Close your eyes and picture yourself amidst a bonsai tree garden somewhere in Japan.
You have just woke up and still lying on the mat while admiring the beauty of the Zen garden, enveloping in front of your sleepy eyes.
The harmony and tranquility are contaminating.
You see the Sun rising and it’s bigger and brighter than anywhere else.
And as the sun rays shine over the multiple perfectly arranged bonsai trees and carefully tended flowers in the garden, you realize there is a special magic in the air.
It feels as if all the ancient traditions which the Japanese respect and protect throughout the years are creating a mystical and enchanting beauty which is somehow amazingly peaceful.
Image Credit: colourbox
You walk out and sink into the silence of the morning, surrounded by the bonsai masterpieces which inevitably make you contemplate and admire the tiny trees.
Bonsai brings both a sense of awareness and a sweet nostalgia which doesn’t hurt or taste bitterly.
Instead, this hint of nostalgia helps you reach an unknown part of your soul.
The art of bonsai trees’ shaping and training is among the oldest and most intricate forms, known to the human kind in the gardening and botanical industries as we know them today.
And although originally started and developed in Japan, there are similar traditions in the cultivation of miniature trees, practiced both by the Chinese and the Vietnamese.
Penjing is the art of sculpting tiny trees, native to China, and hon-non-bo, which is native to Vietnam.
Image Credit: Pinterest [Example of Penjing]
One of the most invaluable aspects of bonsai cultivation lies in the increasing aesthetical and financial value of the trees as they mature in time.
That very aspect is what adds a great worth to practicing Bonsai since there is literally no solid definition of exactly how old can a miniature tree become, given the right conditions and care to thrive.
Nevertheless, with the numerous various styles and plants specimens which can be utilized in Bonsai cultivation, the ancient discipline becomes even more enchanting and beneficial to the creators.
Image Credit: BonsaiBark
Both flowered and fruit trees can be used to recreate the essence of Bonsai and reward the Bonsai artists with endless opportunities in terms of diversity to suit each taste and personal preference of the gardeners.
Image Credit: Youtube
Before we delve into the history and all the different bonsai trees varieties and styles, first, we must take a look at the deep meaning, rooted in the trees as sacred symbols of life itself.
The Sacred Symbolism of Trees Imprinted in Bonsai
Trees are highly sensitive creatures, just like all plants. But with trees, the longevity of their lifespan is higher than of any ordinary plants.
Year after year, trees inhabit this world and most of the time, while we are passing a tree, we are actually passing a living being, often older than the age of our grandparents.
Almost every culture has embraced trees as sacred symbols, dating back to the ancient Egyptians. Trees are also mentioned in the Bible but not only; trees can be found as a symbol in every single religion on the planet.
Yes, many trees have seen and probably heard but most certainly sensed million more things that you and I had.
And when you see a miniature of a tree, such as a bonsai, something in your heart starts vibing and filling you with a one-of-a-kind feeling.
There is something way too mesmerizing in gazing at a bonsai tree, which is very hard to put into words.
Image Credit: Casahome.cc
How to Escape from the Shallow Understanding of Bonsai
Many people would have much less invigorating associations when thinking of a Bonsai tree.
In fact, a huge percent of people tend to fall into the delusion that bonsai gardening is simply mimicking the looks of an ordinary tree.
However, bonsai cultivation is not a simple form of gardening at all.
That’s why bonsai is looked upon as an art before even commenting on the gardening skills needed to nurture your very own bonsai tree.
Whenever bonsai is mentioned, most of us will imagine a small tree growing in a small pot and… well, Asia. Something Asian. Yep, that’s all.
Image Credit: Pinterest
And you would probably think to yourself “Those tiny plants sure take lots of care! That’s cool but not for my busy schedule!”
Or it can be completely the opposite. Just like many newbie bonsai aficionados think, taking care of such a tiny tree should be an easy-peasy task.
However, none of these opinions about bonsai cultivation is even close to the truth. Thus, it is crucial to escape from the shallow understanding of bonsai.
Amazingly, once you realize the true essence and value of bonsai, this is a solid indicator of starting to fix the disharmony in your heart.
One who knows bonsai will inevitably find harmony.
Image Credit: Youtube
The ones who delve into studying and cultivating bonsai will taste how it feels to embrace balance in life.
The practice of bonsai brings balance straight into daily life because nurturing a bonsai tree teaches you essential virtues.
Bonsai is not merely a tiny tree; bonsai is not solely a hobby; it is not only a practice and it is not simply art.
Bonsai is a way of understanding life and tuning in harmony with existence.
The world of bonsai is so multi-layered that the new skills you learn as a grower only keep revealing in time, turning the bonsai practice into an invaluable experience.
And that’s what brings every bonsai cultivator the chance to become a part of a never-ending journey and gain new knowledge day after day.
It is often the case that even those who are a bit more familiar with the origin of bonsai as well as the efforts spent on tending a bonsai plant see only the tip of the iceberg.
In order to understand bonsai, you simply need to open your heart to the Japanese perspective.
Why the Japanese Philosophy Became the Soul of Bonsai
It is exactly thanks to the astonishing eye to the detail of the Japanese, which gradually helped to turn bonsai into a widely-spread art anyone can practice.
It is in the very roots of the Japanese understanding of bonsai which can grant you access to the truest, most sacred essence of this ancient and yet simultaneously modern form of art.
The Japanese are probably the most contemplative people on Earth.
They don’t merely look at things, they see the soul of things.
Image Credit: ClipartXtras
They take the time to gaze at a particular source of beauty and reach all the way to find hidden truths which most of us would probably never even have the patience to recognize and acknowledge.
That’s what the genius Japanese nation saw in the dwarf trees and then slowly turned bonsai into a world- re-known practice and invaluable inheritance.
At first, when the Japanese brought the pioneer bonsai trees from China as souvenirs, they admired the structure and the unique appearance of the miniature trees.
But moreover, what captivated the Japanese was the heart-striking feeling which soaks into your entire being when you gaze at bonsai tree for a while.
The small size of bonsai, compared to the typical image of a tree we are used to see, are putting the mind into a very delicate state.
You suddenly feel as if nature is something you can hold in your palms, so tender, so fragile, like the exquisite bonsai trees.
But at the same time, even though small a bonsai tree looks old and this hits another cord in your head and soul.
That sweet nostalgia is simply a feeling that needs to be experienced in order to be fully grasped.
Bonsai brings that sudden and deliberating awareness which swipes away all prejudices, all bothersome thoughts plaguing the mind.
As if you freeze for a while in an AWWand after you blink – you are back in tune with yourself and existence.
There is only one true way you can understand bonsai – you must first understand the imprint of the Japanese culture, forever embedded in bonsai craftsmanship.
Oh, bonsai is a whole lot of craftsmanship, indeed!
Image Credit: Craftsmanship Quarterly
Each bonsai tree will convey the style and energy of his gardener so it is as if you are putting your soul on a plate.
But what does BONSAI mean anyway (like literally!)?
The very name bonsai is entirely Japanese and it means “planting on a low pot.”
Can’t be more straightforward, don’t you think?
The Japanese would not be spending tons of blah blah on anything – they show themselves in the work they do.
And they do an amazing amount of work each day!
Did you know that the Japanese were the first to introduce the karaoke, emojis, walkman, 3D Printing, video house system, LED light, and the first electric rice cooker?
In fact, the first selfie stick was invented in Japan many years before selfies even became popular!
Image Credit: Sputnik International
With this in mind, it is sure no wonder how the art of Haiku (the world shortest poetic form) originated from Japan. There is literally no equivalent to this exquisite art of triggering emotion from the reader with as little as a few words!
