The miniature world of bonsai

by Natasha Starkell | 04.12.2013 | bonsai , history , trees | 0 comments | Rating: 0 votes




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There's something incredibly enchanting about bonsai trees. Perfect miniature replicas of giant trees we could never normally consider growing in our gardens, never mind keeping in our homes.

The art of bonsai originated in Japan more than a thousand years ago, but is now common all over the globe and has a huge following. The word bonsai literally means planting in a tray. Bon meaning tray and sai meaning planting.  Traditionally bonsai are kept outdoors, but these days, with the tradition becoming increasingly popular around the globe, you're just as likely to find specimens kept indoors as it's an easier way to regulate the water and heat requirements of these rather needy plants.

Bonsai can be created from just about any tree or shrub cutting or seedling. By containing the roots in a small pot, its growth can be restricted, and with some careful pruning, the shape of the plant can be made to look just like the full size version. Bonsai is as much art as it is gardening. Much effort is put into creating the most beautiful specimens, which are exhibited around the world and entered into prestigious competitions.

Bonsai has been around a long time. Medieval artworks depicting miniature trees date back over a thousand years, and even earlier written works mention the creation of these miniature beauties. Originally a hobby for the aristocracy and other high-ranking people, the practise spread to the wider population.

Bonsai trees usually start life as a small plant rather than being grown from seed. Bonsai is a slow process, taking decades sometimes to create the ultimate specimen, so starting with a more mature plant can at least save a little time. It's a labour of love, there are no instant rewards!

Creating the perfect bonsai takes time, dedication and an eye for detail. Intricate techniques are involved which can take a long time to fully master. However, it shouldn't put a beginner off giving bonsai a go. There are plenty of books available on the subject as well as online tutorials and videos.

To create the bonsai, the plants are trimmed and pruned regularly to get a good shape. Branches may be clamped or wired to give the twisted shapes that are we associate with bonsai. New growth may also be grafted onto the trunk.

Bonsai trees need a lot of looking after; after all, left to their own devices, these plants would have huge root systems taking up water and nutrients from the soil for metres all around. In a small pot, you're going to have to provide all this and more, as the reduced size can have an adverse effect on pest and disease resistance. Due to the tiny size of the plant you're dealing with, and the intricacy involved in pruning and tending to them, it's a good idea to invest in proper bonsai tools, which are specialised small versions of gardening tools, specially created for bonsai gardener. Tend to your bonsai daily and with patience you'll get great results eventually.

Photo credit: 김덕훈 / CC BY-ND

Natasha Starkell
Written by Natasha Starkell

Working mum, struggling with gardening chores.

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