A Last Look

Thirteen years ago I spied a tiny maple seedling in my garden. Its location, under a ‘Bloodgood’ maple, was convincing evidence of its progeny. I dug it out carefully and planted it in a simple pot to encourage it to grow and establish a healthy root system. After two years in that pot, I transplanted it into a bonsai pot I had purchased in Japan and hoped I could create something of value. It made the move from Chapel Hill to Charlotte in good shape and has been on my back patio on slightly elevated support in a protected area.

Please allow me to share a last look for the year as the leaves have turned a striking red, just before they begin to fade for the winter.


It has been root pruned about every three years and replanted in new soil (sandy loam) which I dug and screened from the flood plain next to the stream in the woods. The moss is all native to our woods. I wired a few of the branches to help them grow in the direction I intended. It is hand watered almost daily. I realize that bonsai purists may raise an eyebrow at my using local soil, but neither the maple nor a twenty-five year old ginkgo that I featured in an earlier post have been thus degraded.

I have had a long interest in bonsai since I was introduced to it while in the Navy stationed in California in the early 60’s. Being transferred regularly every few years made it impossible to really get serious about it. During a tour of duty in Tokyo, I was fortunate to be able to study under Saikei master Toshio Kawamoto. Saikei is a form of bonsai (the “sai” character in Japanese is the same in both words) that uses the same techniques but creates “forests” instead of individual trees. I learned enough to have the confidence to root prune and wire branches but am clearly an amateur and have focused on other areas of gardening.

Scan0001Sensei Kawamoto’s book (available in an English language version at Amazon), Saikei: Living Landscapes in Miniature




Each year the local Bonsai Society of Charlotte exhibits wonderful bonsai treasures at the annual Home and Garden Show in February. I look forward each year to seeing their displays. I am tempted each year to do more than just enjoy their show. Alas, I haven’t given in to the temptation, but have to be satisfied with my two meager “creations.”

As the years move on, I have started to think about what might happen to these two living “creations” of mine. In Japan bonsai are often considered family treasures and are passed down from generation to generation. Treasures mine are certainly not, but perhaps I can convince one of my grandchildren to take an interest.


About johnvic8

John Viccellio retired after 24 years in the U. S. Navy and began to dig into gardening when he could finally land in one place. He completed the Master Gardener course in 1992 and has since designed and constructed two of his own gardens. He wrote a monthly garden column for ten years and was a regular contributor to Carolina Gardener magazine. John published his first book, Guess What's in My Garden!, in 2014. He lives in a retirement community in Matthews, NC.
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6 Responses to A Last Look

  1. Pauline says:

    What a wonderful colour your seedling has, I wish you success with your two bonsai trees. I am growing a couple of seedlings from Acer Osakazuki and they too show the same colour as their parents, I haven’t decided whether to put them in the woodland or to bonsai them, I must decide soon.


  2. pbmgarden says:

    Interesting process and great way to create an heirloom. Hope your grandchildren take up your passion.


  3. johnvic8 says:

    Thank you, Susie. Not sure if I can ever get the grandkids off the iPad.


  4. You can never tell with kids. The son who gardened with me as a child seems to have no interest these days, while the one who didn’t is now growing vegetables. Go figure!

    Your Bloodgood seedling is fabulous. Have you visited the Bonsai Show at the NC Arboretum? It’s amazing.


  5. johnvic8 says:

    Thanks, Marian. I have not seen the show at the Arboretum. We were privileged to see the bonsai collection that was given to the US by Japan for the 1976 anniversary when it was displayed in Tokyo before the transfer to US. Awesome is a word I try not to use, but that is an apt description of what we saw.


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