The Secret Art of Bonsai Revealed.

The History of Bonsai.

Although it is possible that the Chinese were the first to start planting small wild trees in pots there is no doubt that it has been the Japanese who have raised the culture of Bonsai trees to the
art it is today.

Interest in Bonsai goes back many centuries in Japan. The first authentic record is in a picture scroll painted early in the fourteenth century by Takakane Takashina. Originally Bonsai (the word simply means a plant in a tray or container) were more or less confined to grotesque and tortured shapes.

After this came the extremely formal pyramidal forms, developing towards the end of the 19th century into softer, more natural forms. Nowadays the majority of trees are trained simply to look like natural trees in miniature. We have come to a time when there is a place for all of Nature’s moods for the Bonsai enthusiast.

About the beginning of the 20th century the interest in Bonsai began to spread to the Western
world, especially to America. The United States now have many Bonsai societies and clubs.
Here in Great Britain we have now caught “bonsai fever” as well. There are many bonsai societies and clubs throughout the country. These all hold regular meetings for discussion and instruction.

Some also publish journals and news letters that are informative and interesting.

A Trident Maple which has been trained in the clump style and is approx.40 years old The Bonsai Kal and the British Bonsai Association exhibit trees at the Royal Horticultural Society’s
halls in Vincent Square, and put on exhibits at the Chelsea Flower Show every year. Bonsai
culture is not regarded as an art form in this country but the Japanese Government recognized it as such in 1935. Perhaps we shall reach those dizzy heights one day!

Appreciation.

Admiration, even love, for Bonsai Trees is not something that can be taught in a few sentences. It will emerge and grow stronger only after some understanding has been reached )if the methods for growing and training these miniature works of art.

Art? Yes, for although a Bonsai grower cannot paint a single straight line he chooses a canvas from amongst the hundreds of different species of trees and plants. His hands and tools become the brushes and he has the whole expanse of Nature's different moods for a palette.

Furthermore, he helps to create something that is not relatively static. It is very much alive and can continue living for literally hundreds of years; being admired by each succeeding eneration.
 
But although appreciation is essentially personal there are a number of points worth Bearing in mind when considering Bonsai.

A bonsai tree in its container is not a contradiction of nature any more than a well-clipped awn or a cordon-trained fruit tree. It is an attempt, however modest, to emulate nature in miniature. Not only will it suggest its counterpart growing in the wild, it will also intimate the landscape in which it could be growing. For instance, a Needle Juniper can also suggest the rugged mountain where it might live: the cold wind keening through its branches and the sudden dart of a golden-eyed lizard across a rock. A group planting of Zelkovas might hint at undulating countryside, small wild flowers, and the sun shining on a meandering stream.

Although bonsai trees are small they lose nothing in this. Their lack of size enables one to appreciate every part of them. Seeing a cherry orchard blossoming in the English countryside is a moment to be remembered and treasured. Lovely, but it is impossible fully to appreciate even one of those magnificent trees. On the other hand, a cherry tree trained as a Bonsai still brings forth a profusion of blossom and shows, perhaps for the first time, the perfection to be found in a single flower.

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A fully wired 40 year old White Pine.


Missing the details in nature, as most of us tend to do, is no longer necessary with a small collection of bonsai trees. Once Nature's small miracles are seen on one's own trees they will soon be noticed occurring in woodland and countryside throughout the seasons. How often does one notice the candles on a Pine slowly getting longer as the warm weather approaches, until finally the new needles make their tentative advance into the world? Or watch as the Maples gradually assume their autumn colouring?

Each bonsai tree is unique in itself, there is no other tree quite like it. Every moment of its life, season by season, can be shared; its crises, when under attack by hoards of voracious insects, and its moments of glory when it radiates health.

In Japan the trees are placed on a low display stand, and although genuine stands are hard to come by it is still possible to find the odd one tucked in a corner of an antique shop. Simple rafts of bamboo reeds and slices of tree trunk also make good stands. If one prefers something a little more elaborate, making a dark wood stand should not prove an insurmountable problem to the enthusiast. Although they should not be considered essential, they do provide a finishing touch.

