Over time, bonsai began to take on different styles, each which varied mmensely from one another. Bonsai artists gradually looked into introducing other culturally important elements in their bonsai plantings such as rocks, supplementary and accent plants, and even small buildings and people which itself is known as the art of bon-kei.
They also looked at reproducing miniature landscapes in nature – known as sai-kei which further investigated the diverse range of artistic possibilities for bonsai.
Finally, in the mid-19th century, after more than 230 years of global isolation, Japan opened itself up to the rest of the world. Word soon spread from travelers who visited Japan of the miniature trees in ceramic containers which mimicked aged, mature, tall trees in nature.
Further exhibitions in London, Vienna and Paris in the latter part of the century – especially the Paris World Exhibition in 1900 opened the worldâ€™s eyes up to bonsai.
Due to this phenomenal upsurge in the demand for bonsai, the now widely
expanding industry and lack of naturally-forming, stunted plants led to the
commercial production of bonsai by artists through training young plants to grow to look like bonsai.
Several basic styles were adopted, and artists made use of wire, bamboo skewersand growing techniques to do this – allowing the art to evolve even further. The Japanese learnt to capitalize on the interest in this artform very quickly – opening up nurseries dedicated solely to grow, train and then export bonsai trees.
Different plants were now being used to cater for worldwide climates and to produce neater foliage and more suitable growth habits. Bonsai techniques such as raising trees from seed or cuttings and the styling and grafting of unusual, different or tender material onto hardy root stock were further developed.
Bonsai has now evolved to reflect changing tastes and times – with a great variety of countries, cultures and conditions in which it is now practiced.
In Japan today, bonsai are highly regared as a symbol of their culture and ideals.
The New Year is not complete unless the Tokonoma – the special niche in everyJapanese home decor used for the display of ornaments and prized possessions – is filled with a blossoming apricot or plum tree. Bonsai is no longer reserved for the upper-class, but is a joy shared by executive and factory worker alike.
The Japanese tend to focus on using native species for their bonsai – namelypines, azaleas and maples (regarded as the traditional bonsai plants). In other countries however, people are more open to opinion.
The evolution of bonsai over the past two centuries is truly amazing – now a well known and respected horticultural artform that has spread throughout the world from Greenland to the U.S. to South Africa to Australia. It is constantly changing and reaching even greater heights, representative of how small the world is really getting.