The Japanese are also notorious for the way a single hieroglyph can mean multiple words.
Take, for example, this tiny fellow – 上.
Depending on the context, this symbol can mean all of the following things: rice (noun), climb up (verb), top (adjective), furthermore (conjunction), skillful (adjective).
Thus,both the art of cultivating bonsai plants and the bonsai plants themselves are all sheltered under the term for BONSAI.
So What’s the Main Purpose of Bonsai?
The essence of bonsai lies in being able to cultivate a miniature tree in such a way that the very view of the tiny tree brings pleasure to the senses.
But moreover, you need to direct both the growth and shape of the small bonsai tree, placed in its small container long-term.
That’s exactly why the art of bonsai is a practice and not something you master once and for all.
There is always so much room to learn, to experiment, and subsequently – to grow your skills and will as your bonsai is flourishing.
Image Credit: Bored Panda
Bonsai also puts an accent on the bonsai creator and the mere bonsai observer, as well which saturates the art of bonsai with even more meaningfulness.
Instead, bonsai brings off a feeling of wholeness, wonder, and awareness, which eliminate all traces of insecurity or negativity when standing face to face with a bonsai tree.
But standing face to face with bonsai is not the most correct way to describe the moment of indulging into the beauty, wisdom and simplicity of that ancient art.
It is contemplating the bonsai that transmits the sacred meaning of cultivating the miniature trees.
The Buddhist Trace in Bonsai Trees Cultivation
When looking into the very roots of bonsai and acknowledging the Japanese impact on this type of gardening, the imprint left by Buddhism must also be taken under consideration.
According to Buddha WHAT YOU THINK, YOU BECOME.
Image Credit: Riothorse Royale
And thus, the best way to tune into the language of your soul and understand the meaning of existence is to become enlightened.
An enlightened consciousness doesn’t know blame, fear, judgement or limitations. An enlightened consciousness understand the oneness with Nature and the perfection which is always there – even in imperfection.
Image Credit: Enlightened Consciousness
When an object is broken, Japanese don’t throw it away.
What they do, is often paint the broken piece with gold.
Thus, the flow is seen as a unique part of the history and beauty of the damaged object, as opposed to being anything ugly or worthless.
The philosophy behind seeing the beauty of broken objects is called Kintsugi.
Can you imagine a world where you would not merely turn your head away from what is supposed to be damaged or broken but to embrace it and see its beauty despite?
Mastering your Zen can help you achieve that enlightened consciousness which will keep revealing the true image of all things and situations, behind the veil of fear and negligence.
It is through the power of meditation that Buddhist monks believe enlightenment comes to those who become capable of controlling the mind.
Image Credit: The Tokyo Times
Bonsai is a discipline and art that simultaneously challenges and nurtures the mind to help the conscious and unconscious work in synergy to remove tension and pain from life.
Moreover, each Asian culture has something completely unique which cannot be found in the rest.
Now apart from some pretty obvious difficulties in understanding the Japanese (I mean the language barrier, of course!), there is always one amazing teacher who is there to show us the basic truths about particular events, art, twists, victories and failures – and this is, of course, History!
Tracking Back the Very Roots of Bonsai Trees Cultivation in History
It is worth tracking back the development of bonsai through time because this history has also left an ever shining trace in the way bonsai evolved to what we know it today.
Did you know that the first type of potted trees date back to the ancient Egyptian culture?
Image Credit: Telegraph.co.uk
A potted tree was depicted in Egyptian tomb paintings. But don’t imagine the miniature bonsai trees, though.
Image Credit: bonsai-egypt
About 1500 BC bonsai was still not born however it was then when the first evidence of people starting to cultivate trees apart from simply collecting their fruit in order to satisfy hunger.
The article “Babylonian Gardens” contains the following statement: “”Many of the world’s religions originated in this region (Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran). Temples were built and there was planting in the temple precincts. A respect for trees is attested by both textual and archaeological evidence.”
The Taoists Impact on Bonsai
Even though trees have been cherished for centuries for their mystical power, it took many years before the first small cultivated trees actually appeared.
In fact, the very first evidence of growing trees in miniature sizes comes from China.
Image Credit: Cnto.org
However, those dwarf trees were not cultivated with a purpose. Instead, they occurred all naturally in the wild.
The first bonsai prototypes were discovered to grow in the mountains of China.
Interestingly, what made people admire those tiny tree back in time, was the fact that they had gotten the one-of-a-kind shape and gnarled appearance without the touch of a human hand.
But according to the Taoists, recreating a miniature form of nature was hiding magical power.
That’s because of the concentrated energy one needs to put into cultivating and shaping a naturally occurring plant, into a particular recreation.
According to Taoists, the magic lies in the special bond the cultivator creates with his continuous care.
But if it wasn’t for the beauty which the Japanese discovered in the looks of those small trees, bonsai would have probably never ever evolved into what we know today. This art form was referred to as Penjing, which means tray scenery.
Subsequently, penzai or punzai appeared, meaning tray plant.
The goal of penzai was to create a harmonious landscape, consisting of miniature trees and rocks.
The Chinese developed special techniques for pruning and binding. These techniques aimed to give the trees an aged appearance.
But what’s more, both pruning and binding were used to give the miniature plants an unusual shape and structure.
In the Chinese folklore, mythical creatures, such as dragons, serpents, and other animals, carry a sacred and very deep meaning.
Image Credit: 123rf
Thus, some believe that Taoists were also aiming to achieve a particular figure, representing those mythical creatures, by the shape of the trunks, leaves, and branches of the tiny trees.
Amazingly, there is yet another theory, surrounding the particular shape of penzai, as some researchers believe the Taosists were aiming to recreate various yoga positions through the structure of the mini trees.
But one thing is for sure – all the deformities in the appearance of penzai were made with a deep purpose, which far exceeded the desire for mimicking the natural forms of the trees.
Although Taoists undoubtedly kept creating penzai for centuries, there was no mention of this intricate practice in documented form before 600 A.D.
In fact, the very first written evidence of the penzai tree, including pictures, dates back to 706 AD and is found in the tomb of Prince Zhang Huai.
It was intriguing for the archeologists who discovered the tomb to stumble across those most ancient pictures of Penjing, known so far.
The frescoes in the tomb depicted servants of Prince Chang Huai, carrying Penjing, which contained miniature trees and rocks.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
According to researchers, each picture in tombs carries a deep spiritual meaning.
Most obviously, since Penjing were also part of the scenes, depicted in the tomb, these otherwise small trees convey an immense message, linked to the journey each soul needs to accomplish during a lifetime on Earth.
According to Taoists, life is good and it can be improved to bring harmony by following the Way of nature, also known as Tao.
From Penjing to Bonsai
It was during the very same time when the art of cultivating miniature trees was paving its way into the Taoists teaching of how to become one with Tao, when Chinese monks traveled to Japan and other parts of Asia, carrying examples of the penzai.
All of that was happening during the reign of the Hang Dynasty in China.
But the Japanese monks didn’t merely study and utilize the techniques, brought by the examples of Penzai.
Instead, the Japanese added so much of their own perceptions of the surrounding world, that they saturated the meaning of penzai with a whole new dimension of symbolism.
Thus, the Japanese started implying their own techniques in sculpting and cultivating the dwarf trees.
But above all, they also transferred new beliefs to the art of bonsai, which associated the small trees with the ever-green search for harmony in life.
According to the Japanese, bonsai trees symbolized a harmony between the man, his soul, and Mother Nature – these three symbols being forever intertwined and always working in correlation.
After penzai reached Japan, one thing was for sure – the tiny trees quickly gained no less followers and admiration than they did in China.
