The Art of Cultivating Bonsai as a Philosophy

Bonsai Trees: How to cultivate a philosophy

The original term for bonsai is pun-sai. This art of raising dwarfed trees first flourished in China and was adopted in Japan during the Kamakura period between 1150 and 1350 AD. Today, bonsai art is practiced and admired throughout the world.

Bonsai art as a philosophy

Bonsai art is much more than horticulture – it is a culture unto itself, a culture deeply rooted in the Zen philosophy that preaches non-evasive and unobtrusive human existence in harmony with nature. Its ideology personifies nature as a creature with a soul. With the medium of bonsai, the human soul is intended to seek a union with the higher soul of nature (God). The world-renowned bonsai artist Saburo Kato has long since proclaimed bonsai as a “torch of peace”.

All bonsai artists are philosophers first. Having spent decades in close communion with these tiny dwarfed ambassadors of peace and enlightenment, they have understood the real purpose of the miniaturization principle in bonsai art. It stands for minimization of human greed and selfishness, which are at the roots of mindless slaughter of nature by man. Every part of a bonsai has a special significance accorded by the Zen philosophy. The strong and stable roots symbolize a firm grounding of a heaven-bound ideology. The sturdy and often gnarled trunk shoulders the responsibility of growth of this ideology. And the stems, facing skywards, aim to reach heightened enriched enlightenment.

Having understood this profound thought, every aspiring bonsai artist ought to embrace it as his faith, and make his art his prayer.

The art of bonsai cultivation

Bonsai species can be developed from cuttings or young saplings, they can be seeded, or even natural dwarf plants can be transplanted in pots. A normal healthy bonsai varies from 50 mm to 1 meter in height.

A bonsai artist’s main aims of giving a unique thematic and visual characteristic to each tree, maintaining its healthy stature, and curtailing its reach and spread can be achieved by using quality soil and fertilizer, regularly stunting branches and roots, transplanting the tree in a new pot at predefined periods, pinching and inhibiting the growth spots, and importantly, by using techniques like wiring and binding the trunk to give it a premeditated form. Learning and mastering bonsai art needs patience and endurance in equal proportions, spread over many years of dedicated efforts.

Each bonsai is as unique and individual as a painting or a sculpture. Nature does not ever produce duplicates. Ideally, bonsai are more adoptable to outdoors, but they can easily withstand brief indoor sojourns for special occasions and festivities.

Types of bonsai and how to raise them

There are five primary varieties of bonsai trees.

The Formal Upright Bonsai: The outlook of this variety is both formal and upright, much like the persona of a successful investment banker. It is groomed to perfection with symmetry and order as the guiding principles. The trunk is stout and straight, and the branch structure is conical, with the branches extending almost perpendicularly to the base.

The formal upright bonsai is predominantly an ornamental endeavor suitable for species like pines, maples, junipers and larches. Fruiting tress are improper for this variety.

The Informal Upright Bonsai: This is a variation of the formal upright, more like the investment banker on a vacation, arching, bending and tilting his trunk while working out on the beach. In a bonsai, however, this trunk-tilting is a result of the specie’s tendency to tilt away from the wind force and unlighted areas, or conversely, to bend towards the sunny side. However, the bonsai never tilts towards the front.

Favorable species for this variety are conifers, maples and other ornamental varieties.

The Slanting Bonsai: In this variety, the trunk is forced to tilt to an angle while withstanding the elements like wind force. The tilting occurs during the formative years and it is then articulated with wiring technique to give the trunk an aesthetically intriguing, even amusing form.

Most species suitable for the informal upright, especially conifers, are suitable for the slanting bonsai.

The Cascading Bonsai: In this variety, the growth of the branch spreads sideways rather than upwards, often leaning lower than the base of the pot, as if to caress the ground. The trunk is slender, giving the feeling of a cascading rivulet gushing down a ravine.

Any specie that is not strongly and stoutly upright is suitable for the cascading bonsai.

The Semi-cascading Bonsai: This variety is much like the cascade, except that the trunk does not bend lower than the base of the container. It is like the trees hanging out precariously from the cliff tops and ravine edges. The orientation of the branch is strongly horizontal.The flowering species like cedar and juniper are ideal for this variety. Upright species do not suit this variety.