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 bonsai tree usually does not exceed 1 meter in height. It is a Japanese art form using cultivation techniques to produce small trees in containers that mimic the shape and scale of full size trees. Similar practices exist in other cultures, including the Chinese tradition of penzai from which the art originated, and the miniature living landscapes of Vietnamese Hòn Non Bộ.
Tree in a Pot
The Japanese tradition dates back over a thousand years. 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. It is a pleasant mix of form, thought, and suggestion, in a miniature world; and like all good art, it endures.
A bonsai tree is created beginning with a specimen of source material. This may be a cutting, seedling, or small tree of a species suitable for bonsai development. Bonsai can be created from nearly any perennial woody-stemmed tree or shrub species that produces true branches and can be cultivated to remain small through pot confinement with crown and root pruning. Some species are popular as bonsai material because they have characteristics, such as small leaves or needles that make them appropriate for the compact visual scope of bonsai.
Small and Beautiful
The source specimen is shaped to be relatively small and to meet the aesthetic standards of bonsai tree. When the candidate bonsai nears its planned final size it is planted in a display pot, usually one designed for bonsai display in one of a few accepted shapes and proportions. From that point forward, its growth is restricted by the pot environment. Throughout the year, the bonsai tree is shaped to limit growth, redistribute foliar vigor to areas requiring further development, and meet the artist’s detailed design.
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.
It takes time!
Another aspect central to Bonsai is time. The growth process takes time, and there are no shortcuts. A person who cares for bonsai connects with the cycles of life and the seasons. The seasonal progression of the tree is very important and you have to understand and adapt to it. You have to know when to over winter your tree and when to prune and re-pot it. Bonsai delves into a world that combines nature and art. There is a blending between the human way of manipulating the world and the natural way of harmonizing with it.