Furthermore, as the Japanese philosophy of life merged with the art of bonsai, it was only a matter of time before the Japanese students exceeded their Chinese teachers, turning the little-known penzai into a whole new form of art and discipline as we know it today – bonsai.
Surprisingly, penjing differentiates from bonsai in yet another way apart from the life that the Japanese culture brought to bonsai as a form of art.
Penjing were mostly cultivated in flat trays, and not in pots.
But whatever the container of the small trees, those enchanting pieces of the bonsai-art-to-be, gradually found their way to many Japanese homes.
Image Credit: Youtube
At first, those tiny trees were very limited in number and availability and they were brought along with all the various cargo, travelling from China to Japan.
Thus, penjing was considered a way to show a high social status since only the rich Japanese families could afford to purchase such a rare souvenir.
But with the amazing Japanese dedication, patience and respect for crafts, nature and traditions, many of those otherwise rare trees managed to survive for hundreds of years, passing from one generation to another.
The value behind practicing bonsai was so deep and healthy for the mind that slowly it started to spread throughout various levels of society.
A Japanese writer shared his amazement and delightfulness he gained from the mere contemplation of the unusually deformed small trees in an ancient scroll, which dates back to 1195 AD.
He expressed in words the otherwise hard to explain feeling of contentedness, pleasure, and appreciation one gets after gazing at the miniature trees.
How The Cultivation of Bonsai Trees Evolved Out of the Monasteries
It came as no surprise that the beautiful art of bonsai spread far away from the monks and monasteries themselves.
Although at first, bonsai was not a reserved territory for the ordinary people. Instead, bonsai trees made their way to the homes of the royals.
Bonsai was perceived as an attribute to show high social status but it also reflected a great honor.
If someone was to have a bonsai at home, this would be a family, who was greatly respected.
Gradually, in the 14th century, bonsai trees were already regarded as a form of art, apart from simply symbolizing status and/or honor and respect.
At the very beginning, bonsai owners would display their beloved and treasured miniature trees outdoors.
However, initially, another course of displaying a bonsai emerged.
The royal families, who got to look after their bonsai creations, created special shelves indoors, which were to put the bonsai in the spotlight of honor in the home.
The Minimalism Flow in Bonsai
However, it wasn’t before the 16th century when the art of bonsai evolved again. But this time, the pruning techniques which the Japanese adapted for bonsai cultivation had another purpose.
Through pruning, the Japanese now wanted to achieve a highly minimalistic effect of the trees, removing all parts of the plants and leaving nothing unnecessary but the most essential parts, needed for the miniature trees to survive.
The elimination of all unnecessary elements from the bonsai trees has a very deep meaning.
There is nothing really fancy about it but instead, it showcases the way Japanese perceive the world.
According to the Japanese philosophy, in order to live in harmony and balance, one must refine his lifestyle in such a way, as to remove anything unnecessary, causing clutter.
Clutter is believed to reflect both the mind and the body in such a manner, as not to leave a person achieve his full potential because of the distractions and disharmony which clutter brings.
Ever since, this culture remains the same and it is easy to see it and feel it as you visit modern Japan and notice the tranquil and serene minimalist gardens, all bringing that sense of perfect simplicity from the eyes straight to the soul of the gazer.
Image Credit: Write Teens [Example of a Modern Minimalistic Japanese garden]
How Bonsai Became Accessible to All Social Classes
It was approximately during the medieval times when bonsai trees were no longer a reserved territory for the royals.
The value behind practicing bonsai was so deep and healthy for the mind that slowly it started to spread throughout various levels of society.
However, it wasn’t before the notorious peace of work by the priest and writer Kokan Shiren before bonsai truly flourished among the Japanese, regardless of their status in society.
Kokan Shiren released the prose Bonseki around the year 1300 and all the very first hints of what was soon going to embrace the entire globe, was put into the spotlights.
And so later in the following centuries, bonsai truly flourished in Japan. The practice reached many new people who wanted to explore the beauty of cultivating miniature trees of their own.
The social class was no longer a limitation for practicing bonsai.
This time of rapid development and spreading of the bonsai art was also the paramount of starting to pay utmost attention to the design of bonsai trees themselves.
Both the simplicity and the arrangement of bonsai became highly valued.
Thus, every proud bonsai owner was striving to create his unique masterpiece while staying true to the basic laws which sculpted bonsai cultivation.
The art of bonsai cultivation was spread and became available to all social classes.
Suddenly, there was an increased demand of bonsai cultivators, who could share their knowledge and skills with the numerous bonsai aficionados among the Japanese people.
This was not only the time when bonsai flourished in Japan, being accessible to all the people who wished to learn how to practice it.
This was also the time when bonsai was finally imprinted into the Japanese culture forever.
Following the teachings of the Taoist monks, who shared their bonsai cultivation techniques, the Japanese started yet another form of bonsai creation – arranging a variety of landscapes with bonsai in the focus.
Trees were carefully combined to match and enhance the beauty and harmony of the various landscapes, buildings, people and/or rocks. That particular process became known as bon-kei which literally means tray landscape.
Bon-kei is such an amazing form of using bonsai to create art because it depicts a landscape in 3D which is recreated through dry materials, such as rock, cement, paper, and/or sand mixtures, in a simple tray. Meanwhile, another form of bon-kei quickly gained popularity.
San-kei aims to re-create 3D landscapes the very same was as bon-kei, although with san-kei the aim is to depict an already existing scenery or landscape, and not just something imaginary.
And so in the mid 1600s, with the numerous merchants venturing through Asia, the word for bonsai was inevitably spread throughout the globe.
At the very beginning, it was mostly the news of the existence of such miniature trees which sparkled the curiosity.
The First Bonsai Exhibitions and Competitions
Very soon after the widely-spread availability of practicing bonsai, by the end of 1700s, the Japanese started holding the first bonsai exhibitions.
Not only exhibitions, showing the beauty of bonsai were held.
The Japanese also organized bonsai competitions which aimed to acknowledge the most skillful cultivators of the ancient practice.
Initially, in 1806 the Queen of England received a bonsai tree as a gift.
Eventually, cities like London, Vienna, Paris and other place where culture and art are highly valued, featured bonsai trees in special exhibitions.
And this was also the time when the Japanese decided to share some of the invaluable experience they have gained in bonsai cultivation by sharing their secrets in bonsai growing with the world.
The Japanese selflessness for opening the gates to bonsai cultivation freely so that more people can take advantage of this healing practice, was what shaped the world of bonsai as we know it today.
Image Credit: Youtube
If the Japanese were to act selfishly, we would have lost so much by not having the chance to understand the deep beauty residing in bonsai.
Bonsai as we know it today was first mentioned in a Japanese tale around the year 600.
In this tale, the Japanese explained the true philosophy behind cultivating those miniature trees and gradually saturated this gardening discipline with a whole new level of meaningfulness.
“It is only when it is kept close to human beings who fashion it with loving care that its shape and style acquire the ability to move one”.
And approximately around the 19th century, a group of students who were studying Chinese arts gathered to discuss bonsai and take a closer look at this one-of-a-kind practice, merging art and discipline with self-knowledge and knowledge of the Laws of Mother Nature.
Subsequently, that very same group of students was the first to officially give the name Bonsai, classifying the discipline into what we know it today.
With the popularization of bonsai, numerous amazing creations started to emerge.
Just like we are all so completely different, so is bonsai, which represents the imagination, heart, and skills of its cultivators.
Image Credit: Youtube
Up-to-date, bonsai trees can be seen in numerous sizes and varieties which keep adding more magic to the practicing of bonsai.
