Love miniature trees? Anita Peter, a special educator in Kerala who has grown 225 of them, shares gardening tips for bonsai trees.
Around 34 years ago, when Anita Peter visited her sister-in-law’s house for the first time, she was astounded by her bonsai garden. The gorgeous little trees inside adorable pots fascinated Anita and she instantly decided to make a similar one in her home in Kadavanthra, Kochi.
Today, the 56-year-old is the ‘mother’ of 225 varieties of bonsai trees which are spread in her 3-cent garden patch. The collection majorly includes ficus and many fruit trees including rose apples, chikoos and cherries.
“My sister-in-law is the one who guided me to this field and following her tips, I made a beautiful garden which is my family’s favourite place to hang out now. I consider each bonsai as my child and take care of them daily. The satisfaction and serenity I receive from them is unmatchable,” says Anita, who is also the secretary of the Cochin Bonsai Club.
Ever since she planted her first bonsai, gardening became her passion.
She sources bonsai plants from different places, including her sister-in-law’s garden and even the roadside. “Usually, this type of plant is quite expensive and it is not always possible to buy each one of them. Also, they are plentiful around us. We only need to take a deeper look at our surroundings. The ficus variety, especially, is largely available everywhere,” says the gardener.
She also adds that bonsai cultivation is totally different from normal gardening.
From getting the potting mix right to the duration of budding, everything is so varied. “Unlike normal plants, bonsais take several days to come up with a leaf or flower. But the process is so fulfilling and the result is incomparable.”
Her family, which includes her husband and three children, wholeheartedly supports her interest and takes part in the activities.
But even amidst her busy schedule as a special educator, Anita reserves time for checking on her plant babies. “I came into the field of special education post the birth of my children, as two of them faced learning disabilities. It requires a lot of patience and knowledge to bring them up, just like growing a bonsai. Today, I guide several parents to help raise their kids well,” says Anita who runs Lil Sparrow, a space for disabled children and their parents.
How to grow bonsai
The experienced gardener shares a step-by-step process to set up a bonsai garden for beginners:
- Collect a seed or bonsai plant from a nursery or a gardener. Make sure it is organically grown or else the growth will end abruptly.
- Select medium-sized pots in which the plant, later a tree, will be grown. Ensure the pot has enough holes to drain excess water.
- Lightly cover the holes with stones to avoid complete loss of water.
- Setting the perfect potting mix is the crucial step in bonsai cultivation. As the first layer, add gravel with considerably big stones. On top of it, add fine gravel with around 5 mm-sized stones. This is to make sure that the roots are not tightly stuck and to avoid drying the plant.
- Cocopeat, cow dung and neem cake comprise the top layer. Use organic manure only. Chemical fertilisers may fasten the growth but the plant won’t survive for long.
- Place the seed or plants in the pot and water them regularly.
- Avoid overwatering – spray rather than water with a hose.
- Pruning of the plant is another vital step to fasten the growth of the plant. Take help from experienced gardeners in the beginning and then try doing it yourself. Excess cutting might kill the plant.
- In case of pest attacks, spray diluted neem oil occasionally.
- Be patient and watch the budding of a new leaf or flower. Don’t expect the plant to shower with these right from the beginning.
“Spread positive energy in your space by growing these beauties. It will teach you to be calm and pleasant,” says Anita.
Edited by Yoshita Rao