There is a 25-foot-tall Japanese maple tree growing by my backyard patio. It started as a tiny seedling that germinated from a seed that fell off the coral bark maple growing in the front yard.
When I espied the cute, inch-tall baby tree 20 years ago, I carefully lifted it from the bark dust and grew it in a pot for a few years before planting it by the patio. By then it was about 18 inches tall and I never expected it to get as big as it is now. It has been one of the most carefree and rewarding plants in my garden. I love thinking that my humble partnership with nature produced such a grand reward.
Japanese maple seedlings are not a rare occurrence. They are pretty much glorified weeds in my garden and it pains me to have to pull them and throw them away.
Often, if they’re particularly robust, I’ll pot them up and grow them, yet not with the idea of producing another towering patio tree since a small garden cannot sustain too much of a good thing. Instead I’ve been having fun using them in my experiment with bonsai.
I’ve had an interest in bonsai since I was a kid living in Hawaii but had always hesitated to dive in since it would require time, patience and skills that seemed intimidating. Through the years, I’ve purchased a few good how-to books with good intentions but it wasn’t until recently when I started watching YouTube videos that I realized that the art of bonsai is not unreasonably difficult once its few principles are understood.
Now I’m working with my endless supply of maple seedlings as well as hazelnut tree seedlings, azaleas, a mugo pine, a Japanese holly, even a small-leaved wisteria to name a few.
My favorite bonsai YouTube videos are by Peter Chan of “Herons Bonsai” in the UK. Peter’s unique and genial British accent makes him a joy to listen to and because he’s been involved with bonsai since the 1970s, he really knows his stuff.
Often his videos show him transforming overgrown plants into works of art and with his precise, easy to follow narration, the listener has no trouble understanding what his objectives are. He has a series of bonsai videos on YouTube, covering various topics of bonsai including running a top of the line nursery in the UK. He posts a new video about every week.
Another informative video series is Bjorn Bjornholm’s “Bonsai U.” Like Peter, Bjorn owns a nursery but unlike Peter’s his — called Eisei-en — is located in Nashville, Tennessee. Bjorn’s personality is much different than Peter’s. A bit shy on the demonstration, Bjorn is more of a lecturer. If you’re interested in knowing the history and theory of bonsai techniques, Bjorn is your man.
Want to see the top 25 bonsai channels on YouTube? Visit this link: blog.feedspot.com/bonsai_youtube_channels.
Books and videos provide inspiration for the bonsai craft but there are a few other ways as well. I’ve created a Pinterest page with photos of different types of bonsai plants. And whenever I’m at a nursery I take photos of the bonsai displays. I don’t publish them but keep them in my own reference library.
Often, I’ll discover a plant I am already growing in my garden that could also make a cool bonsai. My advice to anyone embarking on bonsai, don’t take it too seriously. Remember the rules but don’t worry about making mistakes. Striving for perfection will lead to disappointment which defeats the entire purpose. Play around and have fun.
Note: I’ve launched a new feature on my blog called “Plant of the Week.” Each week I discuss my experience with a certain plant in my garden with photos. Please feel free to visit and comment. Visit gracepete.blogspot.com.