Have you ever come across an activity or hobby that surprises you by the extent of the passion felt by those who are involved, and by the global reach and organisation behind the hobby? I’m not talking about Star Trek conventions or Cosplay in general, but rather the world of Bonsai. A gathering of Bonsai enthusiasts matches anything Star Trek fans can generate in terms of excitement and passion, but without the funny uniforms or prosthetics.

I was lucky enough to be able to organise a few days off from my library duties and attend the recent National Bonsai Show and Convention in Dunedin on 7th and 8th October.

Perhaps you’re surprised that there is a National Bonsai show? There’s even a New Zealand Bonsai Association to oversee all things bonsai. This is not Japan, it’s true, but there are still plenty of people in New Zealand who would travel significant distances for such a gathering. And what a mixed lot they were! The Bonsai bug bites all equally – that gathering had everyone from a retired professor of agricultural systems to a carpenter, and, of course, a librarian. All were united by a passion for bonsai, regardless of background.

The convention had two main attractions for most, the national show itself, and the demonstrations and workshops with the famous (in the bonsai world anyway) bonsai professional Bjorn Bjorholm the first non-Japanese bonsai professional to work in Japan. Now based in the United States, Bjorn travels extensively to different parts of the world giving talks and demonstrations, so a chance to sit in with an acknowledged master was not to be missed.

Curious about the bonsai thing? The library can be your friend. There are a good range of books in the library covering the history, the aesthetic principles and the hands-on techniques. The library also offers access to articles from the best known English language Bonsai magazine, the Bonsai Journal.

And if you fancied finding out a bit more and maybe getting some hands on time with trees in the company of like-minded mini tree enthusiasts, why not go along to a local Bonsai club meeting? There are two clubs in Christchurch, both listed in the CINCH (Community Information Christchurch) database. See you there!

I want a shed

Cover of My Cool ShedIt’s spring and it seems like everyone is out in their sheds making stuff.  Brewing home brew, potting up the seedlings, making wooden toys for Christmas or just pottering around.  It’s not fair.

I want a shed. Why should men have all the fun? I think I’m missing out. Barbara Hepworth had a shed and so did Dylan Thomas. I read all about their sheds in My cool shed. I might have to make one, but I will have to visit a shed owner so I could borrow their tools. I love the old sheds that men have. They built them from recycled materials and didn’t have to worry too much about earthquake proof foundations and building codes. I think my husband would be happy to have my knitting wool and sewing machine relocated to a shed.

In my shed, I would escape from the ironing.  I could curl up with a good book,and enjoy a cup of tea with a jam tart.  I think my shed should have a big window with red curtains.  It would have a long bench for my craft UFOs (Unfinished Objects) and there would be lots of shelves for my bucket list books.

If you were to visit my shed at around 3 o’clock and I wasn’t there, you would find the key under the garden gnome.  The jam tarts will be in the tin labelled ‘buttons’.  Make yourself a cup of tea. I’ll be back soon.

Contained inspiration

Cover of Plants in potsWith the arrival of spring, my neglected container garden on the deck is calling for a make-over, so I have begun trawling our gardening collection to find a bit of inspiration. What I have found is actually rather a lot of inspiration. Suddenly I have visions of creating a little paradise in the small space outside my french doors. My fingers are now itching to clean out old pots and fill them with fantastic new plantings.

I’m new to small gardens and haven’t had much experience with containers so I’m starting with books like Container Gardening by Numbers, and Cool Containers which give lots of ideas of exactly what to plant. This includes colour schemes, sunny or shady situations and different styles. They also give beginner instructions on exactly how to go about the planting process.

I’m going to stick to decorative plantings I think, although I have been tempted by books like Grow your Own Crops in Pots and Organic Crops in Pots. I might try a few ideas from Grow your Own Herbs in Pots though, because there’s nothing like being able to pop out the kitchen door to pick some fresh herbs when you are cooking.

Browse our fantastic collection of books on container gardening and get gardening.

Dig up your lawn!

Cover imageGiven the rising cost of food and petrol, as well as continued concern about food miles and food origins, it seems that the once-subversive idea of not having a lawn is far less controversial than it once was.

There’s a growing number of people who have decided to permanently get rid of their lawn and grow food instead. Here’s two books to get you started:

We’ve got plenty of books to help you on your way to growing your own food. Try a subject search for :

If community gardens are more your thing, check out:

Itsy-bitsy garden

Spring is starting to spring (with the usual fickle weather) and gardeners are itching to get to work. Don’t have a garden? It’s still possible to grow yourself some yummy fresh greens. All you need is a few shallow containers with drainage holes and a light spot for them.

I’m talking microgreens. I’ve not given them a go before except outdoors in my vege plot,  so I decided to put a couple of empty ceramic bonsai pots I had kicking around to good use. (Hmmm, yeah, bonsai. Let’s not talk about that garden episode…)

I’ve been inspired to give microgreens a go by a new Kiwi book, How to Grow Microgreens by Fionna Hill, which we’ve just acquired here at the library. A microgreen is defined as a young edible plant that has developed two true leaves beyond its cotyledons (or seed-leaves) so it’s bigger than a sprout but still tender enough that you can gobble everything above the ground whole. My bonsai pots work well – and look good too – but you can use any shallow container. Plastic takeaway containers with holes punched in the bottom work just fine. Your microgreens won’t mind – all they need is about 4cm of  growing medium (I use an organic seed raising mix) to nestle their roots into.

Using untreated seed is important – ask at your garden centre if you’re not sure what to get. Several seed companies now do ranges specifically for microgreens. I’ve just planted red cabbage, “Fiji Feathers” peas (a variety specifically for microgreens), green broccoli, kale, ruruhau (mustard cabbage), fennel and “Bulls’ Blood” beetroot. The fennel seeds have the added bonus of smelling delicious as you plant them – but remember not to sniff the potting mix!

Growing microgreens is just one way to container-garden when your space is limited. Check out your library for a great collection of books on this method of growing.

What garden books have inspired you to grow new things? What have you learned from your successes/failures?