In fact, the bonsai passion is so strong and contaminating that multiple small groups of bonsai aficionados have gathered throughout the globe.
The bonsai societies around the world have further helped to spread the practice far, far away from its homeland – Japan.
4 Factors which Helped Bonsai Gain World Acknowledgement
The history of how bonsai was born and made its way into the hearts of the Japanese marks only the tip of the iceberg.
If we have to point out the most important aspects which granted bonsai world fame and renown, there are 4 major aspects.
1 – The Impact of World War II
Before the end of World War II, the Japanese culture has been much of a mystery for the world. However, after the war was finally over, Japan became far more open to the rest of the countries globally.
As a result, bonsai art finally got the chance to be showcased out of the Japanese territory.
Subsequently, numerous bonsai exhibitions took place.
Nevertheless, the associations, promoting bonsai cultivation also left a huge imprint on popularizing the art of bonsai and making it far more comprehensible to people world-wide.
One of the first associations which did a great job for spreading the bonsai craftsmanship towards people globally, was the Nippon Bonsai Association.
2 – Print Publication on the Rise
Along with the open trade and communication between Japan and the rest of the countries in the world, the rise of print publication has also helped tremendously for spreading the word about bonsai.
Not only the word about this magnificent form of art and gardening was spread. The very essence of bonsai was transmuted to people through the work of various authors.
Together with passionate researchers, people who got the chance to delve in the Japanese art of bonsai thanks to the openness of the Japanese nation towards popularizing bonsai, succeeded to publish multiple articles.
Many of those articles became a great hit in the respective countries and thus, little by little, bonsai was finding its way to the hearts of people from every nation, age, and gender.
3 – Special Japanese Bonsai Courses
As bonsai requires a deep understanding of the art and craftsmanship for cultivating the miniature trees, the Japanese released a number of bonsai courses around the second half of the 20th century.
Thus, not only did the local Japanese got an opportunity to study bonsai better; many foreigners, who visited Japan, got also involved in those courses.
The expert Bonsai training turned out to be a wonderful approach!
And so step by step, those who managed to learn more about bonsai started helping other people adopt the best techniques for successful bonsai cultivation.
The skills, which the traveling Japan visitors gained during their expert bonsai training were then brought to practice in their home countries, where the knowledge they received about bonsai was slowly embracing a wider and wider audience of bonsai connoisseurs.
4 – Easy Trade Between the Countries
Now, it is important to acknowledge that the easy trade between the countries made it possible to spread the practice of bonsai along with all the useful tools, plants, and soil components, needed for a successful bonsai cultivation.
Before this happened, the access to various bonsai plants and the equipment, which every bonsai gardener has to utilize, were very hard to find.
This scarcity was a huge milestone for people who had get to know more about the bonsai practice but lacked the suitable tools to turn bonsai into reality in their home countries.
Slowly but surely, as everything needed for bonsai cultivation became widely-available, bonsai aficionados all around the globe eagerly started to discover the true taste looking after a bonsai tree.
With all the 4 aspects shaping the bonsai reality as we know it today, it was only a matter of time for this intricate form of art and gardening to grab the hearts of people, regardless of their race, gender, religion, or level of experience.
Multiple bonsai communities emerged and the boom of free online communication only speeded up the process of bonsai popularization.
People were no longer limited to the old ways and gaining new knowledge, as well as exchanging experience with other bonsai connoisseurs was crucial for conveying the magic of bonsai in order to reach more souls, hungry for beauty and harmony.
Image Credit: Youtube
Interestingly, it seems as if nowadays we need bonsai more than ever in our lives. The busy pace schedules we have to face, combined with the increased aggression and insecurity in the world, only creates a greater need for tuning back with the Universal laws.
And is there any better way to nurture a troubled mind than to focus your attention on creating something as beautiful as bonsai?
But actually, it is the continuous care, the never-ending state of learning which make bonsai such an intricate discipline. And through that very same discipline, important virtues can be attained by the cultivator, which would be hard to gain in any other way.
Image Credit: Tamar Peace Festival
That’s what makes bonsai a special kind of meditation where you let the intrusive thoughts go with the flow as you are taking care of your bonsai tree.
The Centuries Old Techniques of Bonsais Cultivation
Bonsai cultivation was achieved through masterful techniques, which required the absolute dedication of bonsai cultivators.
Indeed, in order to create a bonsai masterpiece, it can take anything between 2 and 20 years of care.
The main goal is to keep the bonsai trees approximately one to two feet high.
But instead of limiting bonsai cultivation to sculpting and nurturing the traditional pine trees, the Japanese added much more to the ancient practice. Thus, both flowering and fruit-bearing trees were included in bonsai.
For the shaping of bonsai, the Japanese used wire and bamboo to twist and then hold the configurations intact.
Image Credit: Absolute Bonsai
Branches, trunks, and roots were all subject to the masterful bonsai techniques, aiming for that odd and gnarled appearance of the miniature trees.
What’s more, both burning and cutting were part of the bonsai techniques which helped cultivators achieve a one-of-a-kind old looks of the amazing trees.
Grafting was yet another popular technique in bonsai. By grafting the new branches, cultivators created particular shapes, which would otherwise be impossible to re-create and embed in bonsai.
Sweet syrup was also applied for the purpose of attracting termites, which would fiest on the sweetness of the wood. That particular trick made the bonsai trees appear even older to the eye of the contemplator. But termites cannot be left intact on the bonsai tree forever.
Image Credit: Smithsonian Magazine
Thus, after the tiny fellows finished their job for munching on the trunks,
making bonsai trees appear closer to the natural look of any other tree we
might see in Nature, the cultivators carefully removed all termites.
Subsequently, a healing period was then needed for the tiny trees to recover.
Finally, only the beautifully aged appearance was left without a trace of the
The technique of applying termites as part of bonsai cultivation shows how
intertwined the art of bonsai is with Mother Nature.
Really, is there any other art form where you can work together with the termites in order to create something so nostalgic as a bonsai tree?
Bonsai trees were also placed along with suitable rocks and moss, searching for a harmonious landscape effect, which made bonsai plants truly become a piece of art.
The Bonsai Trees Journey to America
At some point, it was high time that bonsai met face to face with the Western culture.
But this time was not yet to come before the Japanese brought bonsai to America when they migrated to the US.
Thus, it wasn’t before the end of World War II before the East and the West finally became more open to each other.
In fact, it was exactly at the end of World War II when the Chinese also brought their version of the tiny trees to America.
However, the Chinese refused to share their artful techniques, limiting the practice of cultivating the miniature trees all to themselves.
Subsequently, the Westerners were not allowed to gain further knowledge on bonsai creation until the late 1960s. Indeed, without proper instructions, cultivating a bonsai tree is merely impossible.
The practice of bonsai requires both understanding of the growth patterns of the miniature trees, as well as mastering the right techniques and utilizing the best conditions for the development of a real bonsai masterpiece.
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Fortunately, the Japanese were determined to spread the art of bonsai worldwide and did not act selfishly as to keep their knowledge to themselves.
The Japanese shared everything they have learned about bonsai cultivation in the so-called nurseries, where many American visitors had the chance to study bonsai closely.
And thus, after gaining new skills for bonsai creation, the Westerners returned to the USA and founded the first American Bonsai Society.
It was only a matter of time before the practice of bonsai then became much more accessible, as opposed to just a mere years ago.
But the Japanese didn’t stop here.
Instead, along with the rising interest over bonsai of many other countries, who send their representatives to Japan in order to study the knowledge of bonsai cultivation, Japanese bonsai masters also traveled around the globe, spreading their bonsai cultivation skills and tips.
