by Laura Hernandez
The Word “Bon-sai” (often misspelled as bonzai or banzai) is a Japanese term, which means “planted in a container”. This art form is derived from an ancient Chinese horticultural practice, part of which was then redeveloped under the influence of Japanese Zen Buddhism. It has been around for well over a thousand years. The ultimate goal of growing a Bonsai is to créate a miniaturized but realistic representation of nature in the form of a tree.
The art of bonsai actually originated first in China, and then spread eastward to Korea and then Japan. It was spread by Buddhist who wished to bring the “outdoors” inside their temples. From ancient paintings and manuscripts, we know that “artistic” container trees were being cultivated by the Chinese around 600 AD, but many scholars feel that bonsai, or at least potted trees, were being grown in China as far back as 500 or 1,000 BC. Bonsai first appeared in Japan during the 12th century. It is no accident that artistic plant cultivation originated in China. The Chinese have always loved flowers and plants, and the country is naturally endowed with a rich diversity of flora. The Chinese also had a passion for gardens. In fact, many of these gardens were on a miniature scale and included many miniature trees and shrubs, planted to reinforce the scale and balance of their landscapes. The Chinese, however, were also infatuated in miniaturization as a science in its own right. They believed that miniature objects had concentrated within them certain mystical and magical powers.
The development of Chinese and Korean ceramics played an important role in the development of bonsai as we know it today. Without the development of beautiful Chinese containers, bonsai trees would not have been admired as much as they have been. Bonsai literally means “tree in a tray.”
Chinese bonsai is still very much in the ancient tradition, and often appear “crude” to the uninformed. On the other hand, the Japanese styles are more pleasing and naturalistic. Both types have their own individualistic charms and admirers.
Finally, we owe a great debt to the Japanese and Chinese artists for developing this beautiful art and for keeping it alive for almost 2,500 years. The aesthetic sensibilities of bonsai, which have their roots in the Zen Buddhist tradition, contribute significantly to the complete bonsai experience.
Some Popular Styles:
Hokidachi: The broom style is suited for deciduous trees with extensive, fine branching. The trunk is straight and upright and does not continue to the top of the tree; it branches out in all directions at about 1/3 the height of the tree. The branches and leaves form a ball-shaped crown which is also a stunning sight during winter months.
Chokkan:This style often occurs in nature, especially when the tree is exposed to lots of light and does not face the problem of competing trees. The trunk must therefore be thicker at the bottom and must grow increasingly thinner with the height. The top of the tree should be formed by a single branch; the trunk should not span the entire height of the tree.
Moyogi:The trunk grows upright roughly in the shape of a letter ‘S’ and at every turn branching occurs. Tapering of the trunk must be clearly visible, with the base of the trunk thicker than the higher portion.
Shakkan:The leaning style should grow at an angle of about 60 – 80 degrees relative to the ground. The first branch grows opposite the direction of the tree, in order to create a sense of visual balance. The trunk can be slightly bent or completely straight, but still be thicker at the bottom than at the top.
Kengai:The tree should grow upright for a small stretch but then bend downward. The crown of the tree usually grows above the rim of the pot, but the subsequent branches alternate left and right on the outermost curves of an S-shaped trunk. These branching should grow out horizontally in order to maintain balance of the tree.
How to grow a bonsai