Bonsai Trees

Case Histories

Common Box - (buxus sempervirens)

Box Bonsai Style: Formal Upright

This old box tree was originally part of a clump of several tall trees, growing in a corner of a relative's garden. When they first moved into the house, some forty years previously, the trees were large then and so were very mature. Ten years ago they decided to completely re-landscape the garden and remove these box trees, which were beginning to look rather unkempt. I asked if I could have them as they had great potential for bonsai training.

They seemed rather surprised as the trees were nearing 4 1/2 metres (15 feet) in height, but happily agreed and I helped them remove the clump that autumn. As I had hoped, the trunks were all separate and not joined together. I roughly shortened the heights with a saw and loaded the trees into my car.

When I arrived home I studied each trunk in turn and used a sharp saw to reduce the heights further, pruning off all branches. I had often wondered how old these trees were and decided to count the rings on the section of trunk removed from the largest one. As I expected, the rings were very close together as box is a slow growing species.

Using a magnifying glass I carefully counted over and over again, each time reaching more than one hundred and ten rings. I was absolutely staggered as I had not imagined that this tree was nearly as ancient. What a pleasant and unexpected surprise, but would it now bud and grow?

Box Bonsai History: Training

This box tree was planted in the ground where I hoped that it would bud well. That spring, lush green buds emerged from many areas of the trunk and the box quickly became a thick green pole of leaves! It grew in the garden for two years and was then planted in a very large flower pot.

I removed most of the surplus shoots and wired the remaining growth to form the future branches. A dense crown was planned to hide the rather obvious chop and the box grew like a young sapling, full of vigour. Being slightly tender when grown in a pot, it was well protected that winter in a cold greenhouse and remained in the flower pot for a further year.

After repotting my trees that spring I was left with a large rectangular pot that was spare and it seemed ideal for the box. The well developed root system was pruned and I planted the tree in the pot. I fed heavily to maintain vigour and the branches continued to grow well, except for the lower right-hand branch which turned rather yellow, looking sickly.

I pruned the other branches back hard to divert energy into this branch, and after just over a year it started to bud and began to grow happily once more. The tree was thoroughly wired at this stage and although it was healthy, growth was slow - it had taken over 110 years to reach just 4 1/2 metres (15 feet)! I decided that now training had been initiated, it would benefit from a spell in the garden where I would allow it to grow freely and I prepared a hole, adding well-rotted horse manure.

The box stayed in the garden for two years and this period was definitely beneficial to the tree, which by now was slightly overgrown. I returned the box to its bonsai pot and was pleased to see a very compact and healthy fibrous root system. All downward growth was pruned off to define the foliage masses and the branches were wired. At last the bonsai had 'arrived'.

I have now had the pleasure of owning this tree for ten years. I estimate that it would have probably have taken at least five years to reach the height where I sawed through the trunk, revealing the growth rings. So, by my calculations the box is a very old tree of over 125 years, and still with a long life ahead of it as a much loved bonsai tree.

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