The Gift of the Bonsai

My brother gave me a bonsai kit, which was a wonderful and thoughtful gift because I’ve always been fascinated with the little potted trees (that’s what bonsai means — a potted tree). But  . . . (there’s always a “but” somewhere, isn’t there?) I have a brown thumb. Have never been able to keep a houseplant alive. Never.

Still, I’m game for anything new right now, so I decided to plant my tree and see what happens. I got as far as opening the box and reading the “complete” instructions. They said to cover with the seeds “with a light sprinkling of soil, moisten the soil, and cover the pot with plastic wrap. This will create a mini greenhouse and no further watering will be necessary until the seeds sprout. Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the plastic wrap from the pot.” End of instructions.

And then what? These complete instructions are missing the “complete” part. How does one care for the seedlings? What do you do with the plants as they grow? The kit includes four cakes of “growing medium,” but what does one do with this medium? The cakes don’t break up easily, and you can’t exactly sprinkle these chocolate mint-sized cakes over the seeds. And anyway, even if I pulverized the cakes, they would barely cover the bottom of the planter.

So, I began googling.  Bonsai kit.  Garden at Home (the brand) bonsai kit. Black pine bonsai seeds. I found a query about a bonsai kit that sounded like like mine. She didn’t know what to do with the cakes, either. The response that woman was given? Buy a ready grown bonsai and maintain it since growing a black pine bonsai will take years.

Years? How many years? My life is in a state of flux. I can’t count on next week let alone next year or the year after.

More googling. On  the site: Training Black Pine for Bonsai I found this by Brent Walston: I consider the training of black pines, Pinus thunbergii, to be one of the most difficult aspects of bonsai, as well as one of the slowest goals to achieve. After over fifteen years of playing with them, I am only now beginning to get to the ramification stage, and I emphasize ‘beginning’. Of course I am not talking about one inch trunk Shohin here, but full blown three inch trunk monsters like you see in the books. Most of the finest ones I have had the privilege to see have been in training for approximately fifty years or more. This seems to be the general minimum age for really fine trees.

Fifty years to grow a single plant!!!! Ouch. I think the longest I ever kept a house plant alive was one month.

In another article, Brent Walston said: I discourage beginners from working with Black Pine, Pinus thunbergii, because it takes so long, and you need to know so much just to begin. I started with Black Pine, ignorant of this fact and massacred a lot of plants learning how, even with John Naka’s book, Bonsai Techniques I. I bought about 100 of them in one gallon cans, old root bound plants that appeared to have potential. Some of them have turned out to be really nice trees, but ten years later, the best are still several years away from being finished bonsai. Not a subject for the impatient. So when beginners ask me what to do with this seedling pine they just bought, I just roll my eyes and try to talk them into a nice deciduous tree.

And my black pine isn’t even a seedling. It’s merely a seed.

So, I decided I need to find out how to grow a black pine from a seed, and this is what I found at Though seed is very cheap and easy to obtain, it does have some drawbacks when propagating plants. It is a very slow process; seeds can take many months to germinate, some species can take a number of seasons for their seed to germinate and many species need exacting conditions to begin the process of germination. Many types of seed require periods of cold or mild temperatures or wet weather before they will begin the process of germination.

It might take many months just to germinate my seed? Eek.

A ready-grown Bonsai, or at least one that’s had a few years under its skin, started to look like a fine idea. I found a few, but they cost more than my car is worth. $6,750.00. $5,400.00. $3,700.00. Yikes. Even the cheapest ones cost hundreds of dollars. Did I mention my brown thumb? Inability to keep a plant alive?

Maybe what I need is an artificial bonsai for my planter. Sprinkle it with pine oil. Do you think my brother would notice?

14 Responses to “The Gift of the Bonsai”

  1. Mary Friedel-Hunt Says:

    Oh, Pat…it is happening again…we are so much alike….I have always wanted to grow a maple bonsai…watch the leaves change….I now know I will read first….and maybe settle for petunias 🙂 I am recovering from Christmas very slowly…New Year’s hurts in that it ends the first full year that I have not ever seen my Bill since I was 33 years old. I am going on 72. It feels like I get further and further from him…I feel so very sad.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I wrote about my bonsai gift because I didn’t want to write the truth of my day. I haven’t felt this sad in a long time — It’s as if when this year ends, he’s gone forever. But he’s already gone. I’m starting to worry about how I’m going to feel after the second anniversary. Maybe the tree, as fragile as it is, will be what I need.

  2. Holly Bonville Says:

    Is it just me or is the thought of a lifetime commitment make you want to run and hide? I don’t commit to much of anything these days, even invitations…

  3. Holly Bonville Says:

    Oh, and you soak the little cakes in water and they will expand making enough growing medium to fill the pot…Lots of luck!

  4. joylene Says:

    My wonderful neighbour Ida tried to teach me how to nurture Bonsai plants. I murdered 3 before she stopped giving them to me. They’re delightful though. Something about them. Maybe because they’d fit in nicely in a scene from Gulliver’s Travels. Happy New Year, Pat.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I think about your neighbor Ida, and what you said about her finding joy. Don’t know if I ever will, but I’m glad someone did.

      I’ll let you know when/if I murder my bonsai.

  5. Floral Carnage | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] been. My last attempt to plant anything was a couple of years ago when someone gifted me with a Bonsai kit (planter, soil, seeds), and that result was typical — seedlings that poked their head above […]

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