And so, from one continent to another, the bonsai discipline was literally handed to all of those, who truly wished to learn this ancient practice.
Very soon, the demands for more accessible bonsai tools grew higher than ever.
With the increasing interest for practicing this form of art and gardening, means for mass production became widely available.
Moreover, big bonsai manufacturers were willing to train individuals in the proper techniques and methods for bonsai cultivation.
Subsequently, thousands of bonsai masterpieces were created in a relevantly short fraction of time in order to answer the great demands for bonsai production among the aficionados of the incredible art.
Nowadays, there are many ways how an artist can create his bonsai.
Some bonsai connoisseurs would choose to grow their bonsai tree from seed. Others would prefer to grow their bonsai from cuttings from other trees.
Nevertheless, grafting remains one of the most popular techniques for bonsai cultivation,as well.
But since all of those techniques take both time and some practice to be mastered properly, many nurseries grow and export readily-available bonsai trees.
Did you know that there are over a dozen different styles of shaping a bonsai tree?
From the upright style to the straight bonsai style, all the way to the more recognizable one – the twisted bonsai cultivation style – people could now let their imagination run wild with their bonsai.
The job of bonsai nurseries is a very responsible task.
Nurseries must take into consideration the particular growing region of the bonsai species they attend, nurture, and create, in order to make sure people who get a bonsai tree from a nursery will stand a reliable chance of cultivating their bonsai masterpiece successfully.
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All tree species require a different climate, access to light, and watering to grow strong and be able to undergo the multiple training techniques with full recovery.
It is crucial for a bonsai plant to be healthy and hearty, as otherwise, the cultivator can be doomed to face failure.
The Secret of Bonsai – Durability of a Tradition
Many people ask themselves how long could a bonsai tree actually live for?
Well, the answer is only one: indefinitely.
Your bonsai tree can outlive you, and it can even outlive your children and grandchildren if it is taken proper care of.
Much like great-great-grandma Fumi – the bonsai tree of my Japanese hosts was older than 3 generations in the family, so can your bonsai masterpiece remain long after you and me are gone.
Maybe this is one of the most incredible aspects of bonsai cultivation, although it is very hard to categorize anything, related to bonsai because above all, bonsai is art, and art cannot be possibly compared.
What is even more amazing with bonsai is how the entire process of shaping and sculpting your living miniature masterpiece is achieved through the seemingly harsh conditions you make your bonsai tree go through.
But instead of dying, with proper maintenance, bonsai trees prove that the harsh conditions of the surrounding environment can only increase both the beauty and value of all living creatures.
That is one of the deepest truths which bonsai cultivation reveals to its creator – that regardless of the obstacles we meet on your way, you can turn every pain, every hurt into your favor.
What we go through as human beings shapes our character and helps the soul grow.
When looking at a bonsai tree, there is always this silent and wise reminder that you can do it; that you are stronger than what you think and you are more beautiful than what your Ego allows you to grasp.
Just take a look at some centuries old bonsai trees which are still living in Japan (and not only!)
Probably one of the most breathtaking examples of the true meaning and durability of bonsai is the pine, which is exhibited in Tokyo Imperial Palace.
Meet Sandai-Shogun-NoMatsu, which is part of the historic collection displayed in Tokyo Imperial Palace. Evidence shows that Sandai-Shogun-No Matsu began its life as early as 1610!
Bonsai is so interconnected with the Japanese culture, that it has become symbolic in the country of the Rising Sun, and is an important part of their celebrations.
Just like we cherish a Christmas tree, bonsai has a special place in the welcoming of the New Year in Japan.
The tokonoma is a super special place where the Japanese proudly place their bonsai tree as an important feature of the New Year.
For bringing luck, harmony, and prosperity, a miniature apricot or cherry in bloom is proudly displayed at the tokonoma.
Bonsai Tree Care & Cultivation
The centuries old traditions in bonsai cultivation require an utmost understanding.
There is really no other gardening practice where discipline plays such a key role as in growing bonsai.
Indeed, the care one must take of a bonsai creation is tremendous but so are the rewards, as well.
However, many newbie bonsai growers tend to fall into the trap of quick enthusiasm and thus, fail to truly utilize the best practices in bonsai.
That’s why it is crucial to attain patience when beginning your bonsai cultivation journey as to avoid failing in your mission as a bonsai tree gardener.
First off, every bonsai aficionado needs to understand that growing bonsai has nothing to do with growing just about any other average small plant.
You cannot possibly treat bonsai as simply a miniature plant.
Remember that bonsai are trees and the growth patterns and demands of trees differ significantly from taking care of any other type of house plant.
Secondly, when you take care of a bonsai, your attention as a gardener must be very well-spread among all the different aspects that need to be taken into consideration.
Obviously, you are in charge of controlling the size and shape of your bonsai tree.
But there are multiple other miniscule factors which are not to be underestimated for a successful bonsai cultivation. These factors include shaping properly the very first seedlings and cuttings, as well.
Thirdly, all bonsai connoisseurs who are starting their bonsai cultivation quest should never forget that the term for bonsai is very, very vast.
Bonsai can be any type of tree species, which is nurtured and shaped into a miniature variation of the original tree specimen.
Thus, all different bonsai tree variations will require a deep understanding of their own and completely unique growth patterns and demands.
For example, a pine bonsai tree will need a different soil, amount of light, as well as watering schedule as opposed to, for example, a maple bonsai tree.
The astonishing varieties of bonsai make place for an amazingly profound diversity in the skills, knowledge and techniques one needs to adapt for becoming a true bonsai cultivator.
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But above all, bonsai creation always starts with acquisition of a suitable source plant.
The source plant must be of certain age so that the bonsai cultivator can achieve the desirable and cherished “aged” and authentic looks of his bonsai masterpiece within a reasonable amount of time.
For a start, each source plant will require a suitable small pot, and nonetheless – suitable soil to grow.
Let’s check out the most important techniques in bonsai growing that every bonsai cultivator wants to understand and, subsequently, utilize.
The design of each bonsai masterpiece is solely a matter of imagination. That is what makes bonsai gardening a form of art.
However, one cannot simply proceed to shaping a bonsai tree absent-mindedly.
Here is where the ancient Japanese techniques come to action.
In order to shape your bonsai beauty to envision the image in your head and match a particular style, you can choose from the techniques listed below.
As a bonsai cultivator, you can apply many techniques but you must also never forget to acknowledge the uniqueness of the bonsai species you are taking care of.
1 – Trimming the Leaves
One cannot possibly sculpt a bonsai tree without carefully shaping the leaves.
Thus, specific leaves or needles must be removed both from the trunk and the branches of your bonsai plants.
Before removing any leaves, always think twice and keep the image you want to achieve in your mind during the whole procedure.
2 – Pruning your Bonsai
Pruning a bonsai is a very multi-layered process. This type of bonsai cultivation technique includes taking care of all the elements of a bonsai tree.
Pruning focuses on branches, leaves, and trunks altogether to help you achieve the vision of bonsai you carry in your head and heart.
3 – Wiring Techniques
If the bonsai growing techniques were to be classified in terms of necessity, then wiring would head the list.
Without wiring, one cannot achieve the specific shape and style of a bonsai tree.
It is exactly through wiring that bonsai cultivators define the overall form of their miniature creation.
Moreover, it is through wiring that a bonsai gardener directs the placement of both branches and leaves.
4 – Clamping a Bonsai Tree
Clamping a bonsai is probably the most mechanical part of bonsai cultivation.
It is referred to as mechanical because clamping requires a suitable set of mechanical tools.
