How to Determine an Effective Bonsai Soil

Bonsai that delicate tree that lives in a tiny pot is very dependent on the quality of the soil that helps it breathe, gain nutrients and water. Without this proper mixture your tree would suffer and if not cared for properly would most likely die.


How do I know the best bonsai soil?

Soil is the primary medium in which your tree will get its air and water. Bonsai requires a more thoughtful selection of soil and soil additives in order for it to thrive more.

Actually, there’s no best bonsai soil to use. The secret comes from different brands and types of soil you use; and from your own incredible techniques in combining and mixing soil until you’re satisfied with the results.  In fact, the bonsai tree soil and its additives will determine the health of your bonsai’s roots. Moreover, determining an effective bonsai soil is extremely important if you want your bonsai to flourish. A good bonsai soil mixture is made up in such a way that any water added to the soil drains out quickly, and prevents the roots of your bonsai from washing out.

What do I need to make bonsai soil?

If you wish to make a bonsai soil at home, you will need a loam, sphagnum peat moss, and granite grit. This mixture can give you a good blend for your bonsai tree. To prevent damage roots, make sure that the water is drained completely.

There are some complete potting soils available which includes Akadama, Fujiyama Potting Medium, and Kanuma. The additives or components to make a complete potting medium are zeolite, river sands. Pine bark, peat moss, grit, and calcined clay.

Akadama is also known as red clay soil. This type is widely available and is manufactured in Japan. It is graded by particle size whether it’s fine, very fine and standard.  It contains no organic matter and the granules retain their structure for years and are able to drain and hold sufficient water. Moreover, Akadama is best suited to high summer rainfall and moderately cold temperatures in winter. This type of soil prevents water-logging and freezing.

Fujiyama is best used as a wetting agent and very useful for all bonsai plants.

Kanuma in Japanese is ‘dirt’, and is dug up from 10 feet below. It is named after the region in Japan. This soil is ideal for acid-loving plant like Azalea, Gardenia and Camellias.

Kiryu is a Japanese imported mixture which is made up of clay and pumice. This mixture is deal for plants which require extra drainage like pine trees and evergreens. Kiryu is also mixed with normal oil for it allows air circulation.

Kyodama is a traditional volcanic grit and is often mixed with other soils. This soil holds moisture, and has a neutral ph.


About the Author: Elias Cortez is freelancer writer that specializes in writing in the education field for students looking to pursue a career in graphic design. Read his latest articles titled “Graphic design schools” and “Graphic design career information” to learn more.

Japanese Stroll Garden, a silent place!

Imagine gliding across bamboo, around the centerpiece of a water fountain, surrounded by classical greenery, evergreens and symbolic stones, being embraced by Japan to find two bamboo seating chairs on either side of a center table holding the ever patience bonsai tree, all in the back garden. This is the stroll garden.

There are several different garden types from flat gardens to hill gardens; all of which are achievable by anyone with the desire to produce a quiet stillness, as well as an appreciation for nature. The design and existence of gardens has been a very important art in Japan for centuries. The stroll garden was developed between the 17th and 19th century, after the medieval period, due to the lack of travel. This garden has a specific purpose, the path is the importance. The path in the stroll garden has symbolic references and memories of destinations. This creates the desired transportation to those far away places. This garden succeeds at a rare accomplishment, getting away without leaving.

In earlier gardens, with artificial hills and ornaments, were dictated by belief of myth and legend. Between 1185-1392, the Kamakura period, the Zen Buddhist priests developed the gardens for meditation. Though royal gardens did flourish again, seemingly as a result of Zen gardens, the newly vivacious gardens consisted of waterfalls, hills and a variety of plants, while the tea garden still adheres to meditative qualities rather than decorative. Close attention to symbolic features and the arrangement of elements is necessary.

Creating a Japanese garden can be an inspiration. Gratification is awaiting you at the conclusion of the garden’s uprising, beyond the serenity that is created, the patience that is taught, the perseverance that is achieved… there is an invitation of peace. Remembering this is not an English garden, it is not to be extravagant and overwhelming. The garden is simple and natural and invokes the spirit of the surroundings. The ultimate objective to a Japanese garden is to solicit harmony and pursue peace.

