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See a sample issue of The Irish Garden!

July 2012

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Bonsai at the Bots

Shirley Lanigan was entranced by a world in miniature!

A trip to the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin usually involves a good deal of taking notes. Sheaves of paper are filled with to-do notes on everything from ideas for planting schemes and better spacing of plants, to new ways of tending the plants already at home. A walk in the ‘Bots' is never less than hugely informative as well as being a simple pleasure. I always leave the place in a good humour, but most of the ideas never leave the notebooks. The most recent visit was even more inspiring than usual. I took a look into the conservatory on the way from the car park and was so smitten by the bonsai collection, I almost forgot to visit the rest of the gardens.

I first came across bonsai en masse in a strange little bed-and-breakfast on a holiday in France about twenty five years ago. The whole downstairs of the house was filled with miniature glazed dishes full of 20cm tall oak trees and 40cm willows. They were beautiful and we were quite amazed by the display. But it was a strange set-up. The B+B man was a man obsessed with his tiny forest. Once checked-in, we were left to our own devices and the stay was self-service as he pottered about, circling a particular tiny tree with a miniscule snips in hand and a look of deep concentration on his face.

Barely looking up, he would motion us with his free hand into the dining room where we would help ourselves to pain au raisin and bowls of coffee. He then provided the breakfast entertainment and we'd study him, all beady-eyed and furrowed brow, readying himself to apply the miniature chop to a scaled-down cedar. Customers were incidental to his business. He would have been as well to put a sign up that read: Bonsai Demonstrations Daily.

Walking through the collection of bonsai in the Botanics, it was easy to see how one could become obsessed with these little babies. Some were so exquisite, a life of crime nearly beckoned as I studied a Picea pungens that was straight off a willow-pattern plate. Next door, a tiny apple tree in full frilled blossom filled a space no bigger than an apple pie dish. Each little tree vied with its neighbour to be the most perfect. If you had a postage-stamp sized garden but longed for a giant like Podocarpus macrophylla here was a bonsai version that you could fit on a side table.

Bonsai beautifully illustrates the saying that less is more. Looking at the massed ranks of masterfully crafted, bonsai trees in the conservatory, this was perfectly clear. I cannot recommend highly enough a visit to see the bonsai collection. Bring the camera and notebook and be prepared to fall in love!


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