My 1982 Bonsai spending summer on my patio
Well, I've done the unthinkable! I have planted my Natal Fig bonsai (Ficus natalensis) into the garden.
I got him as a 3-year old in 1982 and for 33 years I've been tending him, neglecting him, tending him again, pruning him wrong, taking him to an expert to be fixed, pruning him wrong again, putting him outside every spring and carrying him into the house every late-Autumn for the winter. A symptom of the neglect is that he got very big. He has been in the same pot for years without me taking him out and trimming his roots to maintain a reasonable size. Getting heavier and heavier, it became a major job for two men to move him every winter and spring. His trunk is beautiful, thick and gnarled, with aerial roots hanging down the one side, anchoring him more firmly to the ground.
The Ficus spending some time in the garden
But as time went by, he started showing real signs of neglect. When I looked at this photo of him which I took last July 2015 (winter) inside my flower room, it was clear to me that he was at the end of his tether and beyond saving. My heart broke. But now I've got this short-coming that I can't kill anything, not even an un-saveable plant, so in September last year (Spring), I chose a protected spot in the garden and plonked him in a well-prepared hole and said to myself, "que se ra, se ra". Deep in my heart I'm suffering because I've got this suspicion that this coming winter is going to kill him, being an Eastern Coastal Belt Forest resident of South Africa.
After a month in the garden, there was already a vast improvement. Most of the branches had already filled up with new leaves and he was looking bright green and much healthier. In the meantime I've read up a bit more about about this tree and it turns out that the versatile Ficus natalensis (also known as "Mutuba" to locals) is wind and drought resistant and tolerates temperatures from -5C – 30+C. It occurs naturally in both moist woodland and dry open areas of the country and is evergreen, which did not seem evident when I had him in the pot, as he lost a lot of his leaves every winter. With a height of 5m-20m and a spread of 4m-8m, I might just have to change my garden when he gets bigger, if he survives our severe Tarlton frost.
My "gardening skills " ego has been dealt a great blow with the "loss" of my Bonsai, as Ficus natalensis is one of the most widely used species by Bonsai enthusiasts. The fat stem and intricately gnarled roots are perfect for achieving a variety of popular Bonsai styles. This species grows ’banyan’ roots naturally which can be showcased as dramatic air-root or root over rock styles. The Natal Fig grows fast and is quite forgiving if incorrect watering methods are applied, making this the ideal choice for the novice enthusiast. So how "novice" am I ........?