June 14, 2004

New Pet

I’m not really fond of animals in the house. That’s why my new pet is a tree.

There is less responsibility involved with a tree, but for some strange reason, I had to buy a bonsai. I usually research these things before I dive in, but this time I leaped before looking. Our bonsai is a blue moss cypress. Turns out, this sort of plant needs to be wintered. It needs cooler temperatures to go dormant for a few months in the winter. We didn’t just buy a bonsai, we bought a bonsai with a temperament, apparently.

We also bought some “lucky bamboo” for the same room. But I’m 0 for 2 here, because after some research I have learned that it’s not bamboo at all. It’s a plant known as Dracaena sanderiana and what I’ve got are three cuttings, which sit in water like cut roses. It’s a little amusing to see the consternation over the name “lucky bamboo” which pops up on forums which are intended for growers of real bamboo.

Both these purchases were made at a bonsai store that was closing at the Providence Place Mall. Not much expense, and decent room-livening effect.

Real bamboo can be very attractive, and perhaps if we don’t kill the bonsai, making a run at having a real bamboo plant would be a possibility. Or, a second lower maintenance bonsai might be a possibility.

Posted by James at June 14, 2004 1:08 PM
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I went to Bonsai West in Littleton. The people there are knowledgeable. I got Melissa a tropical bonsai so that it could live year round in a sunny window. The first one lasted about 3 years before she killed it :-) I got her another one this spring.

Some of the tropical varieties are nice because they flower. Her previous tree was a Serissa. This time they didn't have any Serissas that I liked so I got a fig. Unfortunately the climate up here isn't humid enough for the fig to flower or produce fruit, but it is still a nice looking tree.

Posted by: Jim at June 14, 2004 1:39 PM

I took a Bonsai class at Bonsai West about 10 years ago. The juniper I trimmed from a shrub (maybe I should have neamed it GW)looked pretty good and lasted around 5 years before I forgot I was wintering it in my garage and failed to water it for about 4 months. I wouldn't sweat the wintering part too much James, a cooler room or cold window sill will probably do (actually I skipped overwintering completely one year and it didn't seem to have much affect). The basement casement windows worked great until I forgot it was there. I've found that the some of the other (decidous, tropical) trees are actually harder to take care of not easier. They are more finicky when it comes to watering and light. Humidity is big for tropicals too.

Posted by: Bob at June 14, 2004 1:48 PM

Bamboo can grow nicely here in the right conditions (they had some outside a restaurant in Falmouth).

There was some bamboo separating my yard from my neighbor's (in FL). The one thing that took some getting used to was listening to it smack against my house during a windy storm. My neighbor assured me, "it's just a type of grass, and grass can't hurt your house." Well, it never did hurt my house, but it sure scared the hell out of the dog.

Posted by: Julie at June 14, 2004 2:01 PM

So it sounds like "out of sight, out of mind" is a danger. It certainyl would be with me, because I can't keep track of stuff I never see.

But it's nice to hear that bonsai are not as sensitive as I thought. Thanks for the reassurance.

I'd heard of Bonsai West. May make a trek there sometime. Greg has grown bonsai for a few years, so I'm sure that he's a great resource by now. I ought to pester him with my questions.

As for bamboo, dunno where I'm going to go with that, but some bamboo are very attractive.

Posted by: James at June 14, 2004 2:52 PM

Oh yeah the bamboo (or not). That stuff will live forever supposedly as long as you keep it's roots in water. You can even train it into cool shapes. I have some I was given at XMas and it's still going strong. Nice thing about it is you can absolutely fill the container it's in with water then forget about it.

Posted by: Bob at June 14, 2004 3:47 PM

Bonsai West is a neat place to go even if you aren't going to buy anything. They have some very nice "not for sale" trees on display.

Posted by: Jim at June 14, 2004 4:16 PM

If you decide to visit Bonsai West let us know. We're only about 25 minutes away. (It's right down the road from Chuck's office actually, less than 5 minutes).

Posted by: Bob at June 14, 2004 6:20 PM

I will let you know. It might be fun just to look around.

Posted by: James at June 14, 2004 6:25 PM

Yeah. I got Lynnea a tree from Bonsai West as well. We managed to keep it for 3 years before we screwed it up. They are very knowledgeable and helpful. I bet if we had brought it in at the first sign of trouble, they would have been able to help us with it.

Posted by: briwei at June 15, 2004 12:38 PM

Yeah. I got Lynnea a tree from Bonsai West as well. We managed to keep it for 3 years before we screwed it up. They are very knowledgeable and helpful. I bet if we had brought it in at the first sign of trouble, they would have been able to help us with it.

Posted by: briwei at June 15, 2004 12:38 PM

Ah, Bonsai! I love 'em. I stopped killing them about 30 years ago, however.

Well - maybe less than that. I go through bonsai fantasies at regular intervals of about 10 years. My latest one took me to agreenhouse some mile snorth of here that gives classes and has all sorts of bonsai and bonsa supplies.

In the 70s my bonsai came from Florida where I bought them on visits to Bren's parents in Naples. You really had to search for specialty shops handling bonsai in those days - they were very few and far between - now they sell 'em in malls and eveb Gome Depot. But yes, the hardy variety - which are most of the really interesting ones that really follow the bonsai tradition - do need a winter environment where they can be dormant for a while and I was never able to do a decent job of providing that, even with a greenhouse that was quite cool.

The point isn't just the dormancy. Culturally you're keeping a bonsai at near starvation levels - like a real tree that grows on a cliff. Soil, nutrients and water are at a minimum. And yes, there are aspects of that concept that seem a little sick to me - I mean why take a living thing and try to balance it continually on the edge between life and death?

But that idea never took hold for me because I was more fascinated by what the bonsai meant to the grower's behavior than what happened to the plant. What captivated me is the idea of steadfastness they require. That seemed an especially desirable trait in our throw-away culture. The idea of meticulously caring for a single plant over the course of your life-time seemed like a wonderful goal. (And people do this!) I thought it might build character. It didn't because I couldn't stick with it. So my bonsai died and I never built character ;-)

But they represent a fascinating piece of Japanese culture that I admire - though I wonder if even in Japan many people follow the rules today. I wonder if they're able to do what i wanted to do - have one foot in the good values of the past while another in a our throw-away, fast-changing culture of the present.

Posted by: Greg Stone at June 22, 2004 6:37 AM

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