Blueberry from Down Under!

Whether we know it or not, most of us are familiar with the genus Vaccinium as it has among its members several current or potential commercial crops, such as blueberry, cranberry, bilberry and huckleberry. Vaccinium delavayi, however, is strictly ornamental and very unlikely to be our next export success.

The name vaccinium is an ancient one taken directly from the Latin vernacular: it was used to refer to Vaccinium myrtillus, the delightfully named whortleberry. Vaccinium delavayi takes its specific name, like so many Chinese plants, from the French Jesuit missionary Abbé Jean Marie Delavay (1838-95), who discovered the plant and introduced it to cultivation. He was also responsible for such well-known plants as Abies delavayi, Magnolia delavayi and Osmanthus delavayi reaching our gardens.
Vaccinium delavayi, a native of Burma and south-west China, is a hardy evergreen shrub with small, rounded leaves that are tough and leathery. In spring it produces clusters of small, bell-shaped to almost globular, white flowers that open from pink buds. The flowers are very much in the style of Pieris, Gaultheria, Andromeda and several other closely related genera in the erica family.
Pretty as the flowers are, the real appeal of this little blueberry lies in the deep bluish-black berries that follow. They are just like small blueberries and have a similar flavour but are rather acidic unless very ripe. Although it seems a shame to pick the berries, you might as well because the birds will have no such reservations.
While scarcely a spectacular plant, Vaccinium delavayi is attractive throughout the year and is always interesting, whether in flower, fruit or just as a neat foliage plant. It is an ideal specimen for a rockery or partially shaded corner. It grows to about 45cm high × 60cm wide and can be kept trimmed to a small mound. However, any pruning will adversely affect either the flowering or fruiting.
As any blueberry grower will tell you, Vaccinium plants prefer acidic soil conditions. The small ornamental species are most at home when grown with other erica family plants such as dwarf rhododendrons, evergreen azaleas, ericas, callunas and pieris.
The native New Zealand Gaultheria species are interesting plants to combine with Vaccinium delavayi. Gaultheria crassa, in particular, looks very like its Chinese relative and provides a good illustration of how plants that evolve under similar conditions often resemble each other despite occurring thousands of kilometres apart.
Other small native berrying plants, especially those of the epacris family, also make good companions. An alpine rockery with good berrying forms of Pentachondra pumila, Leucopogon fraseri, Cyathodes empetrifolia, Gaultheria crassa and Vaccinium delavayi would be full of interest and colour throughout the year.
You won’t find Vaccinium delavayi in every garden centre, but it shouldn’t require too much of a search to locate a specimen. Try looking in the perennials as well as among the shrubs, as it’s often sold at a very small size and tends to get lumped in with the rockery perennials.

Image published with permission from Geoff Bryant. Owner of CFG Photo.

Japanese Gardens, Tranquility Personified

Japanese Gardens have been a treasured art form in Japan for centuries, and are very much influenced by the ancient and intricate garden designs of China.

The exacting tradition, linked to the related and equally disciplined arts of calligraphy and Japanese ink brush painting, is historically passed down from sensei, or master, to apprentice.

Even though Japanese Gardens have been influenced by the West since the late 19th century, there are some elements that are considered typical, and in some respects, necessary to the art form.  Water, either real or symbolic is a must.  Bridges or stepping stones frequently cross a pond or stream element to an island, or perhaps to a tea house or pavilion. Rocks or stone arrangements create waterfalls, dry or wet.  Hedges, fences or traditionally styled walls create an enclosure around the miniature landscape.

There are three basic traditional styles of Japanese gardens.  The Karesausui gardens are dry landscapes in which different shades and shapes of rocks and gravel, as well as exactingly placed mosses and shrubs are used to represent ponds, islands, rivers, seas, boats and mountains in abstract form.  Raking stretches of gravel or sand creates the illusion of moving water.  This type of garden is for meditation and is frequently found at Zen temples.

