, you can create a beautiful miniature garden. You may have fruit- bearing trees such as mango, sapota and orange which carry miniature fruits that have an inherent aesthetic appeal.

Bonsai comes in three varieties: Mini (4'-6'), Medium(6'-10') and Tall (10'-18') and the latter two varieties are popular. "Anyone can keep bonsai plants provided they follow a few simple instructions and regularly water them.It is not as complicated as it seems, contrary to popular belief. So, go ahead and buy a bonsai to add beauty to your house," says Umi Oberoi, a collector of such plants for over 30 years.

But remember the following: Do not twist wires around the shoots too tightly as sap flow will stop; bonsai only includes trees and shrubs, not herbaceous plants; watering more than once can kill the plants; do not use plants with large leaves; and do not try to bonsai any tree from the palm family.

`Bonsai' Srinivas, who has donated his 45-year collection of plants to Lalbagh, conducts workshops in different parts of the city. The next one is scheduled for October 2. He may be reached on Ph: 26573317. He charges Rs. 800, which includes lunch, a CD and a book on bonsai and material required, and a few plants. Mr. Srinivas says bonsai is more a science than an art.

Bonsai plants add beauty to your house.

They cost Rs. 200 to Rs. 1,000 and old ones are costlier.

Ficus and Juniferous trees are suitable.

Excessive watering is not good.

It is easy to develop and maintain them.

Ideal for houses that cannot afford a regular garden

You can even have a miniature garden in a single pot.

You can have fruitbearing bonsai trees.


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