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  • Dean Bainbridge

Kinda Big Into Bonsai

I have my beautiful bride to thank for gifting my my first Bonsai. This is the little rascal. It's delicate, precious, abundant... and the little bugger scares the hell out of me!

Those little leaves in the sunlight

Let me explain. As much as they are lovely to look at, Bonsai can be be quite intimidating.

You know what they are, little miniature trees from Japan, right? Turns out there's a lot going on with Bonsai. Like so many zen practices, Bonsai is an art form, and it it steeped in tradition and significance. Here's what I've come to learn in the last few days... and hopefully I'll understand it all enough not to kill the little fella.

Bonsai means 'tree in a tray' and while we tend to think of them as Japanese, they come from Chinese traditions and Buddhist monks who aimed to bring 'the outside inside' with a miniature tree for their courtyards and monasteries. It's the Japanese ones, with their characteristic natural look and meticulous pruning, that really stole the show for the west shortly after the second world war.

Not the biggest or boldest... but that's the whole point.

This is my little guy. A maple. He's going to change with the seasons and be ever evolving. There are many others in juniper, pine and conifer which are more consistent, but this one's going to keep surprising me... and fool me into thinking I've under watered or over watered.

It's not going to need shaping, but many do. Apparently, the trick is to be brutal, and think of them as sculpture. It's art, not botany. Then you use a special wire and wrap the branches so you can bend them into place, not unlike braces for teeth. After a year, a young Bonsai should be happy without wires and hold its shape.

Wiring the branches and sculpting the tree

You have to keep the root ball shallow and carve it up occasionally. The soil is to be course and not too absorbent. This means Bonsai drink like fish! With very little moisture in the soil, they slurp up a good drenching every few days, and you have to keep them well lubricated. Cheeky buggers.

So, I'll be zenning out with my bonsai pal, and hopefully turning my underused and overgrown fernery into a zen garden where he will take centre stage. As my confidence grows, I might even try my hand at making one from scratch. Pruning, wiring... the works.

Who knows, this 'tree in a tray' caper might actually be something that doesn't scare me. And the bride will be thankful I kept it alive! I'll be sure to keep you posted.

Here's the oldest known bonsai in the world. Ficus Bonsai is over 1,000 years old, and is on display in an Italian museum.

The Crispi Bonsai in Italy, 1000 years old.

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