Miniature gardens originated over 2,000 years ago in China. Then, around 700 years ago, they were reinvented in Japan, where a distinctively Japanese style emerged. The word bonsai simply means “planted in a container”, but the miniature trees we associate with bonsai are representative of the twisted and resilient trees seen growing in the harsh conditions on cliffsides in Japan. They seem to have a magical pull to them, not easily explained.
I first became entranced with bonsai when, at an early age, I planted an acorn and it magically put up a shoot. My brother promptly ran over it with the mower however, it struggled back again several times – I think it became a sport for him to mow it down. My mother said that it would never grow fully but would become a “bonsai”. I promptly dug it up, put it in a pot and loved it for many years, however, either neglect or accident must have been the end of it.
The ultimate goal of growing a bonsai is to create a miniaturised but realistic representation of nature in the form of a tree. They are not genetically dwarfed plants: These trees have been thoughtfully chosen, trimmed, and styled to create a natural but harmonious composition. They are held in high regard in Japan and can be a mystical oasis for meditation and contemplation.
Of course, bonsai can just be a lot of fun and designed quickly, cheaply, and with little experience or personal expertise. Bonsai expert Peter Chan from Heron’s Bonsai Nursery demonstrates how to make a bonsai on a budget, opens a new window out of everyday plants.
My little collection of bonsai came from everyday seedlings I’ve collected over the years.
Bonsai can be enjoyed by you or shared through clubs and organisations. They can be made for personal pleasure or profit from the sale, and award-winning specimens can be very old and worth many thousands of dollars.
The Pacific Bonsai Museum in California is home to some of the most expensive and exotic bonsais in the world. They also offer an awe-inspiring virtual tour, opens a new window through these amazing ancient works of botanic art.
YPRL has a range of bonsai ebooks to get you started on your bonsai journey.
Tess Barker, Yarra Plenty Regional Library