The Tsukiyami garden style recreates features from famous landscapes in China or Japan. The clever placing of shrubs to block views of surrounding houses or structures is effective in creating the illusion of a much larger garden area. Footpaths may wander past ponds, streams, stones and hills and may lead the visitor across intricately carved bridges.  Bonsai trees, scaled down versions of their full sized cousins, are an important part of these miniature landscapes.

water © Michael Shake -

Chianwa gardens were created for holding tea ceremonies, another exacting and quite lovely Japanese tradition.  A simple tea house is the usual focal point, and the gardens themselves are equally simplistic in their elegance. Traditionally stepping stones across a quiet pond lead to the tea house and an assortment of stone lanterns and basins dot the garden landscape. The stone basins, known as Tuskubai, are where guests are invited to purify themselves before taking part in the tea ceremony.

In addition to these three basic styles, Kanshoh style gardens are popular in private residences and are meant to be viewed from inside.  Pond gardens, built along quiet shorelines, are designed to be viewed from a boat. Strolling gardens take visitors along winding pathways, offering a sequence of views as one navigates the gentle curves.

stones © N.PARNEIX -

From the hundred year old Hagiwara Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to the Japanese Gardens at the Irish National Stud in Kildare in Ireland, these peaceful, creative nods to the art of tranquility now circle the globe. Bamboo plants, Japanese black pines and colorful maples share space with native plant species in the most unlikely of climates. Even in the town of Ronneby, Sweden, almost at the top of the world, it is possible to find an authentically created Japanese Garden.  Enjoy!


New Orleans Japanese Haven

City Park in New Orleans has nestled in its midst the New Orleans Japanese Gardens, known formally as Yakumo Nihon Teien. Yakumo is the assumed Japanese name of the prominent New Orleans writer, Lafcadio Hearn. Lafcadio was deeply stirred and inspired by the Japanese culture in his visits to Japan, and brought much of what he saw and learned back to Louisiana through his prose and poetry. Nihon Teien translates to Japanese Garden. For beauty and the opportunity to enjoy quiet meditation in a natural setting, this is a place to visit when in New Orleans.

Japanese gardens date as far back as 500 A.D. when they were designed to replicate mountainous landscapes of China. Around 700 A.D. they began to be used as places for ceremonies and meditation. Tea houses were introduced to the gardens around the 1500’s. Tea houses are used as a place to teach the culture of Japanese and Confucian virtues.

The garden design acknowledges the importance of stones in Japanese gardens. Robin Tanner, a landscape architectural expert, and Vaughn Banting, a bonsai and horticultural expert, drove to Crossville, Tennessee to personally select stones for this garden, loaded them on their own truck and delivered them. They installed them in the garden where they became a permanent and central part of the landscape design. The garden was conceptualized in 1985 and realized in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. Many plants suffered or were lost completely in the flood, but the core landscape of the garden survived. In its restoration a tea house was added.

Upon entering the garden, the attention is drawn to the bamboo fence surrounding it. The garden design uses trees, bushes, and flowers native to Louisiana and incorporates them into the Garden with Asian plants, stone lanterns, and bamboo. The use of Stone lanterns in the Japanese garden dates back to the 1600’s when they were first used to light the pathways in Buddhist tea gardens.

The garden lends itself as a natural setting for bonsai, ikebana, and sado. Bonsai is the ancient art of growing miniature trees in trays and pots. Ikebana is a high art form of floral arrangement involving shape, line, and form and incorporating leaf and stem into the arrangement. It uses a technique called minimalism, which is the minimal use of blooms dispersed among the leaves and stalks of the arrangement. Sado is Japanese tea ceremony.

Words and pictures will never describe accurately the beauty of the garden. It simply must be experienced personally. The quiet time for meditation is a much needed commodity in any city, large or small, and the New Orleans Japanese Garden offers residents and visitors just such a place.

