Techniques

A bonsai discovery

Visiting public gardens – both local and in other regions – is one of my favorite past-times. It’s not unusual to pick up a design idea, gain insight into plants growing in different regions, or discover something unexpected. Wandering among garden beds and greenhouses with camera in hand helps capture these visits, one of which I share here … a bonsai discovery.

Heathcote Botanical Gardens, Fort Pierce, Florida

Heathcote Botanical Gardens, Fort Pierce, Florida

During a recent brief escape to Florida I visited Heathcote Botanical Gardens in Fort Pierce. The weather was chilly for Florida, very windy, and not conducive to sitting on the beach to soak in February sunshine … but just fine for wandering through gardens.

Heathcote Botanical Gardens main entrance

Heathcote Botanical Gardens main entrance

The entrance to this five-acre garden welcomes with colorful tropical plants under mature palms and leads to a gift shop where you pay the $6 adult entry fee, pick up a map to guide your visit, and learn a bit about the garden displays and structures.

One of the main gardens is the Bonsai Gallery. This form of garden art never necessarily intrigued me, not because I don’t appreciate it as an art form, but because my focus and interest has always been with full-size gardening. But, wandering through the meandering paths of this Bonsai Gallery where most trees can be viewed from all sides and angles, gave me new-found respect for the knowledge, patience, and care that goes into creating bonsai.

Bonsai Ficus retusa, in training since 1989

Bonsai Ficus retusa, in training since 1989

The Bonsai Gallery features over 100 trees on permanent display such as this ficus. Each specimen is labeled with its botanical name and how long it has been “in training” as a bonsai … in the case of this ficus, since 1989.

Though I’ve cared for many plants, some houseplants that have been with me for decades, the wonder of training a plant into a beautiful, balanced miniature tree is fascinating.

The collection in the Bonsai Gallery was created by James J. Smith who, according to information in Heathcotes’ brochures and website, is a bonsai master.

I don’t begin to suggest knowing anything about the process of training bonsai, but do want to share some of the specimen in this garden.

Though not able to see all 100 – during the visit garden caretakers were in the process of securing frost protection over most of the trees and moving more tender bonsai to shelter – studying just a few shows the nature of this art form.

Green Island Ficus (Ficus macrocarpa) in training since 1979

Green Island Ficus (Ficus macrocarpa) in training since 1979

Bo Tree (Ficus religiosa) in training since 2003

Bo Tree (Ficus religiosa) in training since 2003

Neea buxifolia in training since 1990

Neea buxifolia in training since 1990

Dwarf Jade (Portulacaria afra) in training since 1978

Dwarf Jade (Portulacaria afra) in training since 1978

Jaboticaba (Eugenia cauliflora) in training since 1973

Jaboticaba (Eugenia cauliflora) in training since 1973

This view of one of the paths with bonsai tented in frost protection gives an idea of how much work the Bonsai Gallery staff faced on the day of this visit. All 100 trees needed protection.

Bonsai Gallery being protected from frost

Bonsai Gallery being protected from frost

The rest of Heathcote Botanical Gardens is filled with peaceful paths,

A path in the Palm & Cycad Walk at Heathcote Botanical Gardens

A path in the Palm & Cycad Walk at Heathcote Botanical Gardens

colorful plantings,

Plant bed at Heathcote Botanical Gardens

Plant bed at Heathcote Botanical Gardens

and wonderful palms.

A trio of Areca palms at Heathcote Botanical Gardens

A trio of Areca palms at Heathcote Botanical Gardens

The visit was a soothing, refreshing, and educational way for a northern gardener to spend a couple of hours and become intrigued by the bonsai art form. It just may be something to learn if my aging body ever prevents me from continuing full-size gardening.

 

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Re-purpose your Christmas tree

If you decorate with a fresh-cut Christmas tree you also face the annual question of what to do with it after the holiday. Here are some ideas, updated from a January 2011 post, to help you re-purpose your Christmas tree, rather than casting it off as trash.

1. After dragging the tree outside, trim still-green branches off its trunk and use these to mulch dormant perennials. The branches from our tree become winter mulch for spring-blooming bulbs, while any evergreen boughs used in outdoor decorations – such as those in the photo below from 2011- help protect dormant perennials from frost heaving.

evergreen-boughs-as-mulch.jpg

2. Turn your tree into an outdoor shelter for feathered friends.  It’s relatively easy to either lean the tree against a bird feeder pole, an outside deck railing, or some other vertical support near where birds feed during the winter. (If a snow pile is handy you can simply pound the base of the trunk into the pile and pack the snow tightly around the trunk. If it stays cold the tree can stand in this spot for quite a while.) Birds waiting their turn at the feeding station can find refuge in the tree, as can those seeking a roosting place while they ingest seed. To provide even more feeding stations hang stale bread, suet-filled pine cones, or orange or apple slices from the tree.

