Lilliputian Gardens

Most children share with the Japanese their love of minia­tures, and it is reasonable to assume that they would be en­tranced by the dwarfed trees created by the Japanese, known as bonsai.

The age-old, esoteric art of reducing potentially large trees to pot-size specimens, and training them to esthetically pleasing contours, was long a carefully guarded secret in Japan. Happily there is no longer any mystery about it. Anyone with knowl­edge, determination and patience can now produce his own bonsai.

To imply that this is an undertaking suitable for children in general would be unrealistic. But at least you can alert the young gardener to the existence of these bits of enchant­ment, and show him pictures of them. They are straight out of wonderland, and worth a bit of daydreaming. Occasionally there may be a child endowed with enough imagination, per­severance, and talent for the experimental to make bonsai a real possibility.

However, this is one time that a parent might break the usual rule of having the child assume full responsibility for his pet garden schemes. With as much justification as the parent who enthusiastically manages a too-elaborate toy train setup for his young son, he could take over the actual training of a miniature tree himself, purely for the child's delight and as a demonstration of the strange and charming miracle of which nature is capable. In some cases possibly it could be a joint effort. In others it would have to be a "look-but-don't-touch" exhibit.

Almost any woody plant (shrubs as well as trees) can be dwarfed. Evergreens are easiest to train. Small-leaved trees are most realistically effective. Among those commonly used are Japanese red pine, ginkgo, gray-barked elm (Zelkova ser-rata), Japanese maple, Japanese black pine, Chinese juniper, needle juniper, firs, golden larch, pomegranate, birch, bald cypress, crabapple, azalea and cotoneaster. There are many, many others.

With the growing interest in this art there is an increasing number of firms who supply suitable seeds, along with cultural information. Starting with young seedlings instead of seeds, however, quickens the process considerably.

The basic principle underlying the dwarfing of trees is vigorous restraint of branch and root development by keeping them pot-bound in small containers, and by careful and judi­cious pruning. The matter of proper soil, watering, repotting, feeding, and location of pots in summer and winter varies with the kind of tree being trained. Anyone embarking on this adventure should avail himself of some good authoritative in­structions. Some of the literature available on the subject is listed under Suggested Reading.