Bonsai trees have always held a fascination for me. The first time I ever saw a sizeable collection of many varieties of species was at the Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Valley in Pennsylvania. There was a whole room filled with them with tags on what kind they were and how old they were. I couldn`t believe that a tiny little tree could be over 100 years old and not more than 2 feet tall. There were also bonsai forests, trees grouped together with little rocks covered with moss. I tried to imagine how small I would have to be in order to view them as full size. I figured I`d have to be about 2 or 3 inches tall, a mini me. But what struck me most were the odd and unusual shapes of these cultivated trees. They were more than just exotic plants, they were actually like sculptures. There was something interesting to see from any angle of the tree. All were potted in artful ceramic planters worthy of the beauty of the trees themselves.
So it got me wondering about bonsais, the origin of this cultivation process, their longevity, and just how many kinds of trees can be trained to become a bonsai. What I found out is that this kind of cultivation first began in China more than a thousand years ago and the techniques at that time were rudimentary until it caught on in Japan.
There it was taken to a new level, taking on an art form that also incorporated their philosophy of harmony between man, the soul, and nature. There`s also an ancient Japanese scroll that said :”To appreciate and find pleasure in curiously curved potted trees is to love deformity”. Perfection was not at all the desired end result. The horticulturists of that time valued those dwarfed trees that had twisted and knarled formations both in the trunk area and on their branches. The best “knarling” I`ve ever seen by far were on the bonsai Redwoods. This type of tree is most popular in the California Bay area, the region of the giant Redwoods.
Also interesting to note is that in ancient times, the practice of cultivating bonsais was reserved for the upper class in Japan`s Kamakura period and it became a highly refined art form. Bonsais were displayed indoors on special
occasions by the Japanese elite. They were artfully displayed either in expert artisan crafted ceramic planters strategically placed or on specially designed shelves. Later on outdoor cultivation became more popular during the warmer months.
Over time many more species came to be cultivated and bonsai artists began to integrate their plantings with rocks, accent plants, and even mini buildings and people. By the mid 19th century world travelers discovered these marvels and its popularity spread even further to other countries. There began to be exhibitions in London, Vienna, and Paris. And today there`s even an international bonsai arboretum and bonsai exhibits throughout most of the
larger botanical gardens in many states and countries.
Many people who are garden and plant enthusiasts (myself included) like to have an array of colorful perennial blooming flowers and attractive trees and shrubs as part of their landscape layout. Indoor plants get our special attention because they are part of the ambience of our living space. That being said, passionate bonsai cultivators believe that having and caring for a bonsai is a personal experience, one which also brings satisfaction in sharing this interest with others. This is evidenced by the many symposiums and events geared to displaying the most magnificent accomplishments of bonsai cultivators.
Since they are now very available, we as admirers simply get to choose one or more species to bring into our homes. There are so many varieties to choose from now too. There`s some in the evergreen family such as the very sculptural looking Juniper, Blue Spruce, and the gorgeous Hinoki Cypress with its rich deep green hues. The there`s the bonsai Mimosa tress with their branches that have a delicate and lacy look to them. And of course, there`s the stunning flowering variety such as the Cherry, Winter White Jasmine, and the flowering Gardenia with blossoms that will fill your house with such a heavenly fragrance. Most suppliers of these lovingly cultivated and cared for trees will provide complete instructions on how to care for each species that you choose to have. Remember, they`re not just generic house plants, they are more like plant art. So enjoy visualising having one in your home. To find out more about the different species and to see some lovely bonsai images, check out the site in the bio box.