Those very same mechanical instruments are used to shape all the elements of a bonsai tree, including the trunk, branches, and leaves.
5 – Bonsai Defoliation
The defoliation technique is applied to bonsai specimens, which shed their leaves annually.
Thus, through proper defoliation, a bonsai cultivator might aim to achieve a short-term dwarfing of the foliage.
6 – Deadwood Techniques
The deadwood techniques in bonsai cultivation are probably among the most intriguing ones, among others.
However, in order to apply the deadwood techniques correctly, one needs to be very experienced with bonsai growing.
Thus, deadwood techniques should be avoided by newbie bonsai gardeners, as your mistakes can cause the death of your bonsai.
On the other hand, those who master the deadwood techniques can truly turn their bonsai into a piece of art, which appears years older than its actual age, bringing a much more saturated emotion upon gazing at the bonsai beauty.
Bonsai Tree Tools & Materials
Can you imagine a warrior without a sword?
I’d say, if you have a vivid imagination and a more positive approach to life, you might believe that a good warrior can still do great even without a sword.
Well, this scenario is not impossible but is also absolutely not the most favorable option.
When it comes to bonsai cultivation, every bonsai gardener needs the right tools just like the warrior needs a sword.
If a warrior has access to more weapons, he would probably cope with his tasks even easier, right? And the same with bonsai!
Although, in the case of bonsai gardening, your tools arsenal doesn’t have to be tremendous in size and number as to make you stand better chances with the creation of bonsai.
If I can give another example of whether or not you need many tools in order to grow your bonsai tree, consider the following – do you remember your first school years?
Back then, when you were only at the very start of gaining new knowledge, you couldn’t actually even read all the books you could read later as time passed, right?
With bonsai growing, it is pretty much the same. At the beginning of your journey, you won’t be able to utilize all of the instruments which can come handy because you will have to learn the basics first.
And then gradually, as your skills are expanding, so will your tools arsenal.
Nevertheless, some bonsai aficionados get so enchanted with bonsai, they can’t wait to get every single instrument and/or instruction that can be utilized.
But if so, then do whatever makes your heart happy! If you feel excellent gathering and admiring all those bonsai growing tools – then why not?
However, from a more practical aspect, do not forget that learning bonsai takes time and just like in a computer game – as you unlock new levels of experience, so you unlock new instrument which you can actually utilize successfully.
The art of bonsai is also like a sports discipline.
Take, for example, tennis. You can’t expect to become a champion without practicing your talents.
With bonsai, there is nothing really hard about the process of growing your miniature trees.
It is just that it takes time before you fully sink with your bonsai masterpieces and gradually build confidence with your work as a cultivator.
While the years pass, you will be able to truly master bonsai but in the meantime – you will have so much fun and learn so many new things.
For a start, something as simple as a leaf cutter can be all you need (in fact, all you can actually use without harming your trees as a newbie!).
As mentioned above, the more seasoned and dedicated growers can initially end up having an amazingly extended arsenal of tools.
But most importantly, regardless of your level of experience with the practice of bonsai, it is always a great idea to recognize the various instruments for bonsai creation.
Thus, you can make the most well-informed decisions during your bonsai growing journey.
Start with the basics and then slowly work your way to expanding your arsenal of tools with the expansion of your skills and knowledge.
So what are the right tools that you need to get started with your bonsai adventure of a lifetime?
First off, before investing time or efforts into anything else, you need to find the tree specimen itself.
Do your research to gain a good understanding of the growing demands of the particular type of tree you are going to choose. Make sure you can provide those conditions to your tree if you want to see it survive and thrive.
Next, you can’t possibly start working with bonsai before getting a suitable clay pot for your bonsai plant.
The material of the pot is crucial, and in fact, no less crucial than soil and proper care.
And yes, soil is yet the third most basic supply that you will need to have when planting a bonsai.
There is no place for compromise when it comes to choosing a suitable soil for your bonsai creations because the bond between the tiny trees and the healthiness of their roots can pretty much turn the destiny of your bonsai.
The art of bonsai puts the tiny trees in front of many challenges and the need for recovery after causing them mild stress with the shaping techniques becomes immense. Sick roots mean dead bonsai.
Apart from those top 3 key tools for bonsai cultivation, here is a list of all the rest of the instruments that can come handy.
- A traditional leaf cutter with a long handle for pruning branches
- A long shear, for medium sized branches
- Butterfly shear, for pruning small branches as well as roots
- A small shear for tree defoliation
- Small and large knob cutter for creating deep, hollow wounds on the Bonsai
- Small concave cutter that helps with the pruning of medium-sized branches
- Large Bonsai concave cutter to prune large branches.
- Wire cutter
- Jin tool
- Root-hook that helps repotting Bonsai trees
- Copper brush, for trunk cleaning
- Cocos brush, for cleaning ground surfaces
- Trunk benders
How to Style & Shape your Bonsai Tree
Before considering the style and shape of bonsai trees, every cultivator needs to keep in mind the most important aspect, which lies in the very essence of bonsai.
You are dealing with a tree and not just any other type of plants.
But what’s more, bonsai trees differ significantly from any other “regular” tree. The trees, growing freely in nature, have a different size and different growth requirements.
When it comes to bonsai trees, your miniature masterpieces will be smaller, lighter, and much more fragile than their natural counterparts.
Once you understand that basic rule, nurturing a bonsai tree become much easier and pleasant.
Just like with studying maths, you cannot jump into solving complex problems before learning the groundings.
It is also essential for every bonsai cultivator to recognize the unique needs of bonsai trees. Even though tiny, bonsai plants require more care and attention that regular-sized plants.
If we take a look at the roots of bonsai trees, we can see how pale and short they appear, as opposed to the long and ranging in color roots of “normal” trees.
Interestingly, the roots of your bonsai will reach just about 25 cm in length, which is a tremendous difference to the strong, meters-long roots of the trees, growing in nature.
The size difference which makes up for the unique appearance, growth patterns and demands of bonsai trees is also interconnected to many other significant aspects of bonsai cultivation.
These aspects include your bonsai plants’ maturation, nutrition, and even resistance to pests. The immense impact which the size of bonsai plants plays, makes bonsai cultivation a bit more difficult than any other ordinary gardening task.
Although, despite being somewhat more challenging and demanding, practicing the art of bonsai is also very rewarding.
And nonetheless, regardless of the numerous situations each bonsai cultivator may face, achieving a perfectly-healthy bonsai plants in the long-term is entirely possible.
Don’t forget that all plants will always strive to live and survive, so minor mistakes do not necessarily mean failure for you as a bonsai gardener. But first, in order to stand a greater chance of cultivating your bonsai tree/s successfully, you must get acquainted with the major care techniques, which are inseparable part of the bonsai art.
In the list below, you will find the complete groundings of the techniques every bonsai gardener needs to know!
1 – Watering Bonsai Trees the Right Way
Watering your bonsai creations has little do to with watering just about any other plant you might be growing.
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With bonsai, water must be supplied at regular intervals to ensure the tree can execute the process of photosynthesis and remain strong, as to endure training
It is also crucial to understand that each bonsai tree specimen will have a different watering schedule, depending on the specifics of each Bonsai variety.
2 – The Importance of Repotting a Bonsai Tree
Repotting bonsai trees is also an intricate part of cultivating your miniature masterpieces.
Bonsai cannot be mastered without proper repotting.
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Much like with watering, repotting your bonsai plants is also done in regular intervals.
However, when it comes to repotting, those intervals will depend on the specific age and resistance of each bonsai tree, and not merely on the bonsai specimen you are taking care of.
