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The Art of Bonsai

Rita Putatunda Feb 12, 2019
Bonsai is the art of miniaturizing trees and shrubs by pruning the trunk and roots and growing them in trays or pots. Here's more.
Known as 'pun-sai' in the land of its origin, China, bonsai is the art of growing miniaturized ornamental trees or shrubs in a shallow pot or tray. In that early phase, single trees were planted in pots, and shaped in such a manner that the foliage was sparse, and the trunks were gnarled and rugged, usually in the form of dragons, birds, or other animals.
The art of Chinese bonsai is replete with legends and myths, and these animal-shaped trunks and roots are still appreciated today as an art form. However, drawn from the imaginative realm of creativity, they differ from the latter forms, which focus on the natural shape of the tree or shrub.
Bonsai was then taken up in Japan, as were many such cultural practices that the Japanese adopted from China, where this art form was further refined and venerated. In fact, such is the fame of Japanese bonsai trees that they are regarded as treasures of the nation, and hence, are not permitted to be taken out of the country.
The Japanese regard the whole process of creating a miniature tree, nurturing it, and displaying it as a form of the ancient philosophies of the East which are based on emphasizing the spiritual nature of the harmony that exists between the natural world and the place mankind has in it.
Today, bonsai as an art form has been embraced practically all over the world, with many enthusiasts finding it a very relaxing way to relieve stress in the hectic world of our times. 

What is a Bonsai?

Growing a bonsai involves partly the art form of sculpture, and partly the practice of horticulture, whose skills are used to shape, bend, and miniaturize trees. The purpose is to succeed in creating a miniaturized version of a large tree in nature, capturing its power and essence, without making it apparent that it was created by manual manipulation.
Creating a bonsai, in fact, is about creating visual harmony by bringing into consonance the tree and the pot or tray it is grown in. A single tree or a number of them of the same species can be grown in a tray, called as 'group plantings'. If the trees are of different species, and ornamentations like figurines and rocks are used, it is known as 'Saikei'.
Bonsai trees are categorized according to various styles used for growing them, which relate to the angle of the trunk, the number or shape of the trunk, whether they are planted in groups, cascade, slant, are unconventionally upright, or conventionally upright.
The size of trees also differ a great deal, from trees that are fairly large to tiny ones that are grown in thimble-sized containers.
The trunk of the tree should be tapered, with the branches spreading all around it to provide a symmetrical visual appeal. In order to display the strength of the tree, the lower portion of the trunk should be visible.

Techniques Involved in Bonsai

Although it is thought that age is a requirement for authentic bonsai, however, it is not always so. As a matter of fact, there are various techniques that can be used to create the 'aged' look.
The branches of young trees can be wired down in order to train them to grow in a particular way, thus making it look aged. Sabamiki, Sharimiki, and Jin are methods by which the bark of the tree is removed, to create an effect of an age-old tree that has undergone some trauma in the past.
Bonsai trees are not genetically different from their natural counterparts, remaining small in size because they are grown in the confines of a pot. The top of the tree requires regular pruning to ensure that it does not look off balance compared to its container.
'Classic' trees grown as bonsai are Juniper, Maple, and Pine, although with this form of art spreading all over the world, many local species of trees have also been grown quite successfully.
The frequency of pruning the roots and repotting is based on the age of the tree. Older trees can be repotted every 3 to 4 years, while younger trees may require it every second year.
When the tree is repotted and the roots are pruned, it encourages the growth of new roots at the base of the trunk, giving a look of new vigor. Root pruning and repotting is usually done in the spring, before new buds start opening.
Most aficionados of the art of growing bonsais develop a deep affection for their trees, taking pains to sculpt their trees to create visual looks of great artistry. They also interact with their trees daily. When bonsai are cared for like this, they can even live for generations, just like their counterparts in the wild.