The Art of Bonsai

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Trees in the Miniature

Bonsai, the Japanese art of growing miniature trees, is an ancient practice, a living symbol of a traditional culture and its beliefs.

Along with Buddhism and martial arts, bonsai arrived in Japan from China. The notion of fashioning trees into aesthetically appealing shapes and styles has roots deep in history. Scrolls from 1195 have been found depicting miniature trees in tray-like pots.

Bonsai cultivation became widespread during the 17th and 18th centuries, with Japanese techniques far outstripping the original Chinese art in sophistication. In the 19th century, the ancient art of bonsai stepped into the global spotlight when Japan ended its centuries-long isolation from other nations. The Paris World Exhibition of 1900 revealed the exquisite beauty of bonsai to the world.

A living Work of Art

Bonsai is more art than horticulture, rooted in Zen Buddhist principles. Working with a vision, the bonsai artist virtually sculpts the tree, eliminating, shaping and pruning twigs, branches, roots, leaves and buds until the tree attains the desired size, shape and appearance. Well cared-for bonsai can survive several hundred years and are revered as heirlooms.

 

 

Bonsai for Beginners

Creating a bonsai from scratch requires patience and commitment, if these aren’t your strongest attributes, consider buying a trained bonsai and working on it for starters.

Buy a basic bonsai toolkit with shears, 3-5 cutters and scissors for cutting branches, snipping roots and buds. Other essentials are soil sieves, wire cutters and training wires. Acquire more sophisticated tools as your skill levels and knowledge advance.

To begin, select a small-leaved tree that grows well in your area. Look for a well-defined trunk with a wide base, tapering top and plenty of branches to work on.

Cultivation and Care


Bonsai can be grown from seeds, cuttings or even naturally stunted trees. These are miniaturized by pruning back roots and branches.  New growth must be snipped off, while the trunk and branches must be wired to train them into artistic positions.

Place your bonsai in an environment suited to the tree species. Scorched foliage, wilting or discolouration are signs that the plant is not flourishing. The frequency of watering depends on weather conditions, daily in warm summers, once in three days in winter. In dry weather, use a water sprayer to increase humidity.

Repotting bonsai, essential for the plant’s growth and health, is ideally done at its dormant stage, early spring or late autumn.

Bonsai Styles

There are five basic bonsai styles, determined by the angle of the trunk:
Upright
Semi-upright
Slanting
Cascade
Semi-cascade
 
Creating a bonsai is a slow, gentle and meditative process, reportedly with healing and de-stressing effects, reason enough to explore a new hobby, wouldn’t you say?

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