Ireland Japan Association – Earthquake Appeal

We have all seen the images and felt the pain. As lovers of Japanese Gardens and one of the original homes of Bonsai, we are asking for your help in ‘Helping Japan’.

The Ireland Japan Association has set up a special fund for those anxious to contribute
in a practical way to help those made homeless. The fund is called the “Ireland Japan Association – Earthquake Appeal”.

Bank Name: Bank of Ireland
Bank Address: St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2
Account Name: Ireland Japan Association – Earthquake Appeal
Account Number: 81235601
Sort Code: 900084
Swift Code: BOFIIE2D
IBAN: IE52 BOFI 9000 8481 2356 01

Aronia, A new commercial berry crop for America

Aronia melanocarpa is a woody, perennial shrub that is native to the northeastern quarter of the Umited States and Southeastern Canada.  It grows in full sun and along woodland edges.

Early in the 20th century, aronia was introduced to Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and Russia where high quality, large fruited cultivars were selected.  In the last ten years, these improved cultivars have been reintroduced to the Unites States and are being planted for commercial berry production.
Aronia melanocarpa often goes by the common name “aronia” but it also has the rather unfortunate common name of “chokeberry.”  Aronia should not be confused with chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, which is native to most of North America.  Its leaves, stems, and seeds contain toxic amounts of hydrocyanic acid (Trinklein 2007). About the only thing that chokeberry and chokecherry have in common are their sound-alike common names.  To avoid confusion, aronia is the common name most often used for Aronia melanocarpa.
Aronia is cold hardy to at least USDA Zone 3.  Its late blooms usually avoid spring frosts.  The plants grow well on any soil as long as it is well-drained.  The optimum pH is slightly acid to neutral.
Mature plants of cultivars selected for fruit production grow up to 8 feet tall with 40 or more shoots.  Selective pruning of the oldest stems on a regular basis or pruning back to a height of three feet ever three to five years is used to renew the plants.
The fruit and the foliage are not severely affected by insects or diseases.  Birds do not eat the newly ripened fruit but, if not harvested, the fruit will be eaten by birds during the winter (Hardin 1973).
“My plants have never suffered from any disease and I’ve never seen any pest on the foliage or fruit,” said Jan Riggenbach, syndicated columnist who has grown aronia plants in her trial garden in southwest Iowa for more than 30 years (Riggenbach 2008).  Japanese beetles also leave her aronia plants alone (Jan Riggenbach, personal communication, September 5, 2008).
Two years after planting aronia in research plots or commercial fields in western Iowa, the plants usually produces about two pounds of berries per bush.  By the third year, berry production is about 10 to 15 pounds per bush.  Yields levels off at 30 to 40 pounds per plant by the fifth year (Eldon Everhart personal observations 2006-2008).
The violet-black berries are firm, one-quarter inch in diameter, and produced in pendulous, loose clusters of 10 to 30 berries at the ends of the shoots.  The fruit are ripe in late August or early September and have a harvest window of 4 to 6 weeks.  To avoid bird deprivation, the fruit should be harvested as soon as all the fruit has turned dark purple.  The berries can be harvested by hand or with a mechanical harvester (Trinklein 2007).
Aronia berries are high in tannins which puckers you mouth with a dry sensation.  They are also high in sugar (17 to 22 brix) with a pH of 4.5 to 5.  They can be eaten fresh or preserved by freezing or drying.  Fresh or frozen berries can be used in baked goods or used like any other berry.  Many products are made from the berries including aronia wine, juice, tea, syrup, and candy.  The berries are also used to flavor and color yogurt, sorbet, milk, and other products.
Aronia berries are high in vitamins, minerals, and folic acids.  They are one of the richest plant sources of proanthocyanins and anthocyanins (Oszmianski and Wojdylo 2005).
Aronia berries have higher antioxidant content than blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, elderberries, grapes, and raspberries, as well as imports such as the goji and acai.  Medical research has documented many health benefits of aronia berries.  Currently, there is no data in the literature about any unwanted effects of aronia fruits, juice, or extracts (Kulling and Rawel 2008 and 2006).
