Friday, 23 April 2010

Bonsai and Acers




Last Tuesday (20 April) we had our first garden visit of the year to Marina & Phil Hacker, who live 7 km outside Vidauban on the way to La Garde Freinet. Phil's special interests are Acer palmatum (Japanese maples), Bonsai and Koi fish.

In their Japanese garden local red/brown boulders have been used, interspersed with Japanese maples.


The following are some of the plants used in the Japanese garden:


Acer palmatum Katsura, green leaves, tipped with red







Acer palmatum Nomura, larger growing maple with deep purple leaves that turned fiery red in autumn,






Acer palmatum Osakazuki, has larger leaves, with 7 lobes, that turn brilliant scarlet in autumn;





Acer palmatum var. dissectum, has 7- to 11-lobed leaves, each deeply and finely cut, turning gold in autumn,






Acer palmatum var. dissectum atropurpureum, red variety, with deeply and finely cut leaves;






Cotoneaster "Coral Beauty"






Chaenomeles speciosa (Japanese Quince) in several colours (white pink and red).





If you are thinking of growing Japanese maples you need to make sure your soil is acidic. The only maple that tolerates alkaline soil is Acer griseum (Paper Bark Maple), which is not a Japanese maple.

The garden has 3 ponds, the larger one with enormous Koi's, a smaller one for the new born Koi and one for the "Oranda"goldfish.

Phil's special interest are Bonsai's. A special built greenhouse, houses Phil's collection.


The word Bonsai comes from the Chinese word 'Penjing". It literally means "Tray Cultivation" Bonsai history goes back to the 6th century when imperial personnel and buddhist students from Japan returned from China bringing with them plants in containers. The following is an extract from the first Japanese fiction work "Utsubo monogatari" (The Tale of the Hollow Tree): Quote "A tree that is left growing in its natural state is a crude thing. It is only when it is kept close to human beings who fashion it with loving care that its shape and style acquire the ability to move one" Unquote. This illustrates very clearly the thoughts behind Bonsai.

Normal grown trees are used to produce Bonsai trees. By pruning, root reduction, potting, defoliation and grafting a small tree is created that mimics the shape and style of mature, full-sized trees.

Phil explained the first step in creating a bonsai. He starts off with selecting a nice growing branch from one of his mother plants growing outside his greenhouse. Japanese maples are fairly easy to propagate. He removes a small circular strip of bark, rubs rooting powder on the cut, wraps it with sphagnum moss, and packs it in a small plastic flower pot that has been cut in half to fit snugly around the branch and fills the flower pot with special Japanese clay soil called "Akadama". After two months, roots will be growing from the cut and the branch can be severed from the mother plant. The best time to propagate is from mid to late May.

His greenhouse is filled with Bonsai trees, one in particular, is an olive tree that was killed by a severe frost in 1857, it regrew, was then killed again in 1956 by frost, the regrowth since 1956 and the way the bark was formed made it an ideal speciman for Bonsai.


Some of the techniques used:

Leaf trimming; selective removal of leaves or needles.
Pruning; the small size of the tree and the dwarfing of the foliage is created by pruning the trunk, branches and roots.
Wiring; wrapping copper or aluminium wire around branches and trunks is done to create the desired shape.
Clamping; is used for larger specimens or stiffer wood to shape trunks and branches.
Grafting; some species do not thrive on their natural root stock, their trunks are often grafted onto harder root stock or the method is used to add branches and sometimes roots.
Defoliation; dwarfing of foliage can be accomplished in certain decidious Bonsai by partial or total defoliation of the plant partway through the growing season.
Deadwood; bark from an entire branch is removed to create an impression of deadwood or strips of bark can be removed from areas of the trunk to simulate natural scarring.

Needless to say a great number of specialised tools are used to create the above effects.




To pot up the Bonsai, Akadama (clay), Kirui (sort of sand), both from Japan and Pumace from Italy are used.

Bibliography: Wikipedia the free encyclopedia "Bonsai", RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, Explanations; Phil Hacker, Photographes; Elisabeth Boutevin


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