Christmas-tree-repurposed.jpg

3. Use some cut evergreen boughs as the base layer for a new compost pile. The natural form of the branches allow for air circulation at the base of the pile, which encourages the compost process. Cut branches can also be placed atop a full compost bin or pile. They might discourage winter rummaging by local animal residents. In the spring these same branches could become the base of a new compost pile.

4. If you have wooded areas on your property, use your discarded tree as part of a small bird and animal shelter by mounding fallen branches over your no-longer-needed tree.

5. If you cut boughs off the trunk, the trunk can be used as a bird feeder or bird house post, or be cut into smaller sections for use in an outdoor fire pit.

But before turning your tree into a wildlife shelter or mulch mound, consider enlisting some help moving the tree to locations in your yard and gardens that might look better planted with an evergreen or conifer shrub. Granted, you might not want to try this with a large tree, but one that’s about 5 feet tall could act as a nice stand in for any future planting. While your helper holds the tree in place you can view it from different vantage points to get an idea of how a permanently planted tree /shrub will look.

 

Leeks – You Can Grow That!

Being no stranger to growing plants in the Allium family – onions, scallions, garlic, chives, and many ornamentals – leeks had always scared me off. It certainly was not their flavor, which I love. It was the supposed extra care – hilling soil around the growing stalks – that caused me to leave leeks off my garden list of edibles. Boy was I wrong! Leeks are a great You Can Grow That! edible plant.

You Can Grow That! is a monthly blogging meme started by C.L. Fornari – she blogs at Coffee for Roses – to encourage anyone, novice or seasoned gardener, to stick their hands in the soil to grow something. Having grown plants for nearly 40 years, I’m still amazed by the power in each tiny seed.

I start seeds indoors, under lights, every spring. Each year, to expand my knowledge, I try growing at least one new plant or variety. Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum) were my 2014 choice; the King Richard variety offered by Botanical Interests. I started two small flats in early March and grew them under lights until night temperatures in my zone 6 Connecticut garden remained above the hard freeze level. That’s when the leeks went into the mini-greenhouse in a protected, full-sun location. They moved to their summer home, a raised-bed, sometime in late May.

I planted the thin seedlings into a six-inch deep trench dug into the soil of the raised bed, then gently hilled soil up around the small transplants, leaving some of the green ends above soil level. After watching, watering, and waiting, the seedlings had grown enough to hill even more soil around the growing stalks. This is done to obtain the long white-flesh area – the edible part – at the base of each stalk. As the leeks grew, occasionally mounding more soil around each stalk took little time and effort. Once the soil was mounded to a total of 8 to 9 inches (remember, they were planted in 6-inch deep trenches), I added 2 inches of shredded straw to help keep soil moisture even and prevent weed growth.

For the rest of the growing season I pretty much ignored the leeks. By the time I harvested a couple in early autumn, they had grown quite large. Still, I left most in the ground for later harvest.

Leeks, harvested Thanksgiving week in sough-central Connecticut.

Leeks, harvested Thanksgiving week in south-central Connecticut.

Here’s how they looked when harvested right before Thanksgiving. The center leek is actually a bit more mature than recommended. The aim is to harvest before the ends begin to bulb.

There’s about a half-dozen more still in the raised bed, which is now covered as a mini hoop house for extra cold-weather protection. I expect to be harvesting leeks well into the winter.

These beauties were so easy to grow, and took up so little raised-bed real estate, that their now on my yearly edible plant list. And … they are delicious, imparting a mild oniony flavor to foods.

Northern gardeners can start leek seeds inside 8 to 10 weeks before the average last frost. After risk of a killing freeze passes, transplant leeks, 4-6 inches apart, into a trench at least 6 inches deep. Water regularly and mound soil up around growing plants as noted above. Gardeners in milder climates can sow leeks outdoors in spring for fall harvest or in late summer for harvesting the following spring.

For more growing suggestions, head to the You Can Grow That! website and read about other great edible and ornamental plants to grow. Then sit back and dream of all you could do in next year’s garden.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Joene Hendry