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In Japanese, bonsai can be literally translated as ‘tray planting’ but since originating in Asia, so many centuries ago – it has developed into a whole new form. To begin with, the tree and the pot form a single harmonious unit where the shape, texture and colour of one, compliments the other. Then the tree must be shaped. It is not enough just to plant a tree in a pot and allow nature to take its course – the result would look nothing like a tree and would look very short-lived. Every branch and twig of a bonsai is shaped or eliminated until the chosen image is achieved. From then on, the image is maintained and improved by a constant regime of pruning and trimming.

It is the art of dwarfing trees or plants and developing them into an aesthetically appealing shape by growing, pruning and training them in containers according to prescribed techniques.

Overall, bonsai is a great interest, hobby or even profession to undertake. Although famous theologians have claimed that it is actually 90% art to a meager 10% of horticulture, it has to be said that a successful bonsai is most definitely a horticultural masterpiece.

Once arriving in the Western World, this enjoyable and rewarding pastime has never turned back, and has gained a magnificently diverse range of plant material and techniques.

Whatever you need to know – you will be sure to find it here – at Bonsai-Express.com.

Related terms and common misspellings: bonzai, bansai, banzai, banzi, bansi, bonzi, bonsi

What is Bonsai?

Bonsai (盆栽, literally tray gardening) is the art of growing trees and plants, kept small by being grown in a pot and by the use of skilled pruning, formed to create an aesthetic shape and the illusion of age. The Chinese art of penjing is very similar to and is the precursor of the Japanese art of bonsai.

History of Bonsai

The art of bonsai originates from China over two thousand years ago, where it has been called penzai and written in the same Hanzi that gave rise to the Kanji above. It was brought to Japan 700 years ago. Bonsai spread to Korea during the Tang or Song Dynasty (the 7th – 13th century), and is now called Bunjae (분재). The art is still practiced in China today, often under the name of penjing. As the Chinese art is intended for outdoor display the plants tend to be some what larger than seen in Japanese bonsai.edit]

Cultivation of Bonsai

Ginkgo as penjing in the Montreal Botanical Gardens.

A bonsai is not a genetically dwarfed plant. It is kept small by shaping and root pruning. It is claimed that a properly maintained bonsai can outlive a full size tree of the same species. However, a bonsai needs much care, and an improperly maintained bonsai will probably die.

Artistry of Bonsai

In the art of bonsai a sense of aesthetics, care, and patience come together. The plant, the shaping and surface of the soil and the selected container come together to express “heaven and earth in one container” as the Japanese cliché has it. Three forces come together in a good bonsai: shin-zen-bi or truth, essence and beauty. The usual plants used in Japan are varieties of pine, azalea, camellia, maple, beech, bamboo and plum. The plants are grown outdoors and brought in to the tokonoma at special occasions when they most evoke the current season.

The Japanese bonsai are meant to evoke the essential spirit of the plant being used: in all cases they must look natural and never show the intervention of human hands. Chinese penjing may more literally depict images of dragons or even be guided to resemble highly intricate Chinese characters, such as 壽, “longevity”, in various styles, but usually cursive.

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