Monday, September 1, 2014

Building a Bonsai Garden: An Ongoing Summer Project

Gardens have a long tradition in many cultures as a kind of sacred place, a little world of its own, a place of calming and tranquility, a place for peaceful meditation and renewal.

A bonsai garden can be even more. You may not have the space to make something in the league of the famous gardens of Japan and China, but with a little work, you could have a small piece of your own little bonsai Heaven, Such a garden would allow your special trees to become focal points within a small world.

There are practical reasons too for having a bonsai garden, and for having well-thought out growing areas as well.
ACBS member Dan Tullius and his gardens
Nice shady small bonsai display
Last summer, I noticed that some of my long term projects were suffering from setting in areas along the ground.  Since the time my growing area was vandalized, I hesitated to display any trees. I am sure the kids who did this had a good time throwing and smashing several of my better potted trees out into the street. Anyway, since most of the tree just look like shrubbery when they are kept along the ground, I thought it was a kind of security system.
One of ACBS member Gib Butler's gardens
Gib's well thought out work and growing area

However, this created  a whole set of other problems.  Since the trees were near the ground, they were often in danger of being accidentally clipped by the lawn mower, or kicked or tripped over by visiting friends and family, not to mention being bowled down by an errant soccer ball.  All of these meant damage to the tree or developing branches.  Another problem was that without realizing it, grass and weeds growing up around the plant were cutting off light to lower branches, making them weaker. Lack of light caused one of my better pines to lose much of the foliage on a sturdy lower branch, causing it to basically die or atrophy over the next season. So it was becoming obvious that I would have to find a way to better accommodate my trees.

 I've admired some of the gardens and growing areas that other members of our club have created, See a couple of the photos. ACBS members Dan Tullius and Gib Butler built some good growing and display areas. Growing and display areas not only protect the trees from accidental damage, they offer a chance to better enjoy their form, color, development and changes--in short, a place where you can actually enjoy every day all of the serenity that bonsai have to offer.
Bonsai garden under construction
After I tore down an old deck and built a new patio at my house, I had some left over stone and pavers.  I thought it gave me a chance to revamp a back corner of my yard to make something just for my trees. I had nine large square pavers left over, plus half a pallet of small black ones. So I decided to go for it.   I played around with some configurations that might lend itself to both work and display. I came up with an offset grid pattern for the large pavers, allowing a ample space between the pavers  for grass.  Why fight weeds that will come up in the cracks anyway, and besides, the grass adds color.  I also decided to use the left over black pavers to outline some tree features and fill them with lucky stones.  I played around with some different display stands.  Mostly, I wanted to make use of all of the scrap pieces of stone and block left over from the new patio. I hate to put useful stuff into a land full. The height is not quite there for viewing but the plants are off of the ground. 
Bench made from discarded wood
I added a couple of boulders which I tried to set such that they appeared to be coming out of ground.  I thought this added a natural look.  
Grass adds color between pavers. Work bench beside shed

Along the side of the shed, I built a small work bench out of some of the wood from the old deck.  I tried to give it a sort of Asian look which I picked up from this excellent youtube video.  I like the way the guy in the video made a real solid and practical structure. 

In addition, I used a bit more of the old deck pieces to build a bench for just sitting and good viewing of the trees, kind of like the way museums add a bench near a famous painting. I placed it on the slope below the garden, so that when you sit, the trees are close to eye level. 

Later, I still want to add a few more things.  The growing areas need work.  Plus I really like to have my tree nice and high, about 4 to 5 feet off the ground when I work on them.  So I want to add a tall post with a wide work platform on top somewhere in the growing area just for pruning and wiring proposes. I think that height is not just good for viewing/visualizing as you work, but his is also easy on the back.
Circle Patio

New Patio with display areas
I think the the new garden made a neat complement a couple of other areas around the patios where I also added a couple of display stands.  A few years back I put in this circle patio, and in the spirit of the mathematics of circles, added two pi-shaped (as in the number pi) stands to hold a couple of my better trees.  Plus I incorporated posts and small stands around the recent patio.  This way the bonsai are more neatly kept and visible.  They can be be enjoyed throughout the back yard. Plus, these areas are great places to enjoy what is left of summer evenings.  The new tree stands go great with a cup of hot tea--or a cold beer.  Either way, the trees just shine away in a place of their own.

Another thing I tried to for bonsai enthusiasts to experiment with is creating bonsai new kinds of display stands within your gardens. It's kind of a whole other topic for another next post.

-Michael Rusnak

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