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.
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.
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'.
Techniques Involved in Bonsai
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.
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.