An Introduction to Bonsai

Looking for a way to enjoy the rewarding feeling of gardening while staying comfortably indoors? There are many available options when it comes to indoor gardening but one of the most artistic, delicate and intricate is the Japanese practice of Bonsai€™.

In this article, we’ll take a little look at bonsai, how it works and how you can get started if you’€™re interested.

What is Bonsai?

Bonsai is the process of maintaining small potted trees, which are often carefully pruned for aesthetic pursuit. Bonsai is a Japanese art but comes from the Chinese “Penjing”€™ which is the creation of potted scenery – small creations including tiny trees and rocks in artistic arrangements.

Growing bonsai trees is a highly delicate and intricate process and they will require a lot of your care and attention. Naturally, trees are designed to grow much larger with huge, sprawling root systems. Thus, it doesn’€™t take much to kill a small dwarf tree living in such a claustrophobic environment. Anything from a slight change in temperature to over pruning can be lethal for these trees.

At the same time though, bonsai trees have the potential to be highly beautiful and incredibly calming. Their small size makes them perfect as gifts and perhaps more so than many other kinds of indoor gardening, it can really feel as though you are bringing the outdoors inside when you have a beautiful bonsai on your desktop.

The History of Bonsai

The history of bonsai can be traced back to the 6th Century when Japanese Buddhist students would visit China and return carrying ‘container plantings’ as souvenirs. Around the same time, the Japanese were also beginning to take interest in the historical practice of Shosoin which was a small and elaborate tree display comprised of a wooden tray with carved mountains. The small trees could then be placed into the sand to make a table-top landscape.

A similar practice was referenced in the 970 book Ustubo Monogatari (The Tale of the Hollow Tree). We then begin to see paintings of more traditional looking bonsai trees in hand-scroll paintings during the Medieval period. The poem Bonseki no Fu would then outline the aesthetic guidelines for bonsai in 1300 but it wasn’t until the 19th century -€“ often referred to as the “classical period”€™ that the word “€˜bonsaiâ”™ was first used. In 1921, the first issue of “Bonsai Magazine” was printed and following World War 2 the practice began to spread to the West where it also gained popularity.

Several decades later, you read this article and decided to give bonsai a try yourself!

Getting Started With Your First Bonsai

So how do you get started with your first bonsai tree?

The first step is to choose the type of tree you want to grow. This is an important point, as it will ultimately impact quite strongly on your chances of success. For absolute beginners, the juniper is a particularly hardy evergreen that can take a little more punishment than some other choices.

The next step is propagation. This is the point where you begin growing your bonsai. To do this, you will likely take a cutting from the tree – such as a small branch – and will then plant it. This is quicker than planting a seed and results in a more “aged”€™ looking bonsai for more dramatic effect.

Another option is to use a technique called layering. Here, you simply encourage the branch of another living tree to take root in the soil it is in and then detach it when it is capable of surviving on its own.

To do this though, you will of course need to choose a pot. Do this carefully, because the type of pot you choose will ultimately impact on the shape of the tree. Popular shapes for bonsai trees include the “literati form” which is long and narrow, or the “cascade” which billows over the edge of the pot. The cascade requires a deep pot, whereas the literati requires a shallow pop. The “informal upright”€™ meanwhile is a more chaotic and random upright potted tree and requires a medium pot.

Care and Maintenance

Once your bonsai is planted and starting to grow, you will then be tasked with caring for it. This involves styling, which in turn means pruning and leaf trimming. This is what will turn your plant specimen into a potential bonsai tree and it’s also what will help to keep it small. Wiring involves the use of narrow wire wrapped around the branches and trunks which will encourage the tree to grow into particular shapes.

While styling you will also need to care for your tree, which is the part most similar to other types of indoor gardening. Of course maintaining a bonsai tree is much more difficult than maintaining a houseplant however due to the restriction of the small pot.

