Saturday, October 17, 2009

Steeped in Fairy Lore

No doubt, I'm entirely enchanted with bonsai trees. Certainly this must go back to my childhood days of creating little worlds for my She-Ra dolls and their wild guinea pig sidekicks amongst the mondo grass and candy tuft plants of my mother's garden. When I found this little how-to article in an 1878 Victorian children's magazine called St. Nicholas, I just had to share it along with my bonsai photos. I especially like Grandmother Grey's thoughts on mailing some of the moss to one's city-dwelling friends. What a delightful package that would be!

IN the first place, you must live in the country, where you can find that early spring flower, the blood-root or sanguinaria. Wherever it grows it generally is seen in great abundance--flowering in the Middle States about the first of April. In the latter part of March, after removing a layer of dead leaves, or a light covering of leaf mold, the plants may be found, and, at that time will have large brown or greenish brown buds in great abundance. A basket should be carefully filled with these tubers, without shaking all the earth from them, and some of the flakiest and greenest pieces of moss that can be found adhering to the rocks must also be put into the basket.

When you reach home, take a large dish or pan and dispose these tubers upon it, first having sprinkled it ever so lightly with the earth found in the bottom of the basket. Place the roots quite close together, taking care to keep the large, pointed, live-looking buds on the top, pack them closely, side by side, until the dish is full, then lay your bits of moss daintily over them, set them in the sweet spring sunshine, in a south or east window, sprinkle them daily with slightly tepid water, and on some fine morning you will find a little bed of pure white flowers, that will tell you a tale of the woods which will charm your young souls. Sanguinaria treated in this way will generally so far anticipate its natural time of flowering as to present you the smiling, perfumed faces of its blossoms while the fields may yet be covered with snow.

But this is not the end. After these snowy blossoms have performed their mission of beauty, they will drop off upon the carpet of moss, and, in a short time, will be succeeded by the leaves of the plant, which are large and irregular, but very beautiful, and each leaf is supported by a stem which comes directly from the ground, giving the impression of a miniature tree. A large dish of these little trees springing from the moss makes the Fairy Forest, and an imaginative girl, or possibly boy, well steeped in fairy lore, may imagine many wonderful things to happen herein.

If you have little friends or relatives who live in the city and cannot go into the woods to look for the sanguinaria, you can easily pack a pasteboard box full of the roots and moss, and send it to them by express, or, if it is not too heavy, by mail.

Photos taken in the Portland Classical Chinese Garden.