What is a Bonsai and how it works!

Autumn-Shishigashira-Craig-CoussinsBonsai has become one of the most popular hobbies worldwide. Some hobbies such as Ikebana are based on artistic expression while growing cactus is based on horticultural knowledge for that particular range of species.

Bonsai straddles the artistic and horticultural worlds. Yes, we need to know the means required to take care of, grow and maintain the tree but the tree that is growing will only grow in a random style and would take many years of growth to achieve its final mature image.

The artistic input means that we can develop that tree onto a miniature image of its final destination in a very short period. Keeping the roots and branches dense and healthy, while growing the plant in a shallow container and pruning and shaping the branches into a tree like structure that will eventually give the illusion of a mature, full grown, or very old tree, requires knowledge.

Growing Bonsai is an art form. Reading this article and attending a convention will contribute to your artistic knowledge, as will going to classes by Bonsai Masters. Without the artistic knowledge, it can be difficult to understand the techniques that are required to get to this point of its development into a Bonsai. Perspective, placement and design are all part of this process. Looking at nature and seeing ideas from the forests, plains, deserts and mountains can all help us become better Bonsai artists.

Understanding perspective is probably the most important element in Bonsai Design.

We are creating illusions, an illusion perhaps, to something that can be anything from 50 to many hundreds percent larger. Skill is necessary to do this and this book should help you with some projects that look at different ways of creating that illusion. For example, perspective planting where the illusion of distance is achieved by planting a tall Bonsai slightly towards the front of the pot while placing a similar shaped but much  smaller one slightly to the rear and one side of the pot will give the illusion of distance.

What we should also look at  the work from Bonsai Masters from around the globe as they deliver their own thoughts and designs. This should give you some insight into how these quite different artists approach a subject.

In many countries other than the west and Japan, Bonsai are called by other names. In Vietnam the style of planting preferred over Bonsai are called Hon Non Bo and in China, Penjing. Of course, the art has developed in different ways around the world and no more so than in the west. The generic name of Bonsai was taken originally from the Chinese Pentsai nearly one thousand years ago and translated in a literal form by the Japanese as Bonsai.  The present day Bonsai that is practiced in places outside Japan can be quite different to that practiced inside Japan.

Naturally, each country has its own species, climatic conditions and the practitioners of the art of Bonsai are at many differing levels of competence.  As a teacher of Bonsai, I feel that it is always better to return to a ‘back to basics’ section in any article that I write to bring the newer growers, as well as more experienced growers, the opportunity to see new techniques or perhaps offer some suggestions to develop their own abilities based on correct basic techniques.

Article written by Craig Coussins and originally published in his third and fourth books, Bonsai School and Bonsai Masterclass. Available from Amazon Books.

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