3 – Utilizing the Best Tools for Bonsai Trees Cultivation
As we already discussed above, utilizing the right tools for bonsai cultivation is what will help you master the art of bonsai through time.
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Anyway, that doesn’t mean you need to start with a complex bonsai growing tools kit.
Instead, what is important to understand is that you need to recognize the various instruments and apply them to your bonsai gardening journey as you are gaining more experience with the bonsai practice itself.
4 – Bonsai Soil
Bearing in mind that your bonsai trees will go through multiple phases of recovery, the soil is one of the most significant factors in bonsai cultivation.
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In the absence of suitable soil, your bonsai are doomed to suffer and most certainly, die.
The composition of bonsai soil is considered the same for a huge percent of bonsai trees varieties.
However, some particular bonsai species require a different soil composition from the rest.
Thus, you want to be well-informed on the soil demands of your bonsai trees before you ever continue with potting your plants.
5 – Indoor Survival vs. Outdoor Bonsai Trees Gardening
The art of bonsai allows you to grow your miniature trees both indoors and outdoors.
But then again, there are some differences which shape the growth demands of each bonsai tree specimen.
As a result of those demands, not all bonsai plants will be able to survive and evolve outdoors, just like not all plants will be able to flourish indoors.
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And so every bonsai cultivator must always get acquainted with the specific requirements of the tree specimen he/she is planning to tend, and build the growing strategy accordingly.
The Aesthetics of Bonsai Trees
The entire philosophy, surrounding the art of bonsai, is concentrated towards aesthetics.
When growing a bonsai tree, every cultivator is aiming to convey a particular appearance of his masterpiece that will delight the senses of the contemplator.
However, it is no less important for every bonsai gardener to find pleasure in the way a tree is shaped and styled for himself, as well.
Thus, the aesthetic appeal and arrangement of bonsai are equally transferred between the bonsai cultivator and all the rest of the people who will get to admire the bonsai creation.
But the aesthetics in bonsai is not merely an attribute to the physical appearance of the miniature trees. Instead, as with everything else in Japanese culture, there is a much deeper
meaning than simply achieving a pleasing result for the eyes.
Each bonsai masterpiece will convey the magic of practicing bonsai itself and thus, the essence of bonsai must be taken into consideration.
The imprint left on bonsai by the Buddhist monks is, indeed, invaluable.
It is the Zen philosophy of life which is intertwined with bonsai in such a manner, that these two become inseparable.
In order to understand better the way Zen Buddhism influences bonsai, let’s take a look at the following example.
When a sommelier gets to taste a glass of wine, he/she would inevitably ask about the origin of the grapes, from which that very wine was made. And then, thanks to the attained knowledge through the years, the sommelier will understand what formed true, one-of-a-kind character of the wine.
However unusual, this example can help you understand better how the ancient knowledge merged with bonsai and became forever one with the art of bonsai cultivation.
In fact, the impact and imprint left on Bonsai by the teachings of the old, did not merely create the art as we know it today. This is what turned bonsai into a practice, a discipline, and not just simply a hobby.
The spirit and teachings of the Zen Buddhism can be found even in the most menial tasks, related to bonsai.
There are two major elements of the Zen philosophy, which influenced Bonsai in the most immense way, among others. These 2 concepts are known as Mono no Aware and Wabi-sabi.
Mono no Aware
Mono no Aware can be described as “a sensitivity to ephemera”.
Behind the vast term for anything ephemeral (because everything is, indeed, ephemeral, except for energy, which cannot be lost but only transformed), there is a beautiful sense of awareness.
That sense of awareness for the impermanence of everything on Earth brings peace to the consciousness.
It is only through realizing the fragility of life how one can learn to cherish peace and build harmony and balance in his words and actions.
Wabi-sabi similar to Mono no Aware, is connected to raising one’s awareness.
However, Wabi-sabi does not concentrate solely towards the impermanence of things but rather than that – it is all about acknowledging the “imperfect, impermanent and incomplete”.
Moreover, Wabi-sabi aims to denote that feeling of accepting the imperfections, flaws, or incompletion in life.
Nevertheless, Wabi-sabi is also experiencing the sweet nostalgia, which helps the mind release itself from the grip of the ephemeral because one can finally embrace the beauty, found in imperfections.
It is very delicate to describe such ancient terms, especially when one who is not a native Asian citizen wants to understand the deeper meaning of both Mono no Aware and Wabi-sabi.
It is through realizing these 2 concepts that a bonsai cultivator can truly master the discipline of nurturing those miniature pieces of art.
Bonsai is seen as something imperfect and temporary yet this is where the true power and magic of bonsai cultivation resides.
It is because of those delicate feelings and subtle, sudden awareness, which strike the mind with the very view of a bonsai tree; and this is the message which bonsai is supposed to convey through triggering those otherwise unusual feelings.
In order to reach out to those exact feelings, hidden in the Zen philosophy and the very essence of bonsai, here are the top guidelines one needs to follow to achieve that one-of-a-kind effect.
1 – Miniaturization
It is hard to put the mind in such a delicate state of awareness if one is to gaze at an ordinary tree.
But when faced with such an unusual miniature as opposed to the typical image of a tree we are used to, the person cannot help it but sink into the magic of bonsai.
That’s why, as a rule of thumbs, your bonsai trees should be small enough to fit a small pot or container.
Afterward, your mission is to keep that tiny size even though the time is passing and your tree, if grown in nature, would far exceed its miniature size.
2 – Proportions Among the Different Elements
When it comes to proportions in bonsai, the guidelines are pretty straightforward.
Every bonsai cultivator should strive for achieving the same proportions as thetree would show in its natural environment.
It is through this very approach that the sense of awareness in the contemplator is rising.
A bonsai tree should simply resemble the looks of a traditional tree, despite the difference in size and growing conditions.
3 – Symmetry vs. Asymmetry
Many newbie bonsai growers fall into the delusion that bonsai is supposed to appear beautiful, hence tidy.
But when it comes to Mother Nature, it is not tidiness and perfect symmetry which convey the real beauty.
Instead, it is the asymmetry, the tiny flaws, the “natural” looks which captivate the imagination and give the soul food for thought.
Thus, bonsai should not be perfectly symmetrical, just like this is not the case with any trees in nature.
4 – The Lack of Traces
One of the deepest beauties of bonsai is that when you take a look at the tiny trees, you don’t get to think about the hand which has shaped them.
Instead, it seems as if some miracle, or exception by Mother Nature is developing in front of your eyes.
And in order to achieve this effect, the bonsai gardener should strive not to leave any traces of his work on the bonsai masterpiece.
A bonsai tree in all its glory should appear as if taken directly from a forest, so genuine, so authentic, because this is how the concepts of Mono no Aware and Wabi-sabi can reveal their full potential.
5 – Poignancy
Just like we mentioned at the very beginning of this article, the one-of-a-kind feeling, which bonsai conveys, can be described as a sweet nostalgia.
But the sense of nostalgia is also intertwined with the sense of beauty, which each bonsai tree reflects upon the contemplators.
Both of these feelings are utterly important when it comes to cultivating bonsai trees because it is thanks to those feelings that Bonsai is such an amazing art and not merely a gardening task.
Trunk and Bark Surface of Bonsais
The type of trunk and bark of a Bonsai tree add so much value to the appeal of the miniature creations.
You can imagine impact of appearance of the trunk and bark of a Bonsai plant as the way the shape of your body and the clothes you choose to wear influence the impression you leave on people.
There are numerous terms, which are used to describe a particular trunk style of a Bonsai tree. For example, nebikanis the twisted trunk style, traditional to the Japanese.
On another note, there is also the deadwood bonsais style, which refers to plants with dead branches and/or trunks.
