The Art Of Bonsai

Twin trunk style bonsai (Acer buergerianum)
Maple and fern | Mendip Bonsai Studio

Bonsai trees provoke mixed responses, although well grown, they can be as beautiful as one of nature’s giants. This Trident maple (Acer buergerianum), grown in the twin trunk style, is around 120 years old. Its eggcup sized companion is some kind of fern. Techniques to keep plants so small include wiring them into shape, then pruning roots and branches while restricting them to very small containers.

It’s tempting to see them and feel torn. Is it unnatural? If so, is going against nature cruel?

Circular stand with bonsai trees
Bonsai trees in winter | Huntington Botanical Gardens

Bonsai practitioners view their extreme gardening as a traditional art form that extends the lifespan of the tree. Each of their plants has to be lavished with attention and kindness to keep it healthy.

Stand of Italian cypress bonsai trees with succulents
Italian cypress bonsai stand | Huntington Botanical Gardens

The odd time I’ve seen small stands of bonsai trees growing together, I’ve been amazed. These cypresses don’t look unhappy to me, although one does look like a member of the Household Guard adjusting their bearskin.

We can’t argue that nature is always kind to trees: the odds are stacked high against their potential offspring. A seed plucked from a tree and grown into a bonsai is more likely to live than seeds left to nature.

Most tree seeds are eaten, or fall on ground that is not hospitable. Those that germinate usually die from lack of water, nutrients or sunlight or the attention of deer and other creatures. Most seedlings that survive their first year come to grief well before they reach maturity. This might seem a bit harsh until we remember it is supposed to take millions of acorns on average to produce every mature oak.

I thought this subject would be a good way to introduce Becky’s October challenge, on the topic ‘Kind’.

[Becky is asking us to guess which of the men pictured in her post is her father. My (wild) guess is the third from the left on the middle row.]

34 Replies to “The Art Of Bonsai”

  1. I don’t get particularly excited by Bonsai, but I do admire them. I can’t imagine anyone considering the art ‘cruel’ or ‘unkind.’ After all — don’t we cut flowers for bouquets? I wonder how the flowers feel about that? Even lawns get mowed, in order to meet our requirements. I’ll just look at bonsais and bouquets and enjoy them!

  2. My Pa happens to be one of the most respected bonsai artists of the Olympic Peninsula. Coincidentally, ‘Tomeo’ sounds like ‘Tomayo’. I am none to keen on bonsai though, because it is as artistic as it is horticultural. I mean. I prefer to grow horticultural commodities for more utilitarian purposes, rather than for such intricately artistic expression. What I do to my fruit trees is just as unnatural, but it serves my purposes. Bonsai does not.

    1. I salute your father for his skill. I have been reading today about old fruit trees (apples and pears) and how they are often sacrificed quite young for production reasons rather than left to do their thing.

      1. Stone fruits are replaced even more frequently than apples and pears. They do not live very long anyway. Yet, the apricot tree that I grew up with, which was an decrepit old orchard tree when I was a kid, was finally cut down only a few years ago, decades after it would have been cut down if the neighborhood had still been an orchard.

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