Back in spring, in a spirit of experimentation and what-the-hell, I planted a couple of lemon and a couple of clementine pips to see what happened. It turns out that one of the things that happened was that I got bored of waiting for the lemon pips to germinate and stuck a couple more in the pot, only then reading on the internet that a) lemons take a long time to germinate, and b) you get more than one seedling out of each pip.
Fast forward four months, and we have a veritable citrus grove developing in our entrance hall, which we have now dubbed the orangery. This has enabled me to rekindle a long-dormant interest in bonsai which I was quite fascinated by as a child but which I’ve never really followed up after one failed experiment trying to grow an oak seedling in half a grapefruit skin,* which is what the book I had at the time told me was how you were supposed to do it. This being the 70s, with no Internet and, I suspect, very few books on bonsai in the local library, that was where I left it, convinced that bonsai was far too difficult for mere mortals to attempt (and also with something of an aversion to grapefruit skins).
Fast forward 40+ years and it occurred to me that there might be other methods out there on the Internet that were more effective and so I have decided to have a go with one of my seedlings. This time, I’ve got the opposite problem from my 7-year-old self as instead of one single bad idea, the Internet offers reams of contradictory advice on how best to create and look after a bonsai tree, most of which involves buying specialist equipment, all of it – coincidentally enough – available for sale on the site in question. In truth, I suspect that to do something like Bonsai properly you have to have a real understanding of Japanese culture and spend about 40 years studying the art, but I was slightly reassured that the one video by an actual Japanese guy I could find on YouTube had him shovelling gravel and ordinary garden soil about with some abandon and with no specialist equipment whatsoever.**
Where the various sources all agreed, was that I needed to plant my tree seedling in a shallow pot, with lots of gravel in the bottom, to improve the drainage. Having searched the local charity shops in vain for a suitable shallow pot, I was willing to concede defeat and buy one at the local garden centre, but I was buggered if I was going to actually buy any gravel, considering that our garden already has four different kinds of gravel in it, not counting the random stones that pile up whenever you stick a fork in the ground.
So this afternoon, it being too wet for any other kind of gardening, I spent Gardener’s Question Time patiently sieving out small enough pieces of gravel from one of the gravel piles to put in the base of my pot, and then planted one of my clementine seedlings to see what happens.
I suspect this may lie on the grapefruit end of the sensible bonsai advice spectrum, but if it doesn’t work, it will have cost me nothing expect an hour of my time, and possibly another small shred of my remaining sanity.
Be in no doubt that I shall keep you posted as this story develops.
* The idea, according to the book, was that the roots would grow through holes you’d put the grapefruit skin and you could trim them to keep the tree small. This had an appealing logic to it, but the book failed to say that long before your tree seedling had put out any roots at all, your half grapefruit would be a green mouldy mess.
** and also, my 7-year-old self noted, growing the plant inside a plastic colander so you could cut the roots as they grew out of the holes. No grapefruit involved though.