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Topical Times – The humble Chinese Elm

A regular update on the life and times of John Hanby’s Newstead Bonsai Centre……..

Topical Times – The humble Chinese Elm

I have just finished pruning my Chinese Elm and I must say I love the tree. Like almost all indoor trees the Chinese Elm is somewhat frowned upon by most bonsai enthusiasts……”I don’t do indoor trees!”…….”it’s a beginners tree”……”they are even in B&Q and Ikea!”

Chinese Elm -Broom Chinese Elm-Slanting IMG_2699

The tree didn’t ask to be shipped half way round the world and paraded in chain stores across the country……it’s not his fault. It’s a beginners tree because it’s a good tree…… it will stand some abuse and neglect, can be resurrected quite successfully, and responds really well to pruning. With decent trunks, small leaves, and fine twigs, it’s basically a miniature tree….in other words it does what it says on the tin!!

The fact that in China it can be grown to a reasonable size very quickly means it can be transported to Europe and still sold at a realistic price with obvious appeal to the bonsai beginner or gift buying public.

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Many bonsai enthusiasts actually owe their introduction to the hobby to the humble Chinese Elm. I suspect that most of the adult population of the UK have actually killed a Chinese Elm at some time in their life…..largely due to bad advice or none at all!

The simple rock planting above was put together for a customer in 2009. You have to look beyond the initial impression of the mass produced tree. I admit some of them can be crudely chopped and shaped but within this mass are some trees with excellent potential.

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Sometimes a change of pot can make all the difference. My own small Chinese Elm found it’s way on to the show bench at Newstead 4 in 2010.

April 2005 001 Mar 2010 005 Newstead 4 Sept 2010 059

The tree in the centre above was acquired in the late 1980’s….my second bonsai tree acquisition. Trained into a broom style the picture was taken in spring 2005. Sadly it died in the bad winter of 2010 and at that time was the tree I had longest in my collection.

The final pictures are of the Chinese Elm I just finished pruning. The early pictures were taken in spring 2010 and also on the show bench at Newstead 4 in September of the same year. The final picture is the tree now. As an old specimen bonsai this tree has so much going for it and gives me a lot of pleasure.

IMG_0031 Mar 2010 006 Newstead 4 Sept 2010 085

The Chinese Elm looks set to continue on the frontline trying to attract new people into this fascinating hobby and hopefully more trees will start filtering through to the benches of the serious enthusiast and the national shows…. a bonsai role that’s vitally important but one which this unassuming little tree seems happy and humble to carry on doing……