Wednesday, January 03, 2007


I really enjoyed the bonsai at Longwood Gardens. The simplicity in this display was quite refreshing after all the dazzling Christmas colors in the other areas of the conservatory. My eyes were glad for a rest.

Each of the 15 or so specimens is displayed on a simple wooden bench that runs the length of the space. The collection is kept behind glass which made photography difficult, but I've tried to crop out as much of the reflections as possible. I was puzzled by the glass and my husband and I both assumed it was meant to protect the trees from too much fondling by passerby or to perhaps keep them from being stolen. The outdoor bonsai display at my local horticultural park is kept chained for this very reason. After reading a bit of the history of Longwood Gardens I found out that the collection is kept behind glass so that it's visible during the winter months while allowing the plants to be kept cool and dormant. The glass panes are removed during the more temperate months, I assume.

The grouping of trees in the pic above was my favorite, but of course I didn't include the botanical label in my photo so their name is a mystery to me now. I want to guess that they're some variety of Sycamore because of that bark, but the collection, of course, is heavily biased with Japenese trees so who knows.

Another interesting plant is this Japense Zelkova pictured at right. I'd never heard of them before, but my husband has been saying lately that he likes them. He's seeing that a lot of towns are using them as street trees to replace the ornamental pears that are such popular but weak trees. Zelkovas are in the Elm family (according to the label) and this particular specimen has been *in training* since 1909.

I think it's easy to forget the amount of work and foresight that must go into training a tree for nearly a hundred years so that it will look this way. The gardener has to prune the roots and branches to prevent it from outgrowing its container while also maintaining the tree's natural shape by wiring and bending the branches. Very cool, but not something I'm prepared to try anytime soon!

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A gentle reminder to anyone who means to submit photos for this week's Good Planets on Saturday. Please email them to me at lc-hardy AT comcast DOT net by sometime on Friday. Please don't be shy about sharing the beauty around you with others via this carnival.


NatureWoman said...

Laura - the three photos I have of the bonsai from Longwood aren't behind glass - they were taken back in April of 2005.
The Japanese Zelkova tree is nice because it is vase shaped and the bark looks like a cherry tree.
P.S. I posted about Longwood Gardens' conservatory in the springtime today.

Mary said...

Bonsai gardens are so tedious. I once lived near a gardening expert who had the most spectacular Bonsais but he worked on them constantly. His little farm was loaded with ponds, flowering plants, foliage, and Bonsais. Gorgeous, but I'm more the "throw the seed and let 'em grow" type.

I'm still looking for beauty, Laura. I hope I can deliver.

Jayne said...

Wow, those are really impressive. I also can't imagine having the patience to cultivate and nurture those little masterpieces. An art in and of itself.

Jenn said...

The mystery trees might be beeches. Also with smooth, pale bark.

Madcap said...

Bonsai is astonishing, and I can't imagine having the vision required to undertake something like that.

Liza Lee Miller said...

Beautiful bonsai. I had a bonsai once but it was too needy for me. I'm not good to my plants -- sigh -- a failing I hope to correct some day.

I have a trick that I use when I'm photographing quilts that I like at quilt shows. I don't want to post the pictures without giving appropriate credit to the artist so I also photograph the label for the exhibit. Since I'm not wasting "film", it works for me. It would work for botanical exhibits too -- snap a quick shot of the label and then you'll remember what the plant is. Digital photography changes everything! :)

robin andrea said...

We named our cat Bonsai because he was like a little bonsai tiger when we found him. This is such a beautiful and impressive art. We've thought about trying it with some redwoods, but always forgot and they grow fast and outgrew the moment.

I'm hoping to come up with a pic soon. I've been out when the weather permits, hoping to find something for you.

Jimmy said...

Really Cool!

Cathy said...

I've gone through phases in my life where I ached to own certain things. As a kid - it was this beautiful walking doll -latter a monkey - then a couple of paintings in museums. Prominent on my 'oooh I'd like this list' were the bonsai I saw at Hidden Lake Gardens in Michigan - I could stand there and study them for long minutes. All the beauty of trees and forest writ small. Magic.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Dear Laura,
I have a bonsai collection. The oldest Japanese maples have been in the pot since 1983. I grew them from seed. They really don't take that much time; they just take attention. When it's horribly hot and dry they need to be watered twice a day. But in the winter they sleep in a cold frame and need nothing but the occasional watering. I love them dearly, and am glad I live where no one will steal them. A friend had one stolen off her porch in town. To me, that's like stealing a child.
When they color up in fall (see my October archives from 2005) they are absolutely stunning. Sometimes I take a couple to put on my table at fall art shows where I'm exhibiting. They're terrific conversation starters!
I'd guess beech or hornbeam on that first forest grouping. I dream of doing a grouping like that someday. Thank you for these pictures!

bev said...

Those are lovely photos of bonsai. The only collection I've ever seen in person is the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection on the grounds of Weyerhaeuser in the Seattle area. They have about 60 of trees on display. It's been a few years since I visited, but I think they're probably kept outdoors year round in a special walled garden in a forest.

Susan Gets Native said...

The Bonsai collection at the Conservatory in Cincinnati just stops me cold every time I see it. The youngest tree is 75 years old, I think.

LauraHinNJ said...

Naturewoman: I went looking for a Zelkova after my husband first mentioned them and found one planted at a neighbor's - I noticed the nice shape!

Mary: I would think they're tedious also, unless you love them. A master gardener I volunteer with takes care of the ones at the horticultural park and she is very serious about what she does!

Jayne: Probably Julie could answer better than I, but I think bonsai must be a form of meditation!

Jenn: Thanks - I really need to learn trees.

Liza: Usually I think to do just what you said! I agree about digital having changed the way one approaches picture taking - I take probably four times as many pics as I do with the film camera, plus I'm starting to learn by having made so many mistakes.

Robin: I wonder how young you have to start training a tree? Julie?

I have a hard enough time keeping a rosemary topiary in shape - it always gets ahead of me - but then I have a hard time pruning things because I like just watching them grow.

Jimmy: Thanks!

Cathy: I think you've touched on what I like about that one group of trees so much - it is like a miniature magical forest.

Julie: I was hoping you'd pipe in here - I remember your post about your bonzai trees. There's a pic on Longwood's website of them in fall and they are very beautiful then. I like the starkness of the winter too because it lets you appreciate all the work that's gone into shaping. How often do you do root pruning? Do you ever repot them?

Bev: That sounds like a great way to display them. I liked the variety in the ones at Longwood - often it's just ginko, maples, and azaleas.

Susan: Yep - I love seeing them.

beckperson said...

But, good Lord, what do you do after you've cultivated a bonsai for 20-30 years, treated it well so that it becomes practically a member of the family, and then you wake up one morning and it's deader than a doornail? I would commit hari-kari or perhaps become a kamikaze pilot or somethin'...



LauraHinNJ said...

beckperson: lol! I doubt that any bonsai of mine would make it that long that I'd have to commit hari-kari.

Heather in Beautiful British Columbia said...

Thanks for sharing those wonderful photos. Bonsai trees intrigue me but I'm afraid I couldn't commit to 100 years :) I'm her via the Festival.

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