"Dwarf Trees" from Current Literature (1890)

      "Fantastic Gardening -- Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly" in "Among the Plants: Garden, Field and Forest" section (1890):

       "Cultivating plants to increase the size of the bloom, to create new colors, we can understand and approve when we behold the wonderful results attained by florists, who make the common flowers astonish us by their wonderful variety of tint, their size and fragrance.  Roses now bewilder us by the number of their varieties, and the pansy and the chrysanthemum have become in themselves sufficient to justify special horticultural exhibitions.  In the olden time the mania in the gardens of European palaces and chÔteaus was to torture plants, and, by trimming, make them assume the forms of men and animals.  The time expended to obtain results was great, but the results themselves were not.  Queer, quaint, are the qualified terms of praise that alone can be accorded to them.  Such gardens are now rare enough, but one exists near Steinheim, in Germany, the work of Anton Meier.  As the rail-cars speed along, passengers see this strange hedge assume forms of sportsmen, a man on horseback, men quarrelling, a general with his laurel wreath, an elephant, a camel, a llama, deer, sheep, goat, hog, an ass, a cat, crocodile, monkey, peacock, bird feeding its young, a spinning-wheel, etc.  The Japanese have done violence [sic] to nature in another way: for years, perhaps centuries, they have bent their energies to dwarfing trees, and to make miniature groves of real trees so small that you can have a dozen trees in a window garden.  Mr. Matsunami, a Japanese gentleman in Paris, explains the system adopted.  A young tree, some months old only, is planted in a pot containing a little earth such as the particular tree prefers.  Even in this way the tree will be diminutive, like a poorly fed child.  To insure due proportions, the trunk and branches are twisted, or bent over from time to time, and kept in place by stakes and cords.  The trunk or branch grows stouter, and endeavors to shoot up vertically.  The new shoot is then twisted and turned out of its natural course, twisted spirally, bent down toward the ground.  This system is kept up with every branch and shoot; is persisted in for years, the task of distorting being handed down in a family from father to son.  As the shoots multiply, those not needed are cut away, and the work goes on; the bands and supports being removed only when the branch has become so firm in its distorted form that it cannot take its natural course.  The pine, the arbor vitŠ (thuya), retinospora, are favorite subjects for these Japanese gardeners.  In the collection in France is a dwarf Japanese pine, one hundred and fifty years old, not two feet high; retinosporas from twenty-five to one hundred and fifty years old, and measuring only four to eighteen inches; an arbor vitŠ that boasts of being a centenarian, but does not exceed a height of fifteen inches.  These trees are cone-bearers, but other trees can be treated in the same way; the hardy pines are often selected as better fitted to stand transportation from Japan.  In all these dwarf trees, the root, unable to expand, being hemmed in by the pot, becomes distorted and crops out of the ground, so that there is sometimes more root apparent than real trunk, a thuya fifteen inches high having roots eight inches high, and a retinospora three and a half inches high having roots ten inches high.  Among wealthy Japanese it s not uncommon to find standing outside the window a little case containing a number of these dwarf trees, which, left to their natural growth, would have formed a grove large enough to surround and overshadow the house.  This taste for dwarfishness, deformity, or oddity cannot surprise us.  Instances of similar taste occur in all countries and at all times." 1


1     "Fantastic Gardening -- Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly," Current Literature, Vol. V, No. 1, July 1890, pg. 71

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