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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Bonsai Art

Cynthia Decker
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

                                       --Joyce Kilmer

I doubt very much if Joyce Kilmer sat contemplating a Japanese bonsai tree as he penned the poetic words which made him famous; but had that been the case, he might have added poetically and parenthetically "(with a little help from we)." Whatever the case, that was obviously the inspiration of Cynthia Decker's Haiku (above, left). As with many other elements of life, God creates, man recreates. With regard to bonsai trees, the thinking seems to be, God made them too big. so I'll see what I can do about that. Although most bonsai trees are small enough to ornament an interior, the Japanese insist that true bonsais should reside out-of-doors, brought inside only for brief periods during inclement weather.
An Atlas Cedar
A "forest" of Black Hills Spruce.
Bonsai simply means "plantings in tray", from bon, a tray or low-sided pot and sai, for plantings. Thus it is a Japanese art form using trees grown in containers. Similar prac-tices exist in other cultures, includ-ing the Chinese tradition of penjing from which the art originated, and the miniature living landscapes of the Vietnamese. The Japanese tradition dates back over a thou-sand years; in China, perhaps twice that long. The purposes of bonsai are primarily contemplation (for the viewer) and the pleasant exercise of effort and ingenuity (for the grower).

Tang Dynasty
Penzai, ca. 706 A.D.

A few days ago I wrote regarding "Sign Design" referring to it as a melding of art and science, with science, in most cases, being the dominant factor. With the art of bonsai the opposite is true. In contrast with other forms of plant cultivation bonsai are not intended for production of food or medicine. Instead, bonsai practice focuses on long-term cultivation and shaping of one or more small trees growing in a container. There is some horticultural sci-ence involved, but here, art and aesthetics dominate.

Above are a few of the basic bonsai styles, which are by no means
carved in stone. There are many others and many combinations of these.
The earliest illustration of a penjing (Chinese bonsai) is found in the Qianling Mausoleum murals at the Tang Dynasty tomb of Crown Prince Zhanghuai, from 706 A.D. (above, right). Over the centuries since then, bonsai enthusiasts have frequently tried to reclassify the styles, and their many sub-divisions into which plants can be trained. These designs/styles, provide a reference point from which to assess a tree's potential for bonsai and to decide what style best suits it's natural attributes. From that point on, training a tree is somewhat like training a pet, you establish limitations and provide instruction through the use of judicious pruning and copper wire to shape the branches (below).

A common misconception is that the plants used for Bonsai
are genetically "dwarfed" plants. Bonsai trees are normal
plants, propagated like any other, best trained using
sophisticated techniques to keep them small.
Pruning: by regular pruning we keep the tree in the determined shape.

Wiring: by wrapping wire around the branches we are able to bend these to achieve our determined shape.

Tools: several specialized tools were developed including a concave cutter and twig shears.

Repotting: Since bonsai trees are held in small pots, regular repotting is required to replenish nutrients in the soil.

The specie of the tree also dictates the temperature range in which
it grows best outdoors. Bonsai often do not do as well inside.
All you need to get started, except for seeds or a seedling.
Just add water and exceptional patience. Be firm but gentle.
One of the things that stunned me in researching bonsai, and something I guess I'd never realized, is the incredible number of flowering bonsai trees. The chart below, while not supplying much detailed information, does suggest the amazing range of colors some growers have achieved. In general, flowering and fruit-bearing species are treated and styled using the same techniques as for other Bonsai tree species. But they require more sunlight, and if they are pruned at the wrong time or too often, they will grow too strongly due to high nitrogen fertilizer. If the soil gets too dry, they will not bloom or bear fruit. When the tree is in bloom, the flowers must not get wet, otherwise they wilt very quickly. Flowering trees can have very different growth patterns which must be considered when pruning the tree. Among the favorites for those growing flowering bonsai are azaleas, flowering apricot, pomegranate, bougainvillea, snow rose, potentilla, Chinese quince, and the lagerstroemia. Others include crab apple, hawthorn, blackthorn, firethorn and flowering quince.

Keep in mind, appearances change greatly when the flowering
trees are not in bloom.
The smallest are referred
to as Keshitsubo.
Of course, the critical element in the entire bonsai art form is size. believe it or not, bonsai trees may range in size from as small as an inch or two in height (right) up to the Imperial Bonsai which are in the 60- to 80-inch range. Yes, even at that size, if they grow in a container, they're still considered bonsai. Also bonsai have been known to live for as long as six to eight hundred years (below).

The world's oldest bonsai, said to
be 600-800 years of age,
Today bonsai have become so popular around the world that they are mass-produced in greenhouses or open farm fields (below). In Japan, large numbers of bonsai trees are sometimes landscaped to form gardens (bottom). And if you can believe it, some wise-guy inventor with way too much time on his hands has come up with a floating bonsai (just click on the video).

A bonsai farm.
A bonsai garden. I wonder how the owner keeps people from stealing them.
A special thanks to:

Bonsai Empire

in providing information for this article.


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