Oh, the Responsibility!

About two months ago, a friend gave me a small succulent (3” including the pot). Even though I liked both the plant and the pot it was in, I hesitated about accepting it because . . . well . . . responsibility. I’ve had enough responsibility in my life and now I don’t want to be in charge of another living thing. In the end, though, I accepted the gift — I figured that come spring, I could plant the succulent in my yard.

But no. A little research showed that this particular gem would not be able to survive the winters here.

So, now I have the responsibility for watering the plant and making sure it gets enough sun. Oh, my! Such an onerous task! I’ve already had to water once. And I will have to water again in a couple of weeks.

Despite my tongue-in-cheek tone, I do worry about the poor thing. My record for keeping plants alive is . . . hmm. Let me think. Oh, yes — zilch.

I’m not much of a gardener, never have been. My second to last attempt to plant anything was eight years ago when someone gifted me with a Bonsai kit (planter, soil, seeds), and that result was typical — seedlings that poked their head above the soil, looked around, saw who they would be dependent on for their very lives, and promptly gave up their ghosts. I planted lights in the planter after that, and we’re all happy. Nothing to kill, just a bit of beauty when the nights grow long.

The results of my last attempt, planting bulbs in my new yard, are still to be determined. Meantime, my little succulent seems to be doing well.

But oh! The responsibility!


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

My Baby Bonsai Forest

On January second, I planted a few black pine seeds as a symbol of starting my life from scratch. I would not have chosen black pines as they are notoriously hard to grow, but they came with a bonsai kit I got as a gift. Oddly, considering what a ungreen thumb I have, all the seeds have sprouted. Now what? Wait, I guess. See what happens. And that’s exactly what I’m doing with my life. Waiting to see what happens. Maybe I should go out and make things happen, but life, as with seeds, often flourishes in its own time, and all we can do is wait and see what happens.


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 http://www.bonsai4me.com: 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?