“Aronia berries top the list of more than 100 foods that have been scientifically tested for antioxidant capacity,” said Dr. Xianli Wu, in an interview published in the Des Moines Register on September 21, 2008.  Dr. Wu is a researcher and assistant professor at the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.  “Researchers have looked at how aronia affects cardiovascular disease, colon and breast cancers, liver failure, and obesity,” said Dr. Wu.  “I believe aronia berries have a huge potential to be a healthy food,” he said.  “Why people don’t produce them or market them, I don’t know.”  (Sagario 2008)
The interest in “eating healthy” has led to the phenomenal worldwide growth in the popularity of aronia berries and products made from them.  This in turn is leading to the planting of aronia as an alternative cash crop in the Midwest (Trinklein 2007).
Aronia is not a new crop.  It has been grown as a commercial crop in most Eastern European countries since the 1950s.  Large scale commercial cultivation of aronia started in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s, and reached 43,984 acres in 1984 (Kask 1987).  According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Warsaw, Poland, there were 11,119 acres in Poland in 2004.  One year later the number had grown to 12,355 acres.  One Polish company alone sold 40,000 tons of aronia juice (Kampuse and Kampuss 2006).
In Europe, new business start-ups, that use aronia berries as an ingredient, have increased from just two launches in 1997 to 108 in 2007 (McNally 2008).  In 2008, berries from aronia plants planted six years ago in Scotland, were sold for the first time on High Street in London, England (Clegg 2008).
The aronia berry industry in the United States is in the early stages of development.  Current production is centered in Harrison County in western Iowa but production does not meet the current demand.  The estimated total number of commercial acres of aronia berries currently in the US is 300 to 500.  Many of the new growers are planning to at least double their acres in 2012.  At least 50 new growers are expected to plant aronia in 2011 (Eldon Everhart client contact records).
“Public interest in eating healthy, the antioxidants, and organic products is driving the interest in aronia as a commercial, easy to grow organic crop,” said Charlie Caldwell, an aronia grower in Pottawattamie County.  “We need even more research, especially on production practices and marketing.”  He sees the market increasing, as more people learn about the fruit (Sagario 2008).
Literature Cited:
Clegg, David.  2008.  A Perthshire fruit growing company is claiming to be the first in Scotland to grow the healthiest fruit in the world.  The Courier, Dundee, Scotland, August 29.
Hardin, James W.  1973.  The enigmatic chokeberries (Aronia, Rosaceae).  Bulletin of the Botanical Club 100(3): 178-184.
Kampuse, S. and K. Kampuss.  2006.  Suitability of raspberry and blackcurrant cultivars for utilization of frozen berries in dessert and for getting of products with high contents of bio-active compounds.  NJF seminar 391.
Kask, K.  1987.  Large-fruited black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa).  Fruit Varieties Journal 41: 47.
Kulling S.E. and H.M. Rawel.  2008.  Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) – A Review on the Characteristic Components and Potential Health Effects.  Planta Medica 74(13):1625-1634.
McNally, Alex.  2008.  Demand for superfruit aronia rockets.  Decision News Media. January 8.
Oszmianski, Jan and Aneta Wojdylo.  2005.  Aronia melanocarpa phenolics and their antioxidant activity.  European Food Research and Technology 221(6): 809-813.
Riggenbach, Jan.  2008.  Midwest native black chokeberry is a favorite.  Globe Gazette, October 10.
Sagario, Dawn.  2008.  It’s the berries.  The Des Moines Register, September 21.
Trinklein, David  2007.  Aronia: A Berry Good Plant.  Missouri Environment & Garden 13(9):86.
More Aronia Information
For help starting a commercial aronia plantation or to schedule a power point presentation about aronia for a group contact:
Dr. Eldon Everhart
Everhart Horticulture Consulting
Phone: 712-254-4035

Life and works of Dan Robinson

Two months ago I was asked to review a book ‘Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees’ about the life and works of a great American Bonsai pioneer, ‘Dan Robinson’. Normally I can write copy fairly quickly, but this book stumped me (excuse the pun).

