Article by Michael Saville
Copyright 2006 Michael Saville
Bonsai is Japanese for ‘tray gardening’. Bonsai trees are miniature trees; they keep their small shape and size because of being grown in a small pot or tray and through very careful pruning. The art of pruning a bonsai tree can take a very short time to learn but many people can go an entire lifetime without actually mastering the art.
History of Bonsai
Bonsai trees have been documented to exist up to 4,000 years ago everywhere from parts of Asia to Africa. The trees were originally grown in China, but then caravans started to export the trees elsewhere such as Egypt where healers would use them to produce medicines. Some were even buried in tombs with royalty.
The original art of bonsai is thought to have started in China, where it was referred to as ‘penzai’ before being adapted by the Japanese. Only royalty and nobility first enjoyed bonsai trees, but then in the Edo period the art form was opened up to people of all social classes.
The Art of Bonsai
Pruning bonsai trees is very difficult and takes many years of practice to perfect. Not only does a gardener have to grow the tree properly but they must also know how to prune the branches and roots to keep the bonsai trees small and healthy. This care is part of the philosophy behind bonsai trees in that they bring together three forces: Truth, essence and beauty, or, in Japanese, ‘shin-zen-bi’.
When pruning bonsai trees, the Japanese ideal is to prune them in a way that does not show any kind of intervention from outside forces. The tree must always look as though it grew completely naturally with no help. On the other hand, Chinese pruning tends to be much more artistic, as gardeners grow their trees and cut them into intricate shapes and designs such as into Chinese characters or even images of animals and dragons.
Common Kinds of Bonsai
Bonsai trees come in many different forms and varieties. The formal upright tree is one of the most common, distinguished by its balanced branches and a trunk that tapers. The sister variety is one which bends and curves, leading to more variety in how it can be displayed as pleasing to the eye.
These trees can be found all over now, with growers in every corner of the globe and collections and gardens to visit in many countries including Australia, Belgium, Montr