Wisteria - (wisteria sinensis)
Wisteria Bonsai Style: Driftwood / Wrap Around
This was my first attempt at creating the illusion of an ancient bonsai tree from a piece of driftwood and a whippy young plant. Considering all the suitable species, I decided on wisteria because they are easily obtainable, reasonably priced and with time, produce a profusion of colourful flowers. I envisaged a breathtaking image of a heavy trunked tree, covered in racemes of long, flowing purple flowers and I often thought about this imaginary bonsai.
Whilst on holiday in the summer I visited a garden centre to see if there were any plants that were of interest to me. In the aquatic section I noticed an exquisite piece of bog wood which was being sold for decoration in aquariums. I instantly thought that this piece of root looked very tree-like and when I began handling it I started thinking of how stunning it would be if it were the trunk of a wisteria bonsai.
It was certainly most suitable for a 'wrap around' project and I walked around outside, searching for a candidate plant that could possibly be attached to the wood. Outside there were many wisteria and I chose the one with the least ugly graft.
The bog wood was soaked in a bucket of clear wood preserver for three months and then left outside in the winter, allowing the rain to wash the potential 'trunk'. During this time I made a chicken wire base for the wood and drilled small holes near the bottom so that it could be fastened on with wire. This would give the wood more stability and then car filler was spread over the wire base to make it solid.
As spring began to approach I painted the brown bog wood three times with lime sulphur, each time waiting for a sunny day so that it would dry well. This gave it a bleached effect and I carved a small channel around the back of the trunk, where the wisteria would be attached.
Wisteria Bonsai History: Training
The wisteria was removed from its flower pot and the roots were in good condition. Using a sharp knife I removed a strip of bark from the plant so that when growing up the driftwood, the resultant callous would help it form a strong attachment. This is where things began to go wrong!
As I started to bend and manipulate the wisteria to follow the contours of the prepared channel around the wood, the bark showed signs of coming away from the centre wood.
Before I knew it, the bark actually bowed out and separated completely from the trunk! This was not what was supposed to happen. I was rather alarmed at this and quickly put them back together.
The wisteria was then secured to the wood by carefully hammering in several staples over the trunk, tied with string and planted in a training pot. I held out little hope of survival and considered that I had probably wasted my time. However, the potential bonsai was placed in a large polythene bag to provide a humid environment where hopefully it might recover in its own micro environment. Thankfully it did survive and within six weeks the buds began to swell and new shoots emerged.
The next year the tree was lightly pruned and wiring enabled basic branch placement. Although the branches were very young, the overall image was already beginning to look quite natural and promising. I now screwed the wisteria to the driftwood to create a tighter bond as it was starting to come away in several places. That year I purchased a rectangular 'silver fox' bonsai pot that I thought would complement the driftwood well and I planted the tree in its new pot the following spring. I was pleased to see that the roots had grown well, but did not root prune as I wanted the wisteria to remain fairly pot bound in the hope of encouraging flowers, although none came. I was not disheartened as the wisteria was very young and I was patient, as wisteria, even when grafted, can often take many years to flower.
Three years later, and after much wiring and pruning in late summer, I was rewarded with a display of just three purple flowers that spring. I was so excited at their arrival that I exhibited the tree at a large bonsai show the following week, where I enjoyed overhearing the comments that were made about the bonsai. Most people believed it was actually a real tree and it was very satisfying to have created this convincing, ancient looking wisteria bonsai in such a short space of time.