Dan Robinson is not just a Bonsai master, he is in the world of Bonsai an icon. A man who introduced many new techniques in styling and collecting Yamadori. He is also known for moving from eastern natural styling to the artistic form of tree manipulation, to put it bluntly. It would not be my style of Bonsai as I am a tree hugger I prefer the natural flow of a tree gently pruned into a desired shape, but this review is not about my opinion of modern Bonsai art, it is about a man, a book, that paints a portrait of an artist.
With this book you will find styling techniques and a biography that leads you, the reader, on a journey as a man as a tree. It is clever, different and not like any other Bonsai book that I have read. Not that I read many books from page one to index. Normally I am the hands on dude who uses a book as a reference tool so reading this was initially difficult.
The book starts out with a forward by Walter Pall, that describes the man who is seen by some of his fellow growers, as just another bonsai stylist and not a bonsai artist. Pretty unfair. The lead image shows how close Walter Pall and Dan Robinson are and the forward describes this in detail.
“In my eyes, Dan Robinson is a truly American bonsai artist. … His art is authentic, coming from nature, American nature…” by Walter Pall
Elandan Gardens, Kitsop peninsula, Washington state. You know the place, Washington state  were ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ happened. I diverse! Elandan Gardens is the home of Don and Diana Robinson. It is described as a tranquil place beside a lake surrounded by embankments that create that perfect place were an artist can think without distraction. It is close to were Dan as a child saw this tree, “A tree I’ve never seen before”.
We have all seen that tree, our own tree that inspires and creates that spark as it did with Dan. This chapter tells the story of Dan from an early childhood were he was moulded, shaped into what he is now. It is a literary description that gives you an introduction to what is behind Dan Robinson, his childhood, his family and friends. From a kid in short pants back in 42′, describing his pondering touches, a sort of early love affair with trees. You could say a very early tree hugger.
Dan in some ways is anti-establishment (my kind of dude). In the ‘Demo Years’ he describes many techniques including, how Yamadori are collected. One such technique credited to him by George Heffilinger is the ‘Papoose Wrap’. This technique increased the survival rate of Yamadori by a large percentage. Dan, being the gentleman, says that this technique originates from Vickie and Bruce Valentine, who used plastic bags to store their fresh Yamadori, as in growing boxes they would surely die. Dan describes how he uses chicken wire and plastic sheeting to wrap the root structure. It is an interesting chapter that has many stories on famous names in Bonsai and the journey. GnarlyBranches
On one such journey, Dan found that now famous celebrity tree ‘Jackie’, a tree named after ‘Jackie’s Gleason Dancing’. It took Dan four years to train Jackie before ‘he’ was presented to the American National Forestry Service in 1980. Jackie is a Ponderosa Pine or Western Yellow Pine and he is approximately 150 years old. Jackie is now permanently dancing at the American National Bonsai Foundation.
This book goes through the many stages of Dan’s life written in some ways like a ‘Mills and Boon’ novel, describing the love affair with trees and how one man has dedicated his life to his art form. Their are many great Bonsai artists, but not many who have achieved so much as Dan. To these non-Bonsai artisthobbyist this book ‘Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees’ would make a great read and occasional book. Yes you can put it on your coffee table and all who read it will enjoy, but to the Bonsai budding artist it is inspirational, full of stories and technique. In someways it does tell you how one man has tried to break the mould and carve a ‘truly American bonsai’.
Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees: The Life and Works of Dan Robinson – Bonsai Pioneer
by Will Hiltz
ISBN: 978-0-615-37850-3
Nara Press 2010, 292pp, Hardcover with dust jacket.
Photographed published with kind permission from Jason Gamby.

Anyone interested in ordering the book may do so through the Elandan Gardens web site.

Disclosure: I agreed to write this review and received the book free of charge. Anything I write is honest and upfront.

Beauties of Spring

Spring is a time when there are so many plants bursting into growth and flower that sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees, or in our case the plants for the flowers. So this month I thought it might be appropriate to consider some of the smaller and less obtrusive spring plants that are often overlooked.

