Book Review: Growing Bonsai Indoors

Growing Bonsai Indoors, edited by Pate Lucke Morris and Sigrun Wolff Saphire

Right now, as warmer weather has come to Oregon, my local branch of the library has started to post a lot of gardening books near the area where my held books are kept, which has made it rather easy to pick up gardening books to add to my usual weekly or semi-weekly collection of reading material.  And so it was that I picked up this volume, because I enjoy bonsai but have never done it personally [1].  Fortunately, this book does not get into what I would consider as the more potentially difficult aspects of bonsai in terms of religious culture and sticks to the taking care of plants, and that I can appreciate, even if I have a well-earned and multi-generational reputation for being a casual slaughterer of plants.  This book was admittedly pretty ruthless when it came to lopping and cropping and pruning as well, though, so if you like making beautiful bonsai arrangements by doing some pretty serious violence to plants, this book may be of interest to you.  The fact that the book is short as well and full of gorgeous pictures of miniature tree-looking plants, some of which are actually dwarf varieties of trees, will likely help also.

This short volume of just over 100 pages begins with a discussion of moving bonsai indoors, before someone else writes about how to purchase a bonsai-suitable plant as well as the various styles of bonsai.  For the record, these are five basic styles and some variations.  After this there is a primer on pruning, something which apparently has to be done often for indoor bonsai growing, and there are some basic principles given on wiring the bonsai to train the branches without scarring them.  Almost half of the book is taken up with an encyclopedia of different types of plants with lots of photos and notes for growing and styling that are suitable for different sorts of bonsai specimens.  After that there is a discussion of using seeds, cutting, air layers, and nursery stock to start one’s own bonsai from scratchish before a brief closing on bonsai health care.  There are some resources for more information, a note on the book’s contributors, and an index as well to close out the book.  Overall, this book makes it plain that a great deal of care is required to grow suitable bonsai.

The authors suggest at least a few reasons it can be worthwhile to grow bonsai indoors.  For one, it is possible to grow tropical and semi-tropical plants in a bonsai style indoors, whereas the brutal winters prevent the growing of as large a group of plants outdoors given the hardiness requirements of such outdoor growing.  Likewise, growing plants indoors allows for a greater degree of control over the plants and how they are to be tended, and opens up bonsai for those who dwell in apartments/flats and lack the outdoors area to grow more traditional bonsai.  The fact that many indoor bonsai plants can grow within a few months to a few years to acceptable and attractive levels also makes it appealing for Americans who may not want to wait several generations before having suitable plants to show off.  Waiting 100-250 years for plants to mature may be appealing to Japanese, but that sort of time span is not going to be acceptable to American practitioners of bonsai.  Even so, if you like doing violence to plants but leaving no scars this book definitely provides some useful tips and tricks for dealing with pests and training the branches of trees and bushes and other plants into arresting and intriguing shapes.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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