Junks I Collect No. 5: Bonsai Trees

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My husband and I got married at the Meridian House, in Washington, D.C. This Neoclassical house was designed in 1920 by John Russell Pope, the architect also known for designing the Jefferson Memorial, the West Wing of the National Gallery, and the National Archives. It was built as a personal residence for Ambassador Irwin Boyle Laughlin and remained in his family until 1961 when it was sold to the American Council on Education and then to the Meridian House Foundation, which became Meridian International Center in 1992. It is now used to house the Center’s office as well as for event rentals.

I love the fact that my British husband and I got married at the home base of an “organization dedicated to promoting international understanding.” I love the Latin inscription over the front entrance to the house:  “Quo habitat felicitas nil intret mali” (Where happiness dwells, evil will not enter).

But what I loved most about the property was the rear garden with its pebbled courtyard and allée of pleached linden trees that form a sort of natural outdoor cathedral.

In keeping with the tree theme, our wedding cake featured a tree on top of it (and underneath the tree – my dog, whom I’ve written about here).

We used little potted bonsai trees as combination seat markers and favors.

The day before the wedding I picked up dozens of  little Serissa trees from Merrifield Garden Center in Falls Church, Virginia. This is my favorite gardening center, and really – my favorite store period. I sat on the floor of my parents’ back porch for hours repotting the little bonsai starters into tiny little terra cotta pots tied with ribbon. My sister poked her head in, took one look at me and my dirt-smeared face and dirt-encrusted fingernails, and stated the perfectly obvious: “You’re insane.”

Since our wedding, I’ve had a sentimental fondness for Serissa trees and have tried and failed to grow them ever since. Wikipedia says they are “fussy”: “It responds adversely…if over-watered, under-watered, if it’s too cold, too hot, or even just moved to a different location.” Oh, how I can relate to this plant! I have come to terms with the fact that I’m incapable of keeping my Serissa trees alive, so whenever I get the chance, I replenish my stock at Merrifield Garden Center, the only place I’ve ever found them as starter bonsai plants. I know they’ll die, as all my others have, but I think of them as cheaper and slightly longer-lasting than cut flowers, which I never buy. (The words “false economy” are ringing in my ears as I type).

These Serissas were about $10 each. You can usually find even smaller ones for about $3. I pot them up in bonsai pots (also from Merrifield Garden Center) and cover the soil with moss. The garden center also sells tiny little sculptures that you can add to your plants. I usually just add a little seashell or something of that sort.

I placed an ammonite fossil at the base of this one:

Believe me, I’m not blind to the sad irony that this symbol of our love is constantly dying due to my mismanagement. But I console myself with the thought that persistence (even in the face of repeated failures) counts for something. In fact, the ability to acknowledge and accept our failings, as well as a healthy dose of (often black) humor, has helped us to hold it together for almost sixteen years now. Just this morning my husband started referring to himself as “my better half.” He caught himself and said, “Actually, I’m more like your ‘tolerable eighth,’ maybe even sometimes your ‘intolerable sixteenth’.” Finally, he hastened to very generously reassure me that I was his “magnificent 7/8ths”!

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