The primula family is one of the stars of late winter and early spring and every year thousands of fancy primroses and polyanthus are sold and planted as means of providing quick colour. However, the plants that we see most often are simply the most flamboyant and highly hybridised members of a far wider family that includes many small treasures that are hardly known or that pass unnoticed.

My favourite is a species that is said to be the smallest of all the primroses: Primula warshnewskyana. Although it eventually develops into a decent sized clump, when it first comes into flower it is a genuine example of the name being bigger than the plant. One or two flowering rosettes could be planted in a thimble. Yet it is such a tough and undemanding little plant, asking only to be protected from being overgrown by more rampant greenery. Primula pubescens, particularly the pale yellow ‘Harlow Carr’ is another charmer. Rather like an auricula in foliage and flower, but more delicate and graceful than its large cousin. For something a little more showy and unusual tryPrimula vialii. Although this species is somewhat frost tender and inclined to be short-lived, it is worth growing and persevering with for its very striking flowers. These are clustered on spikes that are held well above the foliage. They are red in bud and open to pinkish lavender. The red buds overlap like tiles on a roof so that in the early stage of development the flower stems resembles the top of a miniature steeple.

The Epimedium species seldom receive any great attention but they are among the most adaptable small perennials. They develop into spreading clumps that are ideal for carpeting small areas in a woodland. Totally dormant in winter, they come into growth in earliest spring, often flowering before the foliage is fully developed. The most common epimedium is the pale yellow-flowered E × sulphureum, which is usually the first to bloom along with the closely related, white-flowered Coptis quinquefolia. The white E. × youngianum follows in mid spring while the fanciest of them, E. grandiflorum, flowers on and off from spring to autumn. Epimediums offer the bonus of rich autumn foliage colour which can be just as much of an attraction as the delicate little flowers. As is the case with many plants, those with the simplest flowers tend to produce the best foliage colour.

The wood anemones, too, have their share of lesser-known beauties. Anemone nemorosa and A. blanda are widely grown, but how often do we see good clumps of the pale yellow A. sieberii or its brighter relative A. ranunculoides. Although these plants are a little more difficult to cultivate than the common species, they are by no means impossible provided the soil has ample humus and the winter and early spring climate is not too warm — anywhere in the South Island and the lower North Island will do. Light filtered shade suits them best. Along with these and many other uncommon species there are also the more delicate forms of the common A. nemorosa. Particularly attractive is the pale pink-flowered ‘Allenii’ with its nodding blooms. The white double, ‘Bracteata’, is very useful for naturalising in woodland and can lighten up a dark corner.

Hacquetia epipactus is a very unusual little perennial that looks like it is closely related to the wood anemones but which actually belongs in the Umbelliferae along with dill and fennel. This hardy woodlander begins to flower in very early spring before developing any foliage. Indeed the first sign of life is the emergence from the earth of tiny green-bracted yellow flowers. These initial, usually rather tatty, flowers are soon followed by foliage and slightly larger blooms. Hacquetia is not the most beautiful plant but it certainly has its charms. It is also extremely hardy, it comes into bloom from early August and is unfazed by frost. In the heavy Christchurch snow of 1992 it carried on unchecked despite being buried under snow for several days while in flower.

Asperula gussonii is a small, wiry-stemmed perennial cushion plant that is almost a sub-shrub. It has tiny, bright green leaves with silvery undersides and is more or less evergreen though it can be rather untidy in winter. It demands perfect drainage and is really at its best in a rockery or alpine pan. In spring it produces heads of minute pale pink flowers that develop from deeper coloured buds. The effect is rather like a very small-flowered daphne or erica.

