This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Chinese gardeners are famed for the skill with which they reduce plants which are naturally of some considerable size, and even large forest trees, to the very smallest dimensions. Dwarf plants are in great demand all over the Celestial Empire, and are generally very expensive. The custom of keeping in sitting-rooms little stages ornamented with different things, and even with living plants, induced the gardeners of Europe to imitate the Chinese gardeners, although at a great distance, and to raise plants in tiny pots, generally choosing succulents, of which it is easy enough to obtain very small specimens. As experiments in this mode of cultivation increased, different kinds of plants were taken, and in Germany they at last succeeded in reducing hard-wooded plants and even forest trees themselves to a dwarf state. Thus, this art of the Chinese gardeners is transferred to Europe, and though the result is of no great importance, yet in a general horticultural point of view it is very curious.
The first gardener in Germany who cultivated Lilliputian plants - that is to say, plants with all their parts reduced to the smallest dimensions, was M. Boekel, from whose account we borrow the description of the method by which he attained this curious result. As examples of what he produced, he mentions a plant of Ivy, with 22 leaves, which, together with its pot, might be covered by a large leaf of common Ivy; also an oak (Quercus robur) 13 inches high, whose head formed a ball 6 inches in diameter. The details of his mode of operation are as follows: -
He had pots made of a very porous clay, the proper material for which was obtained by mixing equal portions of the clay used in making red and white pots, and adding 4 per cent. of ashes and 1 per cent. of sulphur. For woody plants, such as Oaks or others, the pots are very shallow, from about 2 to 2 1/2 inches high and 6 to 6 1/2 wide; for other plants he used pots from 1 to 2 inches high and broad. These pots he filled with soil or earthy mixtures such as are used in common cultivation; only he adds a third part of very small flinty gravel. The pots are filled up to the brim, and watered from below, by placing them in a dish containing water, or in a tin vessel made expressly for that purpose, with a tap, by means of which the water that is not absorbed is drawn off.
In order to make dwarfs of such plants as Oaks, Elms, etc, it is best to take one-year seedlings. In the spring their ends should be pinched off to make them form laterals; then when these have grown about 2 inches long, they are to be served in the same way, and the ends of all those which come afterwards are continually pinched off; the plants are then put into a cool place to prevent their shoots becoming too much drawn up; otherwise, in general, they like a sunny situation best. From herbaceous plants cuttings are taken and treated in the same manner. Climbing plants cannot be thus cultivated. To all plants which can bear this sort of treatment liquid manure should be given every three or four weeks; but care must be taken in administering this powerful stimulant, otherwise you may kill your plants.