Bonsai Art

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If you've been looking for a way to combine art and nature, look no further than that woody-stemmed plant sitting at your local garden center.

With a few tools, some creativity and lots of loving care, you can recreate nature's effects and turn that plant into a miniature tree.

It's called bonsai (pronounced bone-sigh), which literally means tree in a pot. It's the art of growing miniature trees in a confined space such as a pot or a tray.

Although putting a tree in a pot may sound easy enough, it's not actually a bonsai until the tree is pruned, shaped and trained into a desired shape. That's how you imitate nature's effects and get the weathered and aged appearance of bonsai.

Bonsai can be grown indoors or outdoors, in a huge landscaped garden or on a small apartment balcony. It's best to find a type of plant that will grow where you want it to as bonsai can range from a huge tree that takes a couple people to move to a mame, which is a tree measuring about an inch in size.

Bonsai is not a hobby you can leave sitting in a closet for months and months like those roller blades or that stamp collection. It requires constant care on a daily basis.

"Bonsai is like a baby," says Ernie Kuo, a member of the California Bonsai Society. "They have to be attended to constantly." Your time commitment can range from a few minutes a day for watering to five hours plus when repotting.

Bonsai is practiced in many countries throughout the world. It originated in China, but the West discovered it after the Second World War.

Judging from the many bonsai clubs and organizations in the United States and throughout the world, there's an increasing number of bonsai enthusiasts at all levels of expertise.

"Most major cities have at least one bonsai club," says Usher Posluszny, a professor of botany.

Interest in this hobby seems to come and go, say bonsai enthusiasts. "There's always interest in people starting bonsai," says Posluszny, "but when they find out how much work is involved, they tend to drop out."

Getting Started

Few tools are necessary for the beginner. A pair of pruning shears is a must for the beginner. Tools can vary in price from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars. Bonsai enthusiasts suggest you buy the best tools you can afford.

Unless you plan to dig up plants or transport large trees, you don't have to be physically fit to practice bonsai. The most common injury is cutting yourself with pruning shears or other sharp tools.

It seems to be an ideal hobby for people confined to wheelchairs or anyone who is unable to move about easily. Smaller trees are helpful as they are easier to handle.

It's difficult to make a career out of bonsai unless you plan to open up a garden center. For those who want to share their talent and passion for bonsai, there are opportunities to teach at seminars and workshops, but primarily on a voluntary basis.

"I teach bonsai at home, all over the United States and sometimes in foreign countries," says Kuo, who is self-employed in real estate.

Beginners are cautioned to stay away from starter kits -- they're usually overpriced. The best way to learn about bonsai, according to Jill Hurd, editor of the American Bonsai Journal, is to "locate the bonsai club nearest you, visit bonsai sites [and] check out books on bonsai from your library."

You may also want to attend bonsai seminars and conventions as they often hold workshops for beginners. Hurd also suggests connecting with a bonsai master if there's one in your area.

Limit yourself to a few kinds of plants and learn to care for these as you can always add on to your collection from there. Start off with a tree that's forgiving to the beginner -- look for tropical plants or small shrubs to start off your hobby.

Bonsai enthusiasts agree that you should have patience and be creative. Don't be too concerned about the rules regarding what a tree should look like. Remember, however, that you're working with a living thing. Once you put that plant in a pot, you're committing yourself to its care for many years.

The best time to start this hobby is when you're young, as nothing is immediate in bonsai. It can take years before that plant you placed in a pot actually becomes a bonsai.

According to bonsai enthusiasts, though, those years will be filled with much enjoyment as you help that bonsai take the shape of an old and weathered miniature tree.


American Bonsai Society


Bonsai Clubs International
Rent out audiovisual material, view a list of public exhibits and get the Bonsai Magazine with your membership

Bonsai Gardener
Learn more about the art of bonsai

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