By ANDREW FORD
The growing of bonsai, which literally translates as ‘plant in a tray’, is a truly satisfying hobby and combines horticulture and art, creating trees that are often referred to as ‘living sculptures’.
The keeping of bonsai is a relatively simple hobby, but it requires patience and dedication throughout the year. Trees need to be watered and fed, while other activites include pruning, wiring, pinching and re-potting. None of these are arduous, and the skills needed, can be learnt within a few months by joining your local bonsai club or society.
Bonsai can be divided into two groups, indoor and outdoor. Indoor species such as those sold in garden centres and florists mostly originate from Thailand and China. They are tropical in nature and are therefore quite difficult to keep in our changeable climate.
This is why the majority of bonsai enthusiasts within the UK grow outdoor bonsai. Many species of native trees and woody garden shrubs are suitable for training as outdoor bonsai.
These are the very species that if left to their own devices would grow into the trees and shrubs we see around us every day.
Although originating in China around two thousand years ago, the art of bonsai we know today developed in Japan. Chinese bonsai tended to be freeform in nature and were maintained mostly by pruning. The Japanese meticulously groomed their trees and shaped them into more natural looking bonsai. They categorised the many types of bonsai and developed the first quality tools.
There are many different styles of bonsai; some trees have an upright and formal shape, others lean, and a few are cascading in nature. There are also forms of bonsai that contain several or even groups of trees.
They all have their own ideal proportions, and should exhibit balance and harmony within themselves as well as between the plant and the container.
Each bonsai must create the impression of being a miniature form of a fully sized tree – an inspiration from nature as well as a replication.
Some people often wrongly believe growing Bonsai to be an expensive hobby, and although many enthusiasts started with a established bonsai bought from a specialist nursery, it is possible to raise your own plants cheaply from seeds or cuttings and train them into a bonsai. Alternatively, with a little understanding of basic styling techniques, it is easy to convert a suitable garden-centre plant into a much-admired bonsai within a short period of time.
Older specimen bonsai can be expensive to buy, but a bonsai’s true value lies in the many years of dedication and care bestowed upon it by its owner. As they can be passed down through generations of a family, this can in some cases make them priceless.
Another common misconception about the hobby is that it is cruel, with the trees being starved in order to dwarf them. Nothing could be further from the truth, and in many cases they are actually healthier than their counterparts in the wild.
Root pruning is a widespread horticultural technique not just associated with bonsai. It helps the growth of a compact, well-developed root system with many fine, fibrous roots, which are vital for taking up nutrients, and does not restrict the overall growth.
Various branch and shoot pruning techniques are the methods by which the tree is dwarfed, in the same way a hedge keeps from growing into a line of large trees.
Throughout their entire lives, bonsai require great care to keep them healthy and in good shape. But if you already have some basic horticultural knowledge this should be easy.
Like all plants they need regular watering and feeding, as well as adequate light and air. Pests and diseases will occasionally attack your trees, but with a programme of preventative pesticide applications, damage can be kept to a minimum.
A good healthy bonsai is always a pleasure to behold, but when positioned in a prominent position in the garden it becomes a true thing of beauty.
If you are interested in learning more about the art of bonsai, by far the quickest and easiest way is to join your local club.
The Sussex Bonsai Group was established over thirty years ago and currently has about fifty members of all ages, varying from complete beginners to knowledgeable experts.
They meet every month at Wivelsfield Village Hall where the friendly atmosphere and the varied programme of informative demonstrations and workshops will soon help you understand the basics of growing your own bonsai.
For more information on meeting dates and the club programme visit the club’s websitewww.sussexbonsaigroup.co.uk
For a taster of Bonsai and oriental culture, why not visit the upcoming Bonsai World 2011 show at the K2 Leisure Centre. Crawley.
The show is on the 3rd and 4th September and admission is just £5 per person.
Details can be found here: www.bonsaiworld2011.co.uk