Little Gem Spruce - (picea abies 'little gem')
Spruce Bonsai Style: Rock Planting
I used to tour the local garden centres regularly, on the look out for trees that may have the making of a bonsai. On one particular occasion I noticed several balls of tight green foliage growing in small flower pots. Closer inspection revealed that they were five dwarf spruce of the variety 'Little Gem'.
At that particular time these plants were quite uncommon. I had no idea what I would do with them, but did not want to regret buying too few, so I bought all five. It was a good thing that there weren't more, because in my enthusiasm I would have probably bought a dozen!
Spruce Bonsai History: Training
I find that I achieve the best styling results when I am feeling creative, and so one rainy day in summer I closely inspected the trees, carefully pulling the branches apart to reveal the trunks.
The problem was that the foliage was so dense that it was difficult to see how to proceed, however, out came the branch pruners! After styling, I left the trees to grow unchecked for the next year whilst I considered their future. A couple of the trees were really delightful and could maybe make good individual mame specimens - or would some kind of group arrangement be best?
The spruce were beginning to grow well and I lightly trimmed them in the winter. They were starting to look so good that it was a shame to hide them away at the top of the garden. The time had come to do something further with them and I decided to plant them on a rock that I had. I drilled a hole in the stone to allow water to drain freely out the back and root pruned each tree individually. The spruce were then arranged in the planting hole on the top of the rock.
Three years later I was asked to exhibit some trees at the Chelsea Flower Show. The spruce trees were at their absolute best and so were immediately my first choice. As it was spring they were covered in fresh light green new shoots, which looked almost like flowers. The rock planting was displayed in a Tokonoma setting in a suiban which I had recently purchased and looked glorious.
The spruce group is now looking even better. I radically thin it out once a year in the spring and this is all the pruning that it requires. During the summer a second flush of growth can be enjoyed. Every year the group is repotted and as the roots are now one solid mass, it is treated as if it were one tree. I feed only lightly so that the trunks do not grow much, as thick trunks would spoil the effect. Despite the small amount of soil, I find that they need no more watering than some of my much larger trees. This is probably because the rock stands in water.