I’ve always enjoyed shohin and mame bonsai. Collectively, I will refer to shohin and mame sized bonsai simply as Mame. I really enjoy their freedom of movement and non-conforming set of rules. You can create some very nice looking Mame by following classic bonsai rules of structure, but you can also create some fantastic Mame by completely ignoring these same rules. I have decided to focus my bonsai on this size for the following reasons:
1. Tree material can be grown in a relatively short time, measured in months, not years.
2. Low cost- shorter growing time and smaller trees means the tree material is more economical
3. Economy of size- smaller trees take up less space on the growing bench. Therefore, more trees can be grown in less space.
4. Freedom of expression- Mame is not constrained by the normal rules of larger bonsai.
Because of their small size, Mame cannot always follow the classic bonsai rules, so some bonsai purists do not consider them ‘true’ bonsai. I’m not going to argue the philosophy behind what a ‘tree’ is and is not. Engage me in my religious beliefs before you engage me in what I consider to be a tree. Therefore, in order to avoid engaging in this discussion, I will eliminate the word bonsai, and use the term ‘Mame’ instead.
To explore what I mean by Mame, I should begin to define what is meant:
Mame: A small (usually under six inches) tree, shrub or other plant grown in a container. Mame is based on bonsai, but with far fewer restrictions on artistic expression. Mame tends to be much more exaggerated than bonsai. This freedom of artistic expression also means that other material besides trees and shrubs can be used. Besides the classic bonsai subjects, other material can be used such as tropical plants and trees, succulents, tubers.
Before you attempt Mame, you should have a good grasp of bonsai and it's principles. At it's very core, Mame is an exaggeration of bonsai. Never a mockery. Mame uses the same techniques that are used in bonsai to prune growth. Wiring is also the same. While a lot of the same techniques learned in bonsai are applicable, Mame uses a different measure of beauty. What I am attempting to do with Mame is expand and broaden bonsai in its general terms while keeping Mame as a separate discipline.
You should also have a strong, solid grasp of agricultural practices. Because of their small size, Mame have a higher agricultural demand than bonsai. More frequent waterings might be required. To help address this, some people keep small bonsai buried in sand when not displayed. Though I haven't tried this technique, I would highly encourage it for Mame; especially in areas with extreme weather (such as phoenix, where I live).
Sources for Mame:
Because Mame uses a smaller plant stock, it is possible to grow your own material through various sources.
Cuttings- including air layered material. An excellent way to obtain Mame material in a very short time.
Seed- Depending on the material used, can grow very fast, but usually takes a couple of seasons before you have anything decent. However, seeds can usually be had for cheap (or free), and you can grow a lot of seedlings in a relatively small space.
Tubers- Yes! Potatoes and yams. There are other desert-type tubers that can be used. I don't know the names of these, but fockea edulis comes to mind
Other- Whenever I go to Home Depot, Lowe's, Walmart, or any place with a nursery section, I make it a point to visit the garden section, looking for any small, interesting plant, tree, shrub, etc. I always look in the clearance area, or other areas where small, neglected (read interesting) material might be.
You might also find other people in your area who are willing to exchange some of their material for something you might have.
Because Mame uses the same styling techniques used for classical bonsai, I will not go into much detail here. Personally, I don't always like all the hassle that wiring brings to the table. Wiring should neither be too tight, nor too loose, nor should you use wire that is too small nor too big in relation to your material. It's just too restricting! I prefer to train my mame with stick and ties. That's not to say I don't encourage wiring; I use it all the time. I'm just saying that there are other methods besides wiring that should be considered.
I love bonsai and I love Mame. I like bonsai pots. I don't love them, however. I have decided that the same rules that apply to Mame should apply to Mame pots. They are a reflection of the personality of Mame. They are an exaggeration of bonsai pots. They are complimentary to bonsai pots. They are quirky, fun, and can get away with things that your typical bonsai pot cannot dream to do.
Mame pots should be raised. This helps with drainage and helps to keep bugs from crawling into your pots. I like to infuse my mame pots with personality by giving them legs and feet. Great, big, expressive legs and feet. Just like our hands can be expressive, a mame's feet can express a personality that will effect the pot as well as the tree itself.
It is my believe that we infuse a little bit of our selves into everything that we create. Most of my mame pots are pinch pots, which involves a lot of hands on time with each and every pot.
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