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Bonsai is the art -- and also the science - - of growing miniature trees and shrubs in a confined space, usually in decorative pots or trays. Ideally Bonsai is practiced to recreate nature but on a very reduced scale. Most specimens are no more than a meter high compared to their natural counterparts that grow to a height of 30 meters or more.

There are also two Bonsai variations. The Chinese introduced “pen-jing”, which means potted landscape. The Japanese enjoy an equivalent of this called “sai-kei”, or tray scenery. The object of both is to use live plants to create a pleasing three-dimensional scene. The bonsai artist might decide to use a single miniature willow and shape a “landscape” around it. Or may plant an entire forest of tiny maples that bud out in the spring and drop their leaves in the fall. A “windswept” effect could be added where each tree is bent a little to the left or the right to make it appear as if a stiff breeze is blowing through the tiny glade.

The Chinese were the first civilization to cultivate trees and shrubs in ceramic flower pots. Evidence dating back as far as 200 AD shows that bonsai was used as part of everyday gardening. China is known for its diverse variety of flora: forsythia, azalea, rhododendron, roses, tree peonies, and camellia to name just a few. It made perfect sense that these indigenous plants be transferred from their natural settings into the more artistic bonsai displays.

The art of growing trees in a pot has evolved into a very sophisticated art form. Specimens are maintained by the bending, shaping and pruning of the limbs, and by selective root pruning. It’s important that the pot and the tree be perceived as a unified whole. Some Bonsai specimens have been dated at 500-700 years old. But for the Bonsai connoisseur age is never the most important factor -- it’s the final “artistic marriage” of the horticultural ingredients.

Bonsai has gained steady growth in North America. Societies and organizations thrive in many cities and towns. Dealers or growers can be easily located by inquiring at garden centers, checking the yellow pages or browsing around on the Internet.

There are certain things to consider before trying bonsai:

1)Bonsai is an outdoor activity. Since most trees are outdoor plants, bonsai collections MUST be started and maintained outdoors. Very few tree varieties tolerate the indoors so moving a bonsai specimen inside for the winter will usually kill it.


2)Attend bonsai workshops or lectures to determine just what kind of care, maintenance and time commitment growing bonsai will need. And ask lots of questions.

3)It might take many years to achieve the desired result. Impatient people shouldn’t try Bonsai. Those who have a keen eye for the beauty and the aesthetics of plants and shrubs are also more likely to enjoy bonsai.

4)Choose a tree or shrub variety that is hardy, easy to work with and is tolerant of beginners mistakes. The dwarf garden juniper is a popular choice for the bonsai first-timer.

Growing bonsai might sound challenging, or even daunting. Some people do eventually give it up after they’ve killed one too many trees. But for those who persist the rewards are many. Most enthusiasts generally pass along these simple words of encouragement -- “your first bonsai will never be your last.”