Read ‘art’ and most people will have in mind a painting or sculpture. In that respect it is a kind of sculpture, though, that takes for its raw material not stone or wood but a living tree. That is the art of bonsai.
From the Japanese word for ‘tree in a tray’, Bonsai is the artistic creation and product of shaping trees by careful deliberate pruning along with trimming to develop a miniature tree or bush. Not acquired from genetic dwarfs, bonsai are the result of years of unhurried shaping of ordinary species by master artists.
Because Bonsai are grown, matured and shaped in a small pot, but created from ordinary species – pine trees, maple trees with numerous others – uttermost attention is called for to keep the delicate bonsai plants healthy.
Soil type along with temperature must be just so for bonsai – conditions that are solely within the artist’s control within a certain range. Bonsai pruning and trimming techniques take years to master and are only accomplishable to a certain kind of temperament. Potting and re-potting practices must be learned for bonsai and they are numerous and wide-ranging.
Watering alone is a difficult science for these small bonsai plants. Too much and the bonsai will become water-logged and develop fungi and root rot. Insufficient and the soil rapidly gets dry and foliage wilts and the bonsai perishes.
Soil and potting practices for bonsai converge with watering requirements as drainage is critical to bonsai. Pruning habits interact with bonsai shaping techniques, which in turn are impacted by soil maintenance and watering practices.
Bonsai are among the most challenging products of living art to create because all these elements and numerous more have got to be accomplished to near perfection just for the Bonsai to survive. Add together complexity the goal of creating pleasing shapes, styles and colors for both Bonsai and pot and you have a high artistic bonsai creation.
On top of the inherent horticultural difficulty of learning and mastering a dozen sub-sciences, there is the requirement to master the artistic imaginativeness and skills to bring about any of several basic or advanced styles of bonsai.
There are five primary styles for bonsai alone: formal upright, informal upright, slanting, cascade and semi-cascade. From that base branch out a dozen advanced bonsai types, including the literati and additional difficult forms of bonsai shaping.
A living art of that kind is not mastered in a month.
Craftsmen labor for years to create an individual bonsai tree, which could last one hundred years or longer. The trees are then often handed down from generation to generation, each sequent artist contributing his or her own distinguishing style. As the tree is lovingly shaped according to the individual aesthetic of each caretaker, past efforts are revered and learned from.
Years of training and experience are needed to become a masterful bonsai grower. Ordinary horticulture is by itself a challenging craft. But to acquire a miniature bonsai tree from ordinary species calls for a lifetime of patience and learning.
The results are widely looked on as well-worth the effort, though. Bonsai are admired the worldwide for their uniqueness, their longevity, variety and beauty and for the skill that goes to create them.
In an age when brilliant engineering can mass produce global cellular phones and self-diagnosing automobiles, these bonsai,individually designed and hand crafted, miniature works of living art continue to inspire awe and admiration.