Tell someone that you have a 94-year-old tree growing outside your house, and they'll likely envision something tall.
Not so with the Ponderosa pine at the home of Pam Bradner Ohnemus of Davenport.
The tree is less than 3 feet tall because Ohnemus has been cultivating it in the art of bonsai (pronounced bone-sigh), which literally means "to plant in a shallow tray."
The general objective of this ancient art is to produce small trees that mimic the shape and scale of full-sized trees, accomplished through careful pruning, wiring, even the application of weights to pull down branches. Woody shrubs and vines also may be used.
The practice is part art, part horticulture.
"I consider it a live art form, a living sculpture that is ever-changing," Ohnemus said.
And Ohnemus is well-versed in art, having taught the subject for 33 years in Davenport schools until retiring in 2013 from Williams Intermediate. She also creates art herself; her current interest is painting Midwest prairie landscapes.
All told, Ohnemus has 28 bonsai plants, 20 growing in pots outside because they are, after all, regular deciduous and conifer trees that must go through periods of dormancy to survive. Eight are tropicals that she keeps inside because they would freeze and die in Midwestern winters.
She traces her interest in small plants to her childhood in Canada when her parents gave her a small Scots pine seedling. When the family moved to the United States she had to leave the tree behind, but her parents subsequently bought her other small trees, and she developed a liking for them.
She began practicing bonsai about 20 years ago when she was attracted to a display at the Beaux Arts Fair by Charlie White, of Rock Island, a long-time bonsai practitioner and the last surviving founder of the Quad-City Bonsai Club. "He had a display, and I bought a little one," Ohnemus said.
In 2002, she joined the bonsai club and expanded her skills.
Her outdoor trees include a Black Hills spruce, a ginkgo planted from seed, an amur maple, a Korean hornbeam (its leaves turn orange in fall), a Barbados dwarf cherry (one year it actually produced a couple of fruits), a larch, a boxwood, a mugo pine, several junipers, an Alberta spruce and a grove of dawn redwoods. A "grove" is a bonsai term for the planting of more than one tree in a pot. Due to the pleasing appearance of odd-numbered things, practitioners try to grow plants in threes or fives.
The 94-year-old Ponderosa pine was 85 when she bought it nine years ago, harvested from the rocky hills of South Dakota, where many trees grow in a sort of natural bonsai formation because of the harsh conditions.
Because her trees continue to grow, Ohnemus takes photos every year so she can see how they are developing, and she keeps records in a small, spiral-bound book, noting, for example, when she acquired a tree, how old it is, when she repotted and so forth.
In the back of the book are records of trees that have died. Not every tree succeeds, even for a skilled gardener.