Depending on the species of tree you are growing, the requirements will vary somewhat. However, you will need to make sure you stay on top of:

  • Watering
  • Soiling -€“ bonsai need a fair amount of soil to encourage the growth of their roots
  • Insulating – the shallow soil leaves the roots subject to small fluctuations in temperature which can be devastating. Insulating the roots can help to prevent this.
  • Fertilizing – fertilization options vary as with any type of gardening. You can pick from organic fertilizers and chemicals.
  • Pest control – natural pesticides can be used to prevent your tree from becoming diseased
  • Providing light – You need to ensure that your bonsai is getting a lot of natural and direct light

Finally, you should look into using the following tools to aid with your care, maintenance and pruning:

  • Pot
  • Leaf cutter
  • Specialist soils
  • Leaf cutter
  • Cutter for pruning larger branches
  • Turn table – for reaching your tree from every angle
  • Anodized aluminum wire or annealed copper wire for shaping
  • Trunk benders
  • Rakes for the soil

All that should have covered the basics and you should now have a good idea of how to jump in and get started with your first bonsai tree. You won’t really know though until you jump in and give it a go. So what are you waiting for?

How to Grow Plants, Vegetables and More When You Have a Small Home and No Garden

If you live right in the middle of a city or town in a townhouse or flat, then you may be under the impression that gardening is off the cards for you. Most properties aimed at —young professionals”€™ don’€™t have much in the way of gardens for growing plants and flowers and if you only have a couple of rooms it can be a struggle even to keep many potted plants.

Some people don’€™t even have windowsills!

This can be a little depressing if you’€™re someone who would love to get their fingers green from time to time. Gardening is not only a highly relaxing and rewarding experience in itself but having plants around is a brilliant way to combat the cabin fever that can come from being indoors, to brighten up your decor and to help yourself relax. This only becomes even more useful if you happen to be someone who only has a very small living space.

So how do you overcome the limitations of city living and start bringing a little more life to your small apartment? Let‒s look at some options…

House Plants

No matter who you are, you should be able to get some enjoyment from having house plants around your property. House plants come in all shapes and sizes and even if you’€™re someone who isn’t very good at keeping things alive, or remembering to water things, you should find there’s some plant out there that can survive your care. Cactuses are a popular choice for instance, as are spider plants. You can even get a tumbleweed if you’re feeling low on confidence!

If you have a windowsill in your home or flat, then you can place these plants along there and water them from time to time and they should be fine.

If not? Then all you need is one well-placed coffee table. Put a small table by the largest window in your room and you can then fill this with as many potted plants as you like: there’€™s nothing to stop you having a whole bunch here and that can really brighten up a whole room. How about a few spider plants, cactuses and other hardy house plants?

Hanging Baskets

Another option if you don’€™t have anywhere obvious to put your plants is to use hanging baskets. Hanging baskets are essentially like large potted plants, except they hang on a chain. You can then use these to plant one or even several different plants at once. This is perfect if you don’€™t have a surface you can stand your plants on near a window, as you can instead just hang them up by your curtains or even outside by attaching them to the outside wall.

The downside of hanging baskets is that they can drip water and soil thus making your home dirty. The solution is just to make sure your basket has a sealed bottom and to use a plant that doesn’€™t require too much watering.

Hang multiple baskets at different heights and this can actually be quiet beautiful.


Sure you can plant flowers and plants around the home – but what about something a bit more ambitious like a tree?

Well of course there is a type of tree that’€™s suitable for the garden and that’€™s a bonsai tree! To start your own bonsai tree, you simply need to take a small branch or twig from another tree such as a Juniper and then to plant it to encourage it to grow. From there you’€™ll need to prune it and carefully maintain the temperature. It’€™s a lot of work but if you get good these can be true works of art that mimic whole mountain-scapes even and which are amazing to look at.

Container Gardening

Container gardening is a type of gardening that you will often do outdoors. This can mean having multiple potted plants next to one another, or it can mean taking a large container and treating it almost like a compost patch.

Of course a big benefit of container gardening is that you can bring your container indoors if you should want to. Thus, you’€™ll then be able to enjoy all the benefits of regular gardening but at home. The difficulties of course will be managing light and providing the soil with enough nutrients, while at the same time preventing the plants from getting too big. With patience and skill though, this can be possible.

And why not get a bit creative? Containers for container gardening can include wooden boxes but they can also include old baths or sinks, wheelbarrows – even mugs, glasses and pots and pans from your kitchen!

Herb Gardens

Another way you can grow plants indoors with limited space is with a herb garden. Of course these can be grown far smaller and are fine to grow in a kitchen. What’s more, herb gardens have the benefit of providing a real benefit for you as they will allow you to get more from your food!

As you can see then there are a wide variety of different methods you can use to enjoy some plants and gardening indoors. If you get inventive you can even use this challenge as an advantage.