The trunk orientation, on the other hand apart from the trunk and bark style, is no less important when displaying and shaping a Bonsai creation.
As we already discussed above when listing some of the most popular bonsai tree styles, the trunk can be directed to grow straight upwards, which refers to the Upright Style (also known as Chokkan or Moyogi in Japanese).
With the Upright style, the tree will have its apex growing directly above the base of the trunk.
It is exactly through the position of the trunk that is used as a way to describe the various other styles we listed above.
For example, in the case of semi-cascade Bonsai growing style, the branches will be at the same level of the trunk, while with Cascade Bonsai style, the branches will exceed the level of the trunk, leaning downwards to create the impression of “hanging” in the air.
With the Slanted style, the trunk is seen as slightly slanting, hence the name.
When it comes to the placement of Bonsai roots, most trees are grown directly in the soil.
However, there are also different other styles regarding the positioning of the roots, applied to certain bonsai specimens.
One of these styles is the root over rock style, also known as dreshojo.
#1 – Ishizuki (Clinging to a Rock)
Another style, where the entire tree is rooted within a rock is called ishizuki. Ishizuki is translated as Clinging to a Rock, or also Planted on Rock.
The entire concepts of rooting a Bonsai within a rock aims for achieving a much more appealing appearance of the tree specimen itself.
In order to recreate this beautiful effect, a tree is designed together with a rock, which has many cracks and fissures.
Thus, the root system of the Bonsai tree will grow within the soil, filled within the rock’s cracks.
Sometimes, the bonsai specimen will start growing its roots within a perfect contour, following the natural shape of the rock.
On the other hand, in some cases, the roots may remain intact in the rock. As a result, the tree may start growing separately on the rock, escaping its containment.
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#2 – Neagari (Exposed Roots)
Neagari can be described as an unintended ensemble of roots.
That’s because, some bonsai trees can be designed to grow roots clearly exposed and not covered by the soil.
As a result, the roots will extend freely from the trunk.
Interestingly, in some cases of applying the Neagari style, the roots may grow up to half of the height of the bonsai tree’s bark itself, creating beautiful twists and curls.
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#3 – Seki-joju (Root Over Rock)
Seki-joju style is often referred to as Growing on a Rock style, apart from also known as Root Over Rock style.
Although this particular style might look very similar to the Clinging to a Rock Style (Ishitzuki), there is a major difference which separates the two styles.
In Seki-joju, the roots of the Bonsai do not originate from the soil, placed within the cracks of the rock.
Instead, the roots spread from the soil and simply traverse over the rock. The effect of this traversing comes with the roots of the tree exposed closely over the rock itself.
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Number of Trunks
The number of trunks creates yet another dimension of Bonsai styling, which can be somewhat confusing to the newbie Bonsai gardeners.
However, one does not need to utilize or recognize all of these styles.
But on the other hand, it is always a great idea to understand better the different possibilities in terms of cultivating and shaping a Bonsai masterpiece.
As a rule of thumbs, most bonsais will consist of just a single tree with a single trunk.
But then again, part of the uniqueness of Bonsai cultivation lies in the multiple possibilities to recreate what Mother Nature would.
Thus, bonsais with a number of trunks, as opposed to just a single trunk, are not an exception, just like you can stumble across such type of trees in the wild.
Nevertheless, in the case of Forest Bonsai style adaptation, it is impossible to take care of just a single trunk.
You can grow a bonsai tree with multiple trunks coming off a single root.
On the other hand, you can also cultivate multiple trees, all placed in a single tray (the Forest Style we discussed above).
Thus, various sub-categories are formed to explain each of these trunk styles.
Probably one of the major obstacles in grasping easily the different trunk styles comes from the fact that many of these styles can be applied simultaneously.
In simple words, one bonsai tree can fit into many different trunk styles categories.
In such cases, the predominant style must be taken into consideration when describing the method of Bonsai trunk cultivation.
Below, you can take a look at all the different Bonsai trunk styles explained.
1 – Multi-Trunk Cascade
The entire essence of this particular style is very straightforwardly imprinted in its name.
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Thus, it refers to Bonsai cultivation when there are multiple trunks, which extend below the base of the trunk in the cascade style
2 – Kabudachi (Multiple Trunk Styles)
Whenever a bonsai tree is designed with multiple trunks, extending from a single root, this is referred to as Kabudachi.
Thus, the Multiple Trunk style also becomes the term which shelters various styles, according to the number of trunks.
For example, in twin trunk style, 2 trunks emerge from one and the same root.
Image Credit: Bonsai Basics
Traditionally, when it comes to the twin trunk style, the trunks are either joined at the base or touch each other and then split just above the level of the soil.
More often than not, one of the twin trunks is thicker and taller than the other.
That is an important aspect which the Bonsai creator must take into consideration, as both of the trunks must be visible when the Bonsai creation is viewed from its “front” side.
Also, it is good to know that the branches of the 2 trunks may not grow towards each other.
Multiple trunk styles also include five-trunk, seven-trunk, and nine-trunk styles.
However, it is very unusual to see even number of trunks (except for, of course, the twin trunk style).
Thus, with multiple trunks style, the bonsai designer should avoid symmetry, as this is not the case if multiple trees grow altogether in nature.
The multiple trunks styles are also influenced by the natural occurrence of a number of seeds, germinating from a single cone.
Intriguingly enough, multiple trunk styles are also referred to as clump style.
One amazing variety of a clump style is the so-called Turtle Stump style. With this style, the roots do not emerge from the flat soil.
Instead, the trunks arise from an exposed and rather rounded formation of ground roots.
As a result, the shape resembles much the back of a turtle, and hence the name of the style.
2.1 – Sokan (Split Trunk)
For more information, check out the list of the top 13 most famous bonsai styles we provided above.
2.2 – Sankan (Triple Trunk)
For more information, check out the list of the top 13 most famous bonsai styles we provided above.
In Sankan style, there are 3 separate trunks, emerging from one single base, hence the name since san means 3 in Japanese.
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Just like with the twin trunk style, there is usually a dominant tree trunk, which is thicker and taller than the rest.
3 – Yosu-ue (Multiple Trees with Own Roots)
For more information, check out the detailed list of the top 13 most famous bonsai styles above!
All of the different Bonsai styles are uniquely beautiful.
However, before being able to apply any of these, one must first acknowledge the specific requirements of the tree species he is dealing with in order to practice Bonsai.
For a start, every Bonsai cultivator should first decide whether he is going to grow a miniature tree outdoors or indoors.
How to Fertilize for Best Results?
It is no secret that deciduous bonsai trees are heavy feeders, meaning they require a good portion of additional elements to help them grow healthy, beautiful and strong.
Any well-balanced fertilizer should do the work for most of the deciduous varieties.
It is advisable to apply the fertilizer once a week at ½ strength. If the leaves grow too big or thick or/and your bonsai grows too quickly, cut the dosage to ¼.
In fall, when your broadleaf bonsai tree stops new growth, stop fertilizing until the beginning of new growth in the spring.
Now, at the end of our journey for getting to know better the origins, history and beauty of all the various bonsai trees species and styles, I want you to close your eyes once again and return to that bonsai tree garden of your dreams.
Feel the true meaning of the ancient Bonsai practice and let it sink all the way deep down to your heart.
Because one of the greatest rewards of indulging in the art of Bonsai can only be felt through the soul; the deepest essence of the invaluable knowledge, imprinted in Bonsai is invisible to the eyes.
What we see as mere contemplators of Bonsai is a tiny drop, compared to the ocean of beauty, forever embedded in this ancient discipline by the proud nation of Japan.