Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Quite Bonsai One Morning

I'm sitting here staring at a bonsai plant with a certain level of nervousness. It is staring back at me with what I can only describe as a sort of malevolent vulnerability.
"I'm delicate," it seems to be saying, "I'm fragile. Make one false move and I'm dead."
I swallow hard and reach for the watering can.

The backdrop to this battle of wits between myself and a miniature tree is my reckless, some would say, foolhardy agreement to babysit a bonsai plant while the owner shovels herself out of snowdrifts in Germany. For the next few weeks the only thing that separates this plant from the arboreal afterlife is my tender care. Wish it luck.

Wish me luck too. I'm not crazy about fronting up to the owner with a bundle of twigs and a sheepish expression on my face. My bonsai nurturing skills are precisely zero. I have been informed that they need a lot of water. So far I think I have watered it thirteen times in the last three days. I'm thinking of adding some miniature fish. Apart from that bonsai care seems to consist of "try not to kill it". Things that can kill a bonsai include (but are not limited to), too much water (eeek), not enough water (great), too much sun, not enough sun, poorly trimmed roots (not going there), mould, fungi, insects, snails, movement, weeds, sudden temperature changes, prolonged temperature non changes, leaf rot, root rot, general rot, barbarian invasion and snowshoes. I think I'm safe on the last of these.

I have never really understood the mentality behind bonsai. Who, precisely, looks at a tree and thinks "brilliant concept but does it come any smaller?" A bonsai plant is really little more than a stick with delusions of grandeur. The bonsai is made by taking a cutting of an appropriate tree or other branch producing plant and doing things to it. What these "things" are I have no idea but apparently it requires a lot of time and skill. One wonders how people come to the conclusion that this is a useful thing to be doing with their lives.

"Do you want to develop a cure for cancer today?"
"Nah, I think I'll work on a tree you can keep in a shoebox"

What would happen if it all went wrong? Of course most of the time you would be left with a sorry group of sticks but just occasionally I hope it goes so badly wrong that the bonsai maker goes to bed and wakes to find a sixty foot redwood on his balcony. I suspect that the Japanese timber industry (is there one?) survives on reprocessing failed bonsai attempts.

Still it looks good on my balcony. Up to this point there was nothing on my balcony but two cacti that my best efforts have failed to kill and a lot of spiky things from the nearby liquidambar tree. Now there is a bonsai plant and suddenly I look sophisticated. At least I look sophisticated as long as you don't catch me on my knees begging the thing not to die. It does resemble a miniature tree in so far as there is nothing else it resembles more except perhaps a threadbare bush.

I wonder if anybody has considered gathering together all the bonsais in the world and making a miniature forest. Wouldn't that be cool? The next step would be to make miniature orang utans to live it.

1 comment:

  1. I thing you might usefully have added a paragraph or two on what might happen to you should the thing die. But I am not sure you need to worry; neither of the occasional denizens of the owner's house know any more about bonsai then you do, and still failed to kill it off. I suspect, like most things small and Japanese, it's tougher then it looks.