(The Bonsai Site) The main definition of bonsai as
an outlet for both art and horticulture is quite wide. There are many myths
which are associated with bonsai. These not only provide confusion for
budding enthusiasts, but gives the pastime a bad name for anyone not majorly
experienced in the area. A bonsai is not a genetically dwarfed plant and
is not kept small by cruelty in any way. In fact, given an adequate
supply of water, air, light and nutrients, a properly maintained bonsai
should outlive a full size tree of the same species. The techniques of
Bonsai are no more cruel than that of any other horticultural endeavour. It
is also common belief that bonsai are only a few centimetres tall. This is
untrue, although bonsai are small in comparison to their huge life-sized
brothers, most are over 25 centimetres tall and up to 1 metre in height.
To the Japanese, there is a link to many of the ideals
that their society is based on. Zen Buddhism - where the pastime originated,
man, nature, elements and change all are intertwined into this unique method
of meditation and expression. To our world now, bonsai is viewed as a hobby
that allows a greater understanding and being with nature and also a way to
enhance our gardens.
Bonsai can be developed from seeds or cuttings, from
young trees or from naturally occurring stunted trees transplanted into
containers. Most bonsai range in height from 5 centimetres (2 in) to 1 metre
(3.33 ft). Bonsai are kept small and trained by pruning branches and roots,
by periodic repotting, by pinching off new growth, and by wiring the
branches and trunk so that they grow into the desired shape.
The bonsai with its container and soil, physically
independent of the earth since its roots are not planted in it, is a
separate entity, complete in itself, yet part of nature. This is what is
meant by the expression "heaven and earth in one container". A bonsai tree
should always be positioned off-center in its container, for not only is
asymmetry vital to the visual effect, but the center point is symbolically
where heaven and earth meet, and nothing should occupy this place. Another
aesthetic principle is the triangular pattern necessary for visual balance
and for expression of the relationship shared by a universal principle
(life-giving energy or deity), the artist and the tree itself. Tradition
holds that three basic virtues are necessary to create a bonsai: shin-zen-bi
standing for truth, goodness and beauty.
Given proper care, bonsai can live for hundreds of years,
with prized specimens being passed from generation to generation, admired
for their age, and revered as a reminder of those who have cared for them
over the centuries. Although these bonsai are extremely beautiful -
meticulously cared for over the years and containing such a wealth of
knowledge, age is not essential. It is more important that the tree produce
the artistic effect desired, that it be in proper proportion to the
appropriate container, and that it be in good health.
Bonsai are ordinary trees or plants, not special hybrid
dwarfs. Small leafed varieties are most suitable, but essentially any plant
can be used, regardless of the size it grows to in the wild. In Japan,
varieties of pine, azalea, camellia, bamboo and plum are most often used.
The artist never duplicates nature but rather expresses a personal aesthetic
philosophy by manipulating it. The bonsai may suggest many things, but in
all cases must look natural and never show the intervention of human hands
(with the exception of Chinese bonsai which in many cases depicts images of
dragons and other influential symbols of the culture at the time of
origination). Grown in special containers, bonsai are primarily kept
outdoors (with the exception of some plants suited, trained and grown
indoors), although they are often displayed on special occasions in the
tokonoma, the alcove in the traditional Japanese rooms designed for the
display of artistic objects or on a polished stand.
Overall, bonsai are something that are quite personalised
and there are no strict rules to abide by if you undertake it merely as a
hobby which to gain enjoyment out of. It does not have to be an expensive
commitment, but it is a commitment that requires a great amount of time,
patience, skill and endurance. Although things may not go to plan, don't
give up. Remember that the Japanese bonsai masters were once beginners too
and they have surely had their share of trial and error.
See A Detailed History