Book Review – Beginning Bonsai, The Gentle Art of Miniature Tree Growing –
I don´t have so much memory of my grandpa. I saw him a few times a year and he passed away when I was 12. Even so, I remember a few things about him. One of them is Bonsai. My grandparents had a big garden filled with lots of flowers and some vegetables, which my grandma was taking care of. Then along with the wall, there were Bonsai pots. It was my grandpa´s hobby and I saw him many times in front of them looking into the small branches with a clip in his big hand.
In Japan Bonsai is thought to be an old people´s hobby. In fact, many who want to carry on this tradition are not Japanese young people but foreigners. Even my western friends who are younger than me know much more than me. Once I had a chance to go to a Bonsai show and I asked a friend to come with me. He was so happy looking around the small potted trees and he even listened to a seminar.
In the last couple of weeks I was carrying the book, Beginning Bonsai -The Gentle Art of Miniature Tree Growing- written by Shirley and Larry Student. You wouldn´t imagine how many people stopped and told me about their passion towards Bonsai. I was surprised. They seemed to be a little surprised too since I had so little knowledge about Bonsai. But now I know some basic because of this book.
The origin of Bonsai was collecting dwarf trees from mountains and potted in beautiful and well-decorated containers. "Artistic pot plants" was how Chinese people called. These pots were kept just for the aristocracy.
Like many other things, Bonsai was brought to Japan as a gift for the Japanese aristocracy. And like many other things, Japan refined it and turned into an art. It became smaller and smaller to adopt limited space in Japanese lifestyle. They also added some extra spice in it, religion. In Japan Bonsai was introduced to the common people by Zen Buddhism monks.
Now I understand this never-ending creation of Bonsai. The aim is to complete the perfection of the tree. If you read Japanese Zen Calligraphy, you may be able to get an idea about Zen philosophy. If the goal of Zen is Satori (悟り), the goal of Bonsai is completion. However trees are a nature and as its nature, they are ever changing thing. Therefore, a Bonsai enthusiast has to understand that he or she should not even expect to see the completed work in his/her life time. It seems to me that Bonsai is another Do (道/the way) like other Japanese traditions such as Sa-do (茶道/tea ceremony) or Sho-do (書道/calligraphy). It´s a never ending process to be better.
"The miniature trees were ideal teachers of philosophical principles concerning the harmony of nature, man´s place in the universe, and the harmonious blending of heaven, earth, and man". I think this is the best part of this book and it describes well about Bonsai.
Beginning Bonsai explains the technical part of Bonsai as well as the philosophical part and it´s very easy to understand. It makes me feel that even I can try. What surprised me was Bonsai trees are actually young and the goal is to create the old tree with strength and character. The author compares Bonsai people to the painters. I can understand. A painter or perhaps a sculptor see the white canvas or a block of clay and imagine the final shape. Then the rest is a process leads to the goal. I think it´s a good explanation.
Pruning (cutting), Pinching and wiring are the essential techniques. Wiring always bothered me. I felt sorry for the tree being tied up. But now I know that there should be enough space between the tree and the wire, and the wire never cuts into the bark. Also the book describes wire as paintbrush, which allows you to design the tree you envision.
Once you are involved in the Bonsai world, as the book warns, browsing in garden centres and green houses becomes part of the lifestyle. Not only checking nursery stocks or design of Bonsai you may want to create but also learning about soil and fertilizer. Don´t forget about the pots too. When you become a better Bonsai person, I´m sure you become picky for pots.
The book doesn´t teaches you how to facilitate creating Bonsai. Bonsai is still a dedication to a nature and need a lot of practice and observation. But the book definitely teaches you what are the essential points to start with in very clear way as if it takes you by your hand and helps you to walk step by step. It definitely takes your fear away for taking care of Bonsai trees. If you are hesitating to step in to this miniature tree world, I´d recommend you to have a look at this book.
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Thanks for the introduction to Bonsai. While I have been growing many varieties of plants and vegetables, I have hesitated to venture to Bonsai because my Japanese friends have warned me that offical Bonsai associations in Japan are very stiffy and the course is difficult for foreigners to cope with (incidentally, I reside in Japan in a typical residential area of a second-tier city). As you have remarked, I find very few young persons active in this wonderful Japanese art. During walks around the locality, I have found just one elderly person assiduosly clipping his bonsai creations in his garden every day. I hope to start Bonsai soon through books and by practically learning from this person.