Blooming bonsai

Marais du Toit's wisteria bonsai tree which sprouts colourful flowers for two weeks every spring.

A Parklands man’s wisteria bonsai tree sprouts flowers for two weeks during spring.

Marais du Toit’s passion for bonsai trees began more than 40 years ago.

Every year around this time, Marais, 69, looks forward to seeing his wisteria bonsai sprout magnificent blueish purple flowers.

He nurtured the tree from a seed 30 years ago. Perched on a table in a corner of his small garden, it stands in all its glory. “It looks good for about two-and-a-half weeks; then it’s done,” he says. “It didn’t flower until after 25 years. Now it blooms every year around spring time.”

The wisteria is one of five bonsai trees in his garden. Among the others are hawthorne and Chinese elm.

Marais’s interest in bonsai dates back to the 1970s. He was drawn to it, he says, “just because it was different”.

But working in retail all his life made it difficult to join bonsai clubs or go for courses on how to grow them so instead he stuck his nose in plenty of books on the subject and “qualified by experience.”

A tree in a pot does not make a bonsai, he says. He believes there’s a “romance” to growing each bonsai, whether it be from seed, a cutting or dug up from nature.

Marais moved with his wife, Sally, and five bonsai from Rhodesia to Pretoria in 1979.

He recalls the laborious task of transporting the trees by car. The roots had to be removed from the soil and washed clean because South Africa didn’t allow soil in from other countries. The roots were sealed in a plastic bag with vermiculite and water and then bagged again.

His beloved bonsai had to spend six weeks in quarantine in Pretoria before Marais could fetch them. Only one of those trees is still living today.

As Marais speaks, he busies himself removing weeds from the bonsai plants which all stand in water basins.

“You’ve got to be ready to be a parent, and you need to understand what it means to nurture,” he says.