My little elm survived. I was managing to water and trim it enough that it did not look pathetic. Now my new dilemma was where to place it in my garden. Should I put it on the terrace, on the grass, by the front door, in the back yard or the front? I wanted to display it and show off its beauty for the world to see. On the other hand, I wanted to selfishly enjoy it for myself because when I looked at it, it made me happy. I finally decided that I would put it where I could see it from the living room window-if I couldn’t see it on a regular basis, what was the point of having it, right? My girls kept telling me that the tree would look great in various places, but I finally admitted that this tree was one of my small pleasures and I needed to see it easily. Luckily, our living room has French doors for its main wall, so I could see the tree quite easily. I placed it a bit to the right of center on our terrace. It was not the most practical place, but damn it, I saw that tree every time I walked into the living room! And every time I saw the tree, something twinkled in me and I was just a tiny bit happier than when I had entered the room. The location of my tree became my personal daily landmark-a bit like passing by a quaint house in your neighborhood every morning and every evening on your commute, and you feel content knowing that it is there. It becomes your point of reference when directing people to and from your own house. If someone can find that house, they can find you. If I could see my tree everyday on my daily life “commute”, I could find myself. Finding the perfect location for my tree in order to “find” myself was a lot to expect from such a small tree, but like they say in real estate, sometimes only three things matter to help you find your happiness-location, location, location.
I was very happy to see my little Elm grow, especially since my main bonsai “goal” was to keep the thing alive-no more, no less. However, I read in one of the MANY bonsai guides that I had bought that you have to trim the tree so that the roots can support the foliage. I was sure though, that if I trimmed too much “off the top” so to speak, that I would do irreparable damage. So I trimmed a few shoots…very few. I was always conflicted. It felt weird trimming the new shoots that looked so ready to grow abundantly. Yet, at the same time, it seemed a bit harsh to cut the established branches, especially since it was obvious that they WERE surviving. I was unable to look at my tree as a gardener and do what was the best for the tree. I only cut off what made me feel safe–kind of like when you go to get a new ‘do, but chicken out and get just a trim. And then you feel frustrated afterwards. This was how I felt about pruning my tree…wanting to give it a new ‘do, but only brave enough to play it safe. And, this method worked…for the time being. I kept my little Elm alive, I reached my bonsai “goal” and eventually learned that, at times, just enough can be too little.
As the weather grew warmer, I had to water my tree almost every day. It became a small ritual for me. Come in the front door, put my work stuff away, deal with the kids’ school needs, change my clothes and then….check on my tree! I got my watering can and watered carefully, silently urging my tree to survive, grow even! I loved watching the water soak up into the soil, and the glistening of the leaves. I felt important and necessary. I felt the same way with taking care of my children, but this was a little different. My daughters would let me know very quickly if they needed something. Neglect would not be tolerated. However, my tree was a silent child. It would not tell me its needs or make any noise about it. It would just wait for me to take action, or it would silently die. I began looking for signs of growth–I didn’t really even know what trouble signs to look for. I rather hoped things would operate under the law of “you’ll know trouble when you see it.” The littlest things made me happy: a new bud, dark green leaves, a little moss on the soil, a shoot aiming for the sun…I was enamoured with these little visual tidbits, and couldn’t yet see the bigger picture…
“Did you know…?” became the dreaded question chez moi. I was obsessively reading about bonsai trees, their care, their history, etc. and then sharing all that knowledge with my family. I think they tolerated me at first because I was so excited.
Then they just look at me oddly, or nodded, smiling and bewildered.
But, I give them credit because they followed me patiently through the local garden shops’ bonsai sections. They received mini-lessons on the vices and virtues of indoor and outdoor bonsai. They learned why I preferred outdoor bonsai (trees are supposed to be outside) to indoor bonsai (hydrometers?!). They learned that it was very important that my Chinese Elm was acclimated to the Paris area.
I am not sure they cared, but they learned. I was happy for the small victory. I have been a teacher for 25 years (grades 1-12). I LIKE when people learn something, even if it’s only a small thing like the foliage of a tree and its rootball should be approximately the same size to ensure proper growth. I mean, who knew?
Learning and accumulating these small facts in books, magazines, websites, and YouTube videos (OMG–the videos!), made my world grow bit by bit…
My first goal was not to kill the poor tree. The vendor had explained how to water and trim the tree, making it all seem very easy. Of course, like all people now, I went straight to the internet to see exactly how I should go about taking care of my new acquisition. Big mistake…too much information for such a small tree. I was up until 1:00 in the morning learning all the little ways that I could so easily kill my defenseless tree. Oddly enough, I got a small thrill knowing that “out there” there were many, many people caring for these small wonders. There were whole communities around the world that took bonsai seriously. I didn’t really want to be one of those people, but when a tiny seed begins to germinate, things can begin to grow…
My first tree was a Chinese Elm, about 14 years old. The vendor at the Jardin Yili picked it out for me out of hundreds of similar looking trees–really similar! I had no idea what made a “good” tree–I just felt I would know it when I saw it. The vendor showed me the tree, I acted impressed, and, of course, looked around for others. After thirty minutes or so, I was back at her side, realizing that the tree she had picked out was exactly what I wanted. We paid for the tree (80 euros), chatted awhile and then I bore my treasure home. It was a small tree but it came to symbolize big–good and bad–things in my life.
photo from Passion Nature 78