Hydroponic Gardening

If you have a lot of space and you want to grow more plants, then one way to grow on a large gardens indoors is with hydroponic gardening. This is a type of container gardening that does away with soil and which tightly controls everything from the lighting to the nutrition that you provide your plants with.

Here, the container will hold the plants in place so that their roots can hang into a nutrient dense solution. Because the nutrients are so readily available, this ensures the plants grow big and strong and it prevents the need for large roots allowing you to fit more plants into a smaller space. You will need a fair amount of space and there’€™s a fairly large initial cost involved but once you get started the results can be rather impressive.

Zen and the Art of Gardening: Creating a Backyard Zen Garden

For more than 1200 years, people have enjoyed the calming benefits of Zen gardens. A Zen garden is a stylized arrangement of rocks, small trees and bushes, moss, and sand or gravel, all arranged to reflect the heart of the natural world. They have long been used as places of meditation practice for Zen Buddhists, but in recent years their appeal has spread to many parts of the globe. With Zen gardens now popping up in Western backyards, it’s easier and more affordable than ever to design a layout and find the right Zen garden products.

The Design

When approaching the design element of a Zen garden, bear in mind that there are no hard and fast rules as to the size and shape of the layout. Though they have historically been relatively small, the size of a Zen garden can be tailored to meet the specifications of your property. The garden can be an acres-long oasis surrounded by high walls or a small respite on the tiny strip of land between the garage and the house. Find what works best for the space you have, and sketch out your design within those parameters.

The Materials

Remember: the simpler the garden, the more effective it will be. These spaces were originally created by Zen monks, who lived lives of great simplicity and quiet contemplation. There was no room for towering trees, elaborate marble fountains, or hovering stone statues. The simple aesthetic of the Zen garden was meant to enhance the contemplative life and provide a serene space for meditation and reflection. In short, one should try not to gussy it up with newfangled merchandise and the latest technological gewgaws.

There are a few basic materials, however, that are common in all Zen gardens. They are:

Rocks or stones — In Zen garden lore, rocks/stones can represent mountains, people, animals, or waterfalls, all depending on how they are arranged.

Sand or gravel — Instead of grass, a Zen garden has a carpet of sand or gravel, which the garden-user will rake peacefully as an act of moving meditation.

Small bushes or shrubs, moss, water features — All of these are optional add-ons, but remember to keep it as simple and basic as possible. A small water feature like a stream or a reflecting pool can contribute to the overall relaxing effect.

The Symbolism

As with many aspects of ancient Buddhism, symbolism is very important to the execution of the Zen garden. The layout and its materials are considered metaphors for life. The sand/gravel is the earth on which we walk, the rocks/stones can be obstacles, opportunities, or diversions, depending upon their placement, and the ritual raking of the sand or gravel represents the gentle, tending care we must take in our own lives.

Create a design and find materials that speak to you. This is your place of escape. Keep it simple, and allow the space to become a place of practice and a haven of mindfulness.

More than Just a Pretty Scent: Many Herbs Aren’t Merely Spices

Sure, we all recognize the distinctive and lovely scents emitted by various herbs. We can smell the oregano bubbling in a pot of spaghetti sauce. We can identify the heady aroma of dill when someone makes homemade pickles. We can inhale the gentle sweetness of lavender in a freshly-steeped cup of herbal tea.

There are, however, other uses for some of our best-loved herbs. While they undoubtedly smell appealing, they can spice up our foods, be used medicinally, and even bring calm and restoration to our wellbeing. In this article, we will look at three popular herbs and investigate their properties as food, medicine, and aromatherapy.


Overview: Thyme is a hearty perennial that can grow in anything from partial shade to full-on sunlight. Savory and with a hint of spice, thyme faintly echoes the scent of its bolder cousin, the clove. Thyme is strong in flavor – a little goes a long way – and it dries and keeps remarkably well.

Food: Thyme is a perfect addition to savory dishes, especially meats, vegetables, soups, marinades, and pâté. Soups and stews like gumbo and clam chowder get an extra kick from thyme. It also works well with egg dishes like omelets, frittatas, and soufflés.

Medicine: Thyme has long been celebrated for its healing properties. It is high in vitamins C and A, manganese, iron, and copper. It has natural antioxidant properties as well.

