Appreciating Bonsai

This weekend, the Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai presents the 2018 Bonsai Show, the 30th annual exhibit by this local group. This show offers an excellent introduction to the art of bonsai and the beginning of the appreciation of this ancient form of gardening art.

Bonsai began in China in 2000 or more years ago and spread to Vietnam and Japan, where it grew in popularity. The most basic concept of bonsai is to grow a tree in a container while keeping it small. From that core idea, the practice bursts into an extraordinarily complex art form. Japanese bonsai master Masahiko Kimura, speaking of bonsai and Japanese garden design generally, observed, “In western gardens, it’s all about how it looks. The Japanese have stripped this away and reduced it to your imagination.” This suggests bringing your creativity to the bonsai viewing experience.

Here’s a quick overview of the art of bonsai:
Plant Selection—A wide range of trees can be used, but temperate climate trees are preferred because they grow best outdoors, where projects are developed traditionally. Selections are based on attractive appearance and adaptability to bonsai treatment. Three of the most popular varieties are Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum), Bodhi tree (Ficus Religiosa), and Rock Cotoneaster (C. horizontalis).

Container Selection—Glazed or unglazed ceramic containers are most widely used. The size and shape are based on the intended size and style of the full-grown bonsai tree; straight sides are an important criterion, often, to facilitate lifting the plant for root pruning.
Style—The style of a bonsai tree typically describes the orientation of the tree’s trunk. A dozen or more basic styles have been described, and are sometimes combined in a single work. Popular styles include formal upright (chokkan); informal upright (moyogi); slant-style (shakan); cascade-style (kengai); and root-over-rock (sekijoju).

Size Objective—The most often seen bonsai trees are medium-sized, i.e., 12-to-36 inches high, including the container. Some specimens are large (up to 80 inches high) or miniature (as small as 1-to-3 inches high).

Control Techniques—Practices to control the size and shape of the tree include trimming the leaves or needles; pruning the trunk, branches, and roots; wiring or clamping branches and trunks; grafting new material to the trunk; defoliation for short-term dwarfing, and deadwood techniques to simulate age in a bonsai.
Cultivation—The basic methods for maintaining the health of a bonsai tree will be familiar to gardeners: soil composition, fertilization, watering, and re-potting. When bonsai master Kimura was asked if you need instructions to care for a bonsai, he replied, “Do you need instructions to look after a baby?”

The Bonsai Show will be presented on Saturday and Sunday, April 13th and 15th, at The Museum of Art and History, 705 Front Street, Santa Cruz, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day. Show Chairman Edward Lambing advises that in addition to the display of fascinating plants, the event includes bonsai demonstrations and sales, raffles, door prizes, and the drummers of Watsonville Taiko. Admission for both the Museum and the Bonsai Show has been reduced for this weekend to $5.

This Bonsai Show is a fine opportunity to broaden your gardening perspectives and enjoy the creations of local bonsai artists.

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