I love gardening, but so far most of our gardening has centred around what we can eat. I’ve been thinking about expanding our interest, especially since our children are at an age where they love to help. But having moved to the Canberra region only recently, I’ve been a little stumped as to what we can grow here effectively. So when we had an opportunity to experience a Bonsai masterclass at the National Arboretum in Canberra – we jumped at the chance.
Our experience was arranged through a team effort between Visit Canberra and the National Arboretum. We began with a tour of the Arboretum. This was great because before all this, all I knew was that the Arboretum as like a living museum for trees. But that description doesn’t really do it justice! The National Arboretum’s website’s official description is that the National Arboretum is a collection of living trees, cultivated for conservation, scientific, research and educational purposes. There are trees in the Arboretum from over 100 different countries. But what I never knew, was that the National Arboretum is also home to the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia.
While I lived in Japan, I saw many examples of Bonsai but I always thought it was one of those tricky activities, reserved for a collect few who had the knack for it. Yes, it is an art form, but not totally out of the average person’s reach. Even better, we learnt with a simple buxus plant bought from Bunnings. Bunnings even sells the pots. Cheap plants and readily available equipment equals a perfect weekend activity for your children. Not to mention it’s as small as they are!
Leigh Taafe, head curator of the collection, took us through step by step. He told us that we were trying to make our new tree look like an old tree. Our first step was to take off the leaves and some of the branches that were lower down. Older trees don’t have new growth at their base – think of a tree trunk. We then had to thin out some of the other leaves. Now this is where bonsai was great for my 2.5 year old. At home when we garden, I’m constantly telling her not to pull the leaves and petals off the plants. Yet in this activity – that was exactly what she was supposed to do. She loved it!
We then used fancy scissors (but any would do really, the narrow scissors just helped reach the tiny branches more accurately) to trim unnecessary branches. That was definitely a job for the adults in the group. We tried to see which branches would give the tree a better shape. My husband and daughter went for the mushroom shaped bonsai, while I opted (due to having three main branches headed in different directions) for a more traditional tree look.
After we’d trimmed the tree a bit, it was time to trim the roots of the plant. The root ball the plant naturally has, won’t fit in that tiny bonsai pot. We then potted our plants.
Two weeks later – our little bonsai trees are still thriving. My daughter keeps telling me they are fairy trees, which is really quite cute. It is her responsibility to water them.
After all that hard work/fun, the National Arboretum pulled out all the stops and provided us with the most delicious picnic basket. Not only was there a wide selection of gourmet food; such as eton mess, pate and a duck noodle salad – but most of it was local. I particularly loved the Sauvignon Blanc from Gallagher Wines in Murrumbateman – and I’m a tough sell here because I prefer red wine. Now you may not be able to get a picnic basket for yourself, but it gives you a good indication of the range of food and drink on offer at the National Arboretum, either from their cafe or the more formal dining area.
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