Aromatherapy: The essential oil of thyme can be warmed in an aromatherapy burner to address a number of health concerns. It is a tonic and a stimulant, used for general aches and pains, and can be used to ease digestive discomfort. Thyme oil also helps alleviate fatigue and depression.


Overview: Lavender is, perhaps surprisingly, a member of the mint family, though its fragrance is really anything but minty. It is known for its gentle, relaxing scent and its signature, light-purplish color. Lavender thrives in drier growing environments and enjoys the benefits of full sunlight.

Food: Chefs in the Mediterranean region and throughout France have been using lavender as a staple spice for centuries. A very light sprinkle of the stuff in a recipe is all that’s needed to make its presence known. It pairs well with many fruits (especially berries), honey, jellies, and even breads and cakes.

Medicine: Lavender was widely prescribed by hospital staff during the First World War. It has anxiolytic properties that have been shown to improve sleep. Lavender can also improve pain and discomfort from bug bites and burns.

Aromatherapy: Lavender essential oil is instantly calming. It has also been used to lessen the pain of migraines and other headaches. Shakespeare found lavender oil to be an aphrodisiac, as is illustrated in The Winter’s Tale when Perdita boils up a seductive brew of “hot lavender, mints, savory, [and] marjoram.”


Overview: Sage is a perennial herb with a long and varied history. It grows in sunny places with well-drained soil. Its leaves are long and robust and are best dried hanging upside-down in bunches.

Food: Meats seem to love sage. The flavors mix exceptionally well, which has led to sage being a main ingredient in most sausage, game, and poultry recipes. Sage and onion are popular additions to stuffings and gravies. It is used heavily in English cookery.

Medicine: The Ancient Romans were the first to utilize the healing powers of the sage plant, and by the Middle Ages, it was a popular cure-all. Its properties read like a laundry list of benefits. These properties include antibiotic, antifungal, astringent, antispasmodic, estrogenic, hypoglycemic, and tonic characteristics.

Aromatherapy: By burning sage essential oil, you can calm your nervous system, quiet the mind, and alleviate symptoms of depression. The oil can also be included in massage creams or lotions. These massage unguents are especially helpful for women to use during menstrual pain.

Herb Your Enthusiasm: A Beginner’s Guide to Herb Gardening

Planting your own herbs is a perfect way to dip your toes into the world of gardening. You can start them indoors by planting seeds in small containers, then transplanting them outside once they have sprouted and the weather is amenable. Several types of herbs are virtually foolproof and take little time to cultivate. They also add a wonderful bouquet of fragrance to any windowsill or garden.


Basil is an excellent choice for beginning gardeners. The plant is strong and sturdy, and it germinates fast–usually in less than 10 days. If you start these from seeds while still indoors, be aware that you will want to replant them in larger and larger containers as they grow. This gives the roots room to spread out and keep the stems and leaves hearty.

Once the weather is conducive to planting, you can transplant your basil to your garden or window-box. Each plant should be spaced about 12 inches apart. They will grow to be around a foot tall and a foot wide and will fill the air with their sweet, distinctive scent.


Chives are no-fuss plants that are also perennials, which mean they will appear in your garden year after year. They too germinate quickly–in less than 10 days–and once they’re outside, they love to spread as far as they can reach. When doing the initial transplanting from container to garden, give each plant about six inches of space. And that’s about all the “rules” for planting chives: they really are THAT easy!

As chives grow, they sprout blades that resemble slightly stronger versions of typical grass blades. Atop these blades, a small purple bulb will appear. Not only do chives make a great addition to mealtime, they also provide a lovely, understated display of deep green and eye-catching lavender.


Like basil and chives, the dill plant usually germinates in 10 days or less. Space the dill about five inches apart when transplanting from the container to the garden or window-box. Dill is a showy plant and can grow to be three feet high, often providing shelter and shadow for smaller plants around it.

Dill has branched-out leaves that resemble ferns. The leaves are light and wispy and give off that unique dill scent. The plants also sprout yellow flowers that will give your herb garden a pop of color.

A Few Considerations

Starting your herb plants indoors will ensure they receive a strong, successful start. They can be planted early, long before the last frost of the season, and then transplanted to your outdoor space. Just remember that as your plants grow indoors, so too should the containers that house them. And of course, always keep them watered and in the sun.

Other easy-to-grow herbs include the following:



Lemon balm









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