23 July 2020

My Fifty Years Growing Bonsai by Gail Theron - My First Bonsai 1970

My Fifty Years growing Bonsai by Gail Theron

My first Bonsai 1970

2020 is a year to remember, on the one hand the sadness, tragedy and distress of Covid19 and on the other hand the celebration of 50 years of being so very fortunate and able to pursue my passion for Bonsai. This would not have been possible without the love and support of my family. I also need to mention my fellow bonsai growers like the late Rudi Adams, Bernard Coetzee and Bob Richards. We were a small group of Bonsai fanatics with no internet, no tools, pots or wire. Our bible was The Sunset Book of Bonsai. 1970 was also the founding year of the Cape Bonsai Kai. In 1980 we were honoured to welcome our first visiting Master, John Naka. He also visited in 1982 and 1984 and had a profound impact on the development of Bonsai in SA. Since then we have had many talented Bonsai Masters sharing their knowledge and skills with us, keeping us updated and fully informed, Bonsai has been evolving since its inception and the glib phrase “old thinking and new thought processes” doesn’t hold much water with me.
Young growers are so fortunate to now have all the info they need at their fingertips on the internet. This is apparent in the many beautiful Bonsai being created  trees being created across the country.

My bonsai journey began with me being given a bonsai pot by a potter friend, I am ashamed to admit that four trees died as a result of my attempts to Bonsai them, however after four lessons with Bernard Coetzee and I was hooked.

My first tree was a Myrtus Communis.

As with most beginners, my first ambition was to get the tree into a small Bonsai pot, it was inconceivable to think of planting it in the ground or an extra-large pot. That was when my passion overtook me and in the rush to try out all those zillions of plants, my Myrtle remained in almost the same size pot for 50 years. Of course the trunk hasn’t fattened but it does look gnarly, branches are in proportion to the trunk and have never been wired, I used the clip and grow method. So, if I now decided I wanted a heavier trunk, what would my options be? I could double up on pot size and then watch that no branches cause thickening where I don’t need it but I am just not able to carry it out now. The next best solution is a sacrifice branch but in a spot where it would not destroy the balance of the tree or leave a prominent scar. A sentimental tree so I will let it be and continue to enjoy it!

This little group is a new creation, four or five years since collection, it's overpotted and I plan for it to stay a smallish group. I am fertilising quite heavily to achieve good branch development, when stronger wiring will be done.

The next tree is a more ambitious project. Collected five years ago, it was put into this large pot and left to grow, it had no greenery but now has many branches to choose from. 

This multi trunk Myrtle was dug up a few years ago, it was overpotted and left to grow and develop branches, now it’s time to work on it. Designed, pruned, wired and fertilised with a couple of Go Green funnels it should develop quite quickly.


There are so many great qualities presented by Myrtles.

It has small evergreen scented leaves, it flowers and berries profusely. The bark is very interesting, it can withstand heavy pruning and breaks back prolifically on hard wood. With all these wonderful qualities I am really surprised that more growers don’t cultivate them.

Bishopsford Bonsai now have a selection of mature Myrtle starters for sale.

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