Valavanis Bonsai Hints – Part 2 – Create A Companion Planting For Your Spring Bonsai Show

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Valavanis Bonsai Hints
Part 2–
Create A Companion Planting For Your Spring Bonsai Show
William N. Valavanis

Spring bonsai shows are rapidly approaching. In order to complete the presentation of your bonsai an appropriate companion planting, suiseki or figurine is often utilized next to the tree. Formal bonsai display requires study along with fine taste, which is a lengthy topic. Rather than to attempt to cover the theory, design and background of bonsai display, I’d like to present a quick and easy solution to creating an instant companion planting, which may enhance the presentation of your bonsai for a bonsai show.

Perennials are often used as companion plantings for bonsai. There are almost an unlimited number of different perennial species which are suitable for bonsai companion plantings. Dwarf or low growing plants work best. Often, when pot bound the foliage reduces in size and is more delicate. Pot bound companion plantings usually dry out quickly so keep many of them in a shallow saucer of water during the summer, especially dwarf Hostas with large leaf areas.

A few days ago I went to one of our local Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers and was surprised to see a display of dwarf Columbines growing in one quart pots for sale. The common Columbine, Aquilegia Canadensis, is a wild flower native to eastern North America, which reaches heights of approximately two feet.

The dwarf Columbine cultivar ‘Little Lanterns’ is an excellent dwarf mounding perennial suited for small areas and rock gardens because it only grows to ten or twelve inches in height. The small deep red and yellow nodding flowers stand above the blue green foliage and often last from April to June depending on the weather. I purchased a few pots of the ‘Little Lanterns’ columbine at $3.98 each and returned to my studio to create a spring blossoming bonsai companion planting.

First an appropriate container was selected. Generally shallow round containers with short feet are best for combining with bonsai for display. A smaller size companion planting is better than one which is larger. The choice of an unglazed or colored container depends on the bonsai container. Personally, if the bonsai container is glazed I’ll select an unglazed companion pot. If the bonsai container is unglazed a glazed companion pot is used. Also, if the bonsai container is symmetrical (round, square or equal-sided) an asymmetrical (rectangular or oval) companion pot is used. Likewise I like to combine asymmetrical bonsai containers with symmetrical companion plants.

Therefore, I generally first select the bonsai to be displayed, then chose an appropriate companion pot. Then I proceed to create the companion planting or switch pots of an already established planting.

Companion plantings are best presented when they completely fill the container, often overflowing. Sparsely planted companion plantings are not as effective as a container full of foliage and flowers as well. If a few smaller plants are planted in a larger companion pot and have not completely filled the pot it is best to wait and display in the future.

The bonsai, which will be displayed, is an American larch growing in an antique Chinese rectangular unglazed container. So a round blue glazed container was selected for the companion planting.

Two of the ‘Little Lanterns’ columbines were selected for the companion planting since I wanted a full container of plants. Plants with plenty of unopened flower buds were selected to prolong the flowering season display. Each plant was removed from the one quart plastic growing pot and was severely root pruned. Then about half of the soil was removed from one side of each of the two plants and they were combined to create a single plant. The completed companion planting was immediately thoroughly watered and placed in the shade to recover from the transplanting.

A few days later the companion planting was groomed to remove any damaged leaves, old flowers and to create a symmetrical appearance. A stand was then selected for the formal display of the American larch bonsai. The companion planting must also sit on some kind of display table as well. Flat boards, wooden burls or bamboo rafts are commonly used for companion plantings. Since the bonsai is in a rectangular container on a rectangular display table I did not want to repeat the straight lines and selected an irregular shaped wooden burl for the companion planting.

This companion planting of ‘Little Lantern’ columbine is only an example of what can be created from commonly available perennials at local garden centers. Annuals can also used as companion plantings as well.

This bonsai display is being prepared for the 49th Upstate New York Bonsai Exhibition on May 16-17, 2015 in Rochester, New York. Everyone is invited to visit the exhibition and see nearly 100 beautiful bonsai including my American larch bonsai. Also, it is no accident that both the American larch and ‘Little Lanterns’ columbine are both native to eastern North America.

Adapted from: valavanisbonsaiblog.com


‘Little Lanterns’ Columbine at Lowe’s


Plants before creating companion planting


Cutting the roots in half


Teasing the roots with a bamboo chopstick


Planting the first plant


Adding the second plant


Firming the soil after positioning


Final companion planting


American larch bonsai with ‘Little Lanters’ columbine companion planting



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