Bonsai as an Art

Ashok Gupta

Bonsai (pronounced as Bon-sai) consists of two Japanese words, “Bon” meaning a shallow container and “sai” meaning a plant. Basically, bonsai is the process/art of keeping trees or shrubs in small containers, indefinitely and treating them with certain dwarfing techniques to impart them an appearance of age. Three ordinary gardening techniques-pruning, shaping and container growing are used to produce beautiful, dwarfed three dimensional forms suggesting natural trees or landscapes. Above all it needs imagination; this is BONSAI-living sculpture and idealized nature in miniature. There are certain misconceptions about bonsai, one such that bonsai are very old trees, this is not the whole truth, In Japan and now in India also, people have changed this conception. Even a young tree can be trained and be given the appearance of old age, by shortening the branches, so that trunk looks like thicker (hence older) in proportion. The same effect can be created by gaining the downward as in old trees, further if we expose some surface roots at the base of the trunk as in old trees an appearance can be achieved.
Formerly bonsai was considered a hobby only for rich, now it is accepted by general public more as an art than as a hobby. It has become popular with people living in crowded cities, who otherwise have very little contact with nature, It can we’ll be a life time hobby.
Some people are unable to see any difference between the miniaturized trees and ordinary potted plant grown in small pot or tray. The difference is very distinct. Bonsai is a living and ever changing form of an art, In the case of painting and sculpture, once the art piece gets completed, the painter puts aside the brush and the sculptor puts a side the chisel. Bonsai, in that sense, is never complete, it remains lives and thrives in nature. It is well said “Bonsai is not the race, nor it is a destination. It is a never- ending Journey”. Bonsai is the vulnerable art, as it links the past with the present, the culture of the east and the west combines to get really a beautiful creation.
There are three basic techniques to create an bonsai: Pruning, shaping and imagination.
Another misconception is that plants used for bonsai are generally “dwarfed” plants. Bonsai trees are normal plants propagated like any other, but trained using sophisticated techniques to keep them in miniature size and form. The styling of bonsai trees include basic methods like regular pruning and wiring, but also more advanced techniques including the creation of deadwood.
Imagination along with patience is required for creating good bonsai’s. Some of my trees have not always started out as an ideal material, but by preserving, pruning, styling and imagination, surprising results have been achieved. This is illustrated example of many detailed histories of trees from personal collection of Bonsai, of which I had the immense pleasure of growing for many years.
(The author is Joint Director Floriculture)