Sunday, March 29, 2020

Plant Possibilities

flowers, China
Dramatic, decorative flowers, Beijing China
Lots of people are working from home, unable to take a break by chatting with coworkers. Well, at home you could take a break with a plant project. Here are some fantastic plants I've seen; you might want to try:

Bonsai. Trees, miniaturized by growing in shallow pots, are carefully shaped to make them look like they are growing in a wild place

bonsai tree

You plan, clip, shape. A wide variety of trees can be bonsaied. Many grow slowly, live a long time, and can be left to your heirs.
bonsai, Taiwan
Another bonsai. Very beautiful. Easily 40 years old.
Topiary. Shape the plant to look like something else:

topiary dog
topiary dog, Ladew Gardens, Monkton, Maryland
Trim the plant until it takes the desired shape, carefully. My pictures are of outdoor topiary, but they can be created with a potted plant. Yews (Taxus species) are particularly good plants for forming a topiary because they grow slowly and hold their shape, but are not the only option. This hedge with a dog head, rabbit and, seen from the rear, squirrel, is is probably a juniper
hedge with animal heads
hedge with animals, Mexico City
The above plants are shrubs trimmed into interesting shapes. Topiary is also made by creating a form (for example out of wire) and growing plants around it, sometimes using vines, sometimes small succulents. For example: the plant lady below
topiary lady, Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, Maryland
plant lady, Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, Maryland
Ivies and other vines such as the creeping fig (Ficus pumila) climb a frame and if, like the plant lady above, the frame has a generally upward shape without places where the plant will be under the shade of the frame, the plants will readily create a topiary.

These, however, in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, are on a grand scale and do have the bottoms of the globes in shade and nearly upside down (most plants resist having their roots above their leaves and flowers). I didn't get to investigate closely, but the flowers are surely potted plants placed in a frame.

plant art, China

This, from Japan, is a dramatic effect and much simpler. Here plants in pots are supported in an ascending spiral around a central column.
flower display, Japan

But you don't need to buy a special support, surely you have an old piece of furniture you can cover in plants:
plant-covered sofa
That is not cloth and stuffing, those are plants. Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, MD
All of these topiaries are made of living plants, so they require watering and must get adequate sun. They will also grow, so regular trimming is required. Succulents that grow slowly need less tending. Checking the topiary is just the thing for breaks when working at home.

More practical, if less dramatic, is a trellis for your squashes and cucumbers to climb before dangling their fruit down. These work better if you guide the expanding shoots where you want them to go.

gourd on trellis
Melon hanging from trellis, southern China
Or try espalier, shaping trees along a wall or fence. It is an ancient method for growing a tree in a compact spot and also for having accessible fruit. Plants are trimmed and tied.

espaliered tree, Singapore
Espaliered tree, Singapore
espaliered pears, Switzerland
Espaliered pears, Basel, Switzerland
Pear tree in Switzerland, the branches tied to horizontal wires. Lots of ripening pears and less than 6' from the ground.

For all of these techniques, you can find instructions and suggestions online.

You can see what other people have done with time and plants. Impressive!

More escapist plant project ideas/ strange plants next week

bonsai on rock, Taipei Taiwan
You don't need a flower pot: bonsai set on a rock
Taipei, Taiwan
Comments and corrections welcome

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist


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