Duranta repens, pigeonberry
Durant repens, or pigeonberry, beginning its life as a bonsai

Living in Malaysia and not making bonsai is like living in Minnesota and not snowmobiling. You’re just not taking advantage of what is on offer. With a 12-month growing season, plenty of sunlight and rainfall throughout the year, the slow, slow pleasures of bonsai come just a little bit quicker.

It took me years to come around. I thought bonsai was for people who can’t appreciate the natural beauty of the plants growing all around them, that it was cruelty to trees, that it was kitschy. But really I just hadn’t seen the right bonsai. It was Harry Harrington’s site that did it for me. The images there are so sublime, so evocative, I thought if I could create something a tenth as beautiful one day, it would be worth it. Take the time to look through his galleries, they are stunning.

So far I’ve been puttering away at this hobby for about a year and a half. The picture above is the first piece I think has any potential, taken on the day I took it out of the ground, two days ago. Check back in three to five years for a finished product.

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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  1. Salam alaikum,

    I once grew a bonsai apple tree. Okay, so it wasn’t really a bonsai. It was just an apple tree that never grew because I wouldn’t pot it on from the shallow clay dish I started it in. But I told myself it would be my bonsai creation. I have no idea what happened to it though, as I forgot all about it when I went off to university. I wonder what happened to it.

  2. Salam & Eid Mubarak,

    I have a question related to gardening. I have two rows of shrubby trees – purple lavender type (front row) and white Thai jasmine (back row) – on both sides of the entrance to my house. I think when I first planted them, the distance between each trees may be a bit short, so while the trees survive and flower nicely, they dont seem anywhere near the nice bushy appearance I often saw them while in the UK. Do you I should replant them? Any advice? TQ.

  3. wasalam nnydd. Nice to hear from you. Do you have a picture you could send me or link to? My advice isn’t worth much without a visual. But offhand, I’d say the Thai jasmine/melati/Wrightia religiosa is naturally more tree-like. It’s not really a hedging shrub. So if it is growing tallish, you can prune it back, but it still won’t become thick and full of leaves. I’d suggest letting it grow naturally within the space you can give it and over time it will develop a graceful natural tree form. If you find it is too close together as it grows, you could remove every other one to give more space to the remaining ones. That’s one of my favorite plants btw. Makes good bonsai too.

    As for the purple stuff, that could be a lot of different things, but without a photo I’ll guess it’s Cyathula. That stuff will take a hedge shape for a while but it isn’t that long-lived. If it is looking rangy and thin, it might be time to replace it.

  4. Actually, the lavender-type is a purple durantha. It is much,much healthier than the jasmine – some have branches taller than I am when I leave them without pruning. Perhaps I am not mixing the right trees?

  5. Hmm. I’m going to need a picture, brother. I’ve never seen a purple-leafed duranta, but yeah duranta will grow very tall indeed if not pruned regularly. My neighbor has one that is 3m tall with a trunk thicker than my arm. If you don’t feel like pruning hedges on a regular basis, and I don’t blame you if you don’t, then maybe you’d be better off with a border planting in front, like a spider lily. They are indestructible, free-flowering and fragrant, and won’t get more than two feet tall. I use soft green stuff like spider lily, heliconia and calathea for my borders and hedges since they require so little maintenance, and then use woody shrubs like water jasmine and kemuning individually in places where I can let them grow tall and free, like at columns and corners.

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