Bonsai is the art of dwarfing a plant, tree or shrub into a miniature specimen that closely resembles the larger growing adult in the wild. This is a very ancient tradition dating back to the beginning of written history in China and Japan.
In those days the Asian world was a very hostile place indeed. Bandits roamed the forests, tribal warfare and later Samurai attacked the villages which were at best isolated hamlets.
And the natural environment wasn’t any kinder with frequent earthquakes, tidal waves, typhoons and severe winters. To survive the stressful adversity of daily life, a primal yet sophisticated religion evolved called Shinto.
Shinto believed in the spiritual union of Man, Earth and Sky where everything had a spirit and all spirits were in constant flux and searching for balance. To gain spiritual power a believer might hazard a pilgrimage from the relative safety of the village to a sacred spot, hoping there to find an enlightening balance to one’s life.
These sacred spots were usually very beautiful or dramatic coastal, forest or mountain locations. The lucky returned home alive and to keep the memories of that sacred journey alive at home they developed the art of Bonsai and the Japanese Garden.
Within this art they could find a feeling of permanence in an otherwise unstable world while creating a miniature masterpiece that might remind them of that majestic ancient tree, tortured by the coastal elements that still clung for life at the edge of the cliff. These Bonsai reminded them of their own lives and gave them strength to endure.
Soon Bonsai became one of the highest forms of gardening art with masters devoting their entire lives to the development and maintenance of selected plants. The oldest specimens alive today are estimated at 1500 years!
With life expectancies ranging around 30 years for most of that historical period, this means that up to 50 generations of people cared daily for the same trees we cherish today! These are living legends that bond us to the past.
Today Bonsai has many practical applications for people with limited space, time, or with disabilities, as well as for those who just admire the art. Almost anything can be miniaturized and maintained in a container.
The easiest are hardy plants with smallish leaves or needles. This includes most conifers & evergreens, azaleas, many N.Z. natives, most deciduous trees and shrubs, and many groundcovers.
Even larger trees and shrubs grubbed out of the garden can be cut back top and bottom and transformed into excellent Bonsai instead of garden rubbish. Basically, select a seedling, container plant or one from the garden.
Prune back it’s top and it’s roots so that they balance like a dumbbell. Then select an appropriate container and secure the plant in it with wire or stones if necessary and fill with potting soil.
Keep outdoors in a sheltered spot and water regularly but feed lightly. Prune and shape as needed. To learn more about Bonsai contact the Auckland Bonsai Society do Bob Langholm (+64 -9) 629-3662.
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