Bonsai – Japan’s perfectly proportioned miniature trees – have been artfully cultivated by mindful enthusiasts for centuries. Inspired by the Chinese practice of penjing, bonsai trees first began to grace the courtyards of Japan’s temples and imperial palaces as early as the 12th century.
Having started life as the esoteric practice of a few specialists, bonsai has grown to become one of Japan’s most recognisable art forms, enjoyed by countless green-fingered fans around the world. Accessible to all with a little practice, growing and caring for your own bonsai tree allows you to experience one of Japan’s most calming crafts from the comfort of your own home.
Whilst we’re forced to spend more time than ever behind closed doors, bonsai might just be the mindful craft that keeps you grounded – here’s how to get started.
Closely linked to zen Buddhism and Japan’s inherent appreciation for nature, tending to your own bonsai is a slow, mindful hobby that can be easily adopted and last a lifetime. It takes many years of careful shaping and pruning to achieve the ideal shape, and once mature, bonsai trees can live for hundreds of years.
Whilst bonsai can be grown from cutting or seed, this takes considerable time and skill, and most hobbyists will begin caring for their tree by purchasing either a ready-grown bonsai or alternatively, a prebonsai or ‘nursery stock’. Whilst a mature, pre-shaped bonsai is a great way to learn the basics of bonsai care, an unrefined prebonsai allows you to jump right in at the deep end. Effectively the raw material needed to begin growing and shaping your own miniature tree, buying nursery stock is an inexpensive way to get started and learn from the ground up.
There are endless varieties of tree from which to create a bonsai, and it’s crucial you chose one to suit the environment. Specialist online sellers such as All Things Bonsai and Bonsai Direct are a great place to start, selling not only trees but also kits for shaping and maintenance. With the aim to create a miniature tree that resembles nature as closely as possible, the art of bonsai comes with a host of specific tools and techniques. You’ll want to experiment with trimming, pruning, wiring and clamping in order to achieve the perfect result, and methods of care vary depending on the species of tree. As such it’s a good idea to pick up a book on crafting and caring for bonsai, and if you find video an easier way to learn, then YouTube is a brilliant resource.