A 25 year old Cypress Bonsai growing over a rock
Styles of Bonsai.

If one reads a Japanese book on Bonsai it might appear that the different styles are rigidly divided. However, it should be realized that they merely serve as a guide and general classification for shows and judging, etc.

The first classification is that of size, miniature bonsai up to six inches, small bonsai from six inches to one foot, medium bonsai from one foot to two and a half feet, and large bonsai over three feet. It might be of interest to know that in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo they do have bonsai up to six feet. This is because they are displayed in an extremely large hall, and
the average size bonsai, say one foot to eighteen inches, would simply be lost and could not be appreciated.

The second classification of bonsai is the angle at which the trunk stands in the pot. Number one is the formal upright style, number two is from upright to approximately 25 degrees from the vertical; then there is the slanting in number three, and the semi-cascade in number four. The full cascade, number five, is trained so that the upper growth of the tree reaches below the
rim of the pot.

Naturally enough, one can plant more than a single tree in a pot; this is a third classification. It might be noted that the Japanese do not plant an even number of trees in a pot, such a four, six, or eight. Apart from two, they prefer to plant odd numbers, such as three, five, seven and nine. After one has plan ted more than eleven trees in a pot this odd and even difference can be ignored. Although this insistence on planting odd numbers might sound finicky, trying to plant four trees in a group is extremely difficult; the whole planting tends to look unnatural. Apart from this, four is regarded as an unlucky number in Japan.

Then one can have more than one trunk emerging from one set of roots; in other words, you can have two or three coming from one root. One can also lay a tree flat in the pot, training the branches to represent a forest. This is called the raft style.

The only essential difference between rock plantings and the other styles is that the tree is planted in a cavity of the rock-using the rock as a pot-or with the roots trained over the rock and into the soil. The most important thing about any particular style is that the end result must look natural and balanced.
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Watering.

Never let the bonsai tree dry out. In the Summer it might be necessary to water twice a day. In the Winter one might only need to water every fortnight or every month. This depends entirely on the dryness of the soil.

As with other plants, bonsai prefer to be watered with rain water, but tap water, that has been allowed to stand over night adjusting its temperature and giving off any chemical content, is perfectly adequate.

Use a watering can with a very fine rose or watering nozzle; heavy droplets will tend to wash the soil from the pot and also form a skin over the surface of the soil, which will inhibit the circulation of oxygen to the roots. The best times to water are early morning and late afternoon, avoiding the heat of the an. In the Winter and up to the middle of day, when late frosts sometimes occur, I always water in the morning. It is not a good idea to water in the evening at this time of the year as the tree will not have had time to assimilate the moisture before the frost comes, and too much water in the soil will freeze solid, sometimes fracturing the pot.

During the Summer and early Autumn one an switch the main watering to the evening or late
afternoon. This is more convenient than the morning. However, try to maintain rhythm of watering; in other words, if you water in the morning, stick to watering in the morning; if you water in the evening, stick to watering in the evening. Believe it or not, a plant almost expects its regular watering; if it doesn't get it, its health can be affected. At the height of the Summer it might be found necessary to water more than twice a day, in which ase the third watering will take place about mid-day.

If this is the case, do not water with a watering can as the droplets of water on the leaves of deciduous trees will form a magnifying glass through which the sun will scorch the leaves. To avoid this use a watering nozzle or immerse the pot to the rim in water, allow the soil to assimilate the moisture and then allow the tree to drain off. This method of watering is also very useful for trees that have just been potted as it does not disturb the soil.

It must always be remembered that a thorough soaking is better than a few drops given more often. After each watering, the water must be seen to run out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot and only then can one be sure that the moisture has ) penetrated to every part of the root system. The only exception to this is if the tree has been allowed to dry out completely; the soil will then crack away from the sides of the pot, and imply watering overhead with a watering-can will allow the water to slip straight down the ides of the pot and out of the drainage holes. In this case again the method of immersing he pot to the rim should be used, and the soil should be pressed down around the edges so hat it again forms contact with the pot.
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