The erica family itself includes many hard-to-get but very choice small shrubs. Rather than tempt you with the real rarities I’ll mention a couple that are somewhat easier to obtain if you are prepared to search for them. The mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a much loved and widely grown shrub but the closely related sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), which occurs naturally in much the same parts of eastern North America is far less common though easier to grow. Its foliage is mid green and rather narrow, quite unlike the leaves of K. latifolia. Its flowers are deep pink and closely resemble those of K. latifolia in form while being about half the size. Although it has been overshadowed by the more flamboyant mountain laurel, K. angustifolia is a colourful, extremely hardy evergreen shrub that is well worth growing. It can grow to 1 m high and wide in the wild but is seldom more than two-thirds that size in cultivation. It is easily grown and seems more adaptable than K. latifolia, which has a reputation for being temperamental.

The bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia) is a near relative of the kalmias and superficially resembles K. angustifoliabut is smaller still. This species, the only one remaining in a once large genus, forms a small mound that becomes covered with tiny, pink, bell-shaped flowers in spring. Cultivars with deeper pink or white flowers are available. This plant has a large range in the wild that extends into the Arctic Circle. It is essentially a cold climate plant that does not do well where the winters are mild. Choose a position that only receives only morning sun and make sure the soil is humus-rich yet well drained. It grows well in pure peat but any leaf-based compost will do.

Finally, one of my all-time favourites: Salix anoda. For most of the year this miniature willow is nondescript 60 cm–1 m high deciduous shrub that doesn’t merit a second glance, but in September and October it produces the most striking pussy willow catkins. The beauty of this plant is that something so ordinary can suddenly spring such a surprise. Like most willows, S. anoda has somewhat aggressive roots. It’s nothing like as strong-growing or ground-robbing as a weeping willow or a genuine pussy willow but it still needs room to spread.

There are so many plants that tend to be ignored while the cherries, daffodils, rhodos, camellias and the like hog the limelight that an article like this could go on forever. However, I think I’ll stop it here. The important thing is not to downgrade the common spring flowers but to remember to look for some of the real novelties that don’t rely on sheer flamboyance for their charm and that can really help to personalise your garden.

Keisho Ohno & Samurai Spirit

As part of their European Tour, Keisho Ohno and Samurai Spirit make their first Irish debut at the magnificent Royal Hibernian Academy. The Ireland Japan Association are delighted to invite its members and friends to come and experience an evening of traditional Japanese music with a unique contemporary twist!

Keisho Ohno

Born in Niigata-shi, Niigata Prefecture.

By the age of eight, Keisho had became a pupil of Chikuei Takahashi, who is the authority and founder of Tsugaru Shamisen, and at the age of just twelve, he became a, Natori, and was permitted to use part of his master’s name for his own stage name. At the age of fourteen, Keisho gained the acceptance of the founder, Chikuzan, and became one of the Mainstream Chikuzan Bushi Successors. In the year 2000, Keisho relocated his base to Osaka.

In 2004, Keisho formed, “Keisho Ohno with Tsugaru Shamisen SOUL,” and began to launch its music activities. “Keisho Ohno with Tsugaru Shamisen SOUL” is a Tsugaru Shamisen band with the inclusion of assisting keyboard and drum players. As a Tsugaru Shamisen player, based on the traditional paying techniques, Keisho takes over the spirit of a challenger from his master, Chikuzan, and creates a present-progressive traditional music, which will bring about a fresh breeze into the upcoming era. Keisho, as a Chikuzan-style Tsugaru shamisen player, plays a role of preserving classics while pursuing his original style, outside the mold of traditional art, via collaborations with artists from differenf musical fields. Keisho’s unorthodox performance style is now gaining great public attention

Date: Saturday, March 5th
Time: 6-8pm
Venue: Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), 15 Ely Place, Dublin 2
In Association with: IJA, Japanese Embassy & RHA

Keisho Ohno: Shamisen
Yoichiro Suzuki: Shakuhachi Flute,Trombone.
Toshihiro Yuta:Taiko drum

This event is open to existing IJA MEMBERS with no charge.
Non-Members are also welcome but note that members will be given priority booking.
This is a private IJA, Embassy and RHA Event – advance booking is essential so please email info(at) .

RSVP by February 25th at 5pm:

Jennifer Condon
Ireland Japan Association

Article originally published on Keisho Ohno MySpace page