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Bonsai

Introduction to the Art of Bonsai

The definition of the term “Bonsai” is a plant, usually a tree or shrub, that is grown in a container and made to look like a mature tree through the use of various training techniques. The plant usually does not exceed 1 meter in height.
The art of bonsai as we know it, traces back almost 2000 yrs. The word ‘bonsai’ is made up of 2 Japanese characters or word phrases, “bon” & “sai.” “Bon” is the pot, tray or container; the “sai” is the tree or potted planting. The original word Bonsai comes from the Chinese word “P’en Tsai” which sounds similar to bonsai and has nearly the same meaning. It couldn’t be further from the true spirit of bonsai, however, if we restrict our interpretation in this way. It is indeed a tree in a pot, but a tree that has been subjected to a number of horticultural and aesthetic disciplines through which visual harmony and botanical well being is achieved. The essence of classical Bonsai is to produce a healthy miniature representation of a tree.

The ultimate challenge for the bonsai designer is to expose the essence of the tree. The art of bonsai is telling a story through living illusion. The artist strives to find avenues for personal expression within the confines of good horticultural practice. Bonsai is a pleasant mix of form, thought and suggestion in a miniature world and like all good art, it endures.

Beginners and students often share the same concern: having the ability to maintain a healthy plant. The key is in being able to control the degree of stress that a plant will take and still remain healthy. “Stress” here is not psychological stress, but referring to the horticultural practice of being able to know how much is too much, and how much is too little. This principal applies to all aspects to Bonsai culture, including air, water, soil, sun, nutrients, temperature, altitude, pruning, etc. The challenge is to have the willingness to learn, experiment and accept the results of these efforts. Another aspect central to bonsai is time. The growth process takes time, and there are no shortcuts. A growing year is the usual yardstick by which success is measured. Caring for your bonsai over time creates a deep sense of satisfaction. There is no replacement for time; it is always constant and moving forward.

Bonsai is about trees, trees grown in miniature. It is also about time and space and about life and attitudes. Historically, Bonsai was a part of the culture, an important part of family heritage. Equally, Bonsai can be simply a horticultural past time requiring no more than a measure of common garden sense, some artistic ability and plenty of patience.

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