One Tree in Two Pots

Buddleia saligna (in South Africa, Buddleja saligna)
The tree is still very young in training, so it still has a few years to go before it can be classified as a Bonsai.

Why plant one tree in two pots?

Is the person who does this a eccentric or crazy?

Some people say I am a bit odd, but nobody has yet called me crazy to my face except my wife and my bank manager!

Well, I am probably a little strange (What person with a yard full of miniature trees isn’t ?) and perhaps somewhat mad, too. For me a bonsai only makes a lasting impression if it forces me to stop and wonder what story it is trying to tell me. Beauty alone will stop me in my tracks for a minute or two but bonsai with a story will linger in my mind and heart for years. Bonsai artists whose works have so touched me are people like Walter Pall, Nick Lenz, Marc Noelanders and Robert Stevens. So, what story does this “one tree in two pots” tell? It is actually a story within a story.

Three years ago I joined a group of people who wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. During the flight to Tanzania I must have eaten something that caused me to experience severe…, well I was not myself for the first three days of our climb.

The trouble started on the first morning while we were trekking through the rainforest. As the morning progressed I had to dash into the bushes at frequent intervals to answer natures call. During one of these breakaways from the rest of the group a tree captured my attention. A few meters from me this massive tree had bridged a deep ravine. Not only had it fallen over, it was still alive and had developed two major trunks. One could cross the ravine on the living bridge supplied by the tree and its shadow. Wow! That stopped me in my tracks and made me linger, forgetting my half loose trousers and churning stomach. I must have lingered too long because our guide came looking for me carefully watching where he stepped, of course. When he saw me he looked concerned and he asked me what was wrong since to him I appeared as though I were in a trance. My body was rigid as I stood there studying the unusual tree. I pointed to this amazing phenomenon in front of us. He then proceeded to tell me why, how and when the living bridge was created.

End of first story.

This is the story told by the Tanzanian mountain guide. According to the guide, it all started because of global warming. The rise in temperature caused one of the glaciers on the high slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro to melt faster and it slid down the steep slope one sunny day. Most of the debris and ice came to a halt a couple of hundred meters down the mountain. The melted ice, rocks and sand formed a temporary dam. During the summer rains the temporary wall of the dam burst and millions of tons of water and blocks of ice came hurtling down the mountain.

In some places the water carved a deep ravine through the softer scree leaving only harder patches of lava standing. As this avalanche of destruction ploughed through the rainforest it uprooted some trees and left others clinging to harder patches of lava.

The tree we were looking at was a survivor of that eventful day. The tree had paid a price, however it had fallen across the new ravine that had just been created. Some of its roots were still embedded in the outcrop of lava and parts of its crown were embedded in the lava and scree on the opposite side. The tree survived and some of its branches continued to grow. The damaged trunk started to form new roots on the opposite side of the ravine. As the result of competing for light in the rainforest, two vertically growing branches became dominant and formed two new trunks. A bridge bristling with life had been created over a period of fifteen years. The forest recuperated and a tenacious tree had captured the imagination of a bonsai lover.

How it happened:

Two months after the trip to Kilimanjaro, I had the opportunity to dig some trees on a farm in the Bushveld. I came across this twin trunk tree with two pieces of root ball. My memory immediately took me back to my squatting days on Mount Kilimanjaro! I instinctively knew how I would style this tree in the future.

The tree is a Buddleia saligna, a specie I frequently used for bonsai training in South Africa and which I am very familiar with.

Apart from my love of the mountains, the vast outstretched plains of Africa with its teeming wildlife and distinct flat-topped trees also have a special place in my heart. I proceeded to style the tree with my memories of the mountains and my personal impressions of mature trees in the African plains.

The two-trunk tree was transplanted about eight months ago; the pads of foliage are still very sparse. The two containers were made by a local ceramic artist and remind me of the rocky outcrops of lava on Kilimanjaro.

One tree two pots will forever remind me of a good story told by a tree and confirmed by a man on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Bonsai & Stone Appreciation Magazine – July/August/September 2007
Vol 46, number 3.

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