Bonsai: Investments for life

Last Updated 02 November 2017, 15:59 IST

The most refined and artistic form of growing trees as miniatures is the art of bonsai. It has been around for centuries and the oldest bonsai are known to be more than 1,000 years old. Obviously the older it gets, the more precious it becomes. A symbol of sustained balance, simplicity and harmony, bonsai signifies a deeper philosophy.

The most expensive ones are known to be priced upwards of two crore rupees. It is a sculptural art that grows every year  and brings the grace and beauty to any place where it sits. Its signature of perfection is its similarity of form, shape and appearance to the tree growing in wild.

While perfection may be an aspiration, beginning the journey can happen right here. If you like tree forms, then bonsai may be a good choice where lack of space does not permit gardens. The basic thing is to know before getting bonsai is the kind of available light. Some trees will need a whole day of direct sunlight, while others will stay happy near bright windows. Tropical trees offer a wide range of possibilities both under light requirements and forms. Several woody vines can also be considered as viable possibilities. Choose the ones that match the available light. Bear in mind that successful flower or fruit-bearing requires several hours of sunlight.

Bold & beautiful

When you are growing something that is best appreciated up close, it's useful to look for features that can hold the  interest of the viewer. For example, choose the  variety that has interesting bark patterns, bears flowers or fruits, or prop roots. Explore the various forms of bonsai that may appeal to you. The premise is to create as much similarity as possible to the  natural growth of the tree. It's like distilling the grace of nature in mini form.

Notice trees growing in uncultured setups, in jungles, on mountains, on river banks, on cliffs or slopes. All these are inspirations to choose the  form that attracts you the most. These can inspire you to add elements like rock, old wood, gravel, etc, to the arrangement to evoke the natural landscape. A whole scenery representing mountains and gorges, forests or groves can be created in a bonsai dish.

Keeping the overall picture in mind helps you decide the right look for the pot. The variety of pots is so huge that it ranges from a regular square pot to an organic slab of stone. Depth is an important factor technically. The range can be half to 2.5 times of the thickness of the trunk of the specimen at its base. The expanse of the pot depends on the scheme of arrangement and the size of the specimen so that a visual proportion is maintained. Of course, the pot needs to have a  drainage hole, which also serves as anchorage. Also, its desirable to have feet under the pot for air circulation.

The potting mix for bonsai is not the regular soil, rather a stability providing mix. A suitable mix of soil-less media avoids unnecessary weight increase and provides coarser components that keep circulation spaces open. Regular fertiliser application plays an essential role in ensuring a balanced healthy growth as well as blooms and fruits.

The right one

Choose the right specimen carefully.
Either salvage naturally stunted trees from natural locations, or grow your own from seed or cuttings. It takes weeks to months for a new plant to establish itself. The growing medium is not a whole lot to provide the necessary anchorage to the plant, therefore tying with copper wire in a systematic manner through the holes at pot base is necessary. Copper wires should be sturdy enough to provide the support yet pliable to direct the growth. Daily attention to moisture situation and pests is advised.

Watering is a matter of judgement here rather than a clockwork. During every watering, it is advised to apply a weak solution of fertiliser, because that is all the plant gets to stay alive and thrive. Many new bonsai growers hit the  wall during the newly potted or the repotted phase. This is a recovery phase from all the shock plant has borne. The root system is weak and not evenly functional. No excess moisture and evenly maintained humidity are advised. Overly wet soil leads to a wilted look as roots can't take up oxygen. Also, refrain from fertiliser application until established. The weak tree is likely to get negatively affected rather than saved by fertilising. Fine tune depending on the specific plant and its growth phase.

Options galore

Indoor hardy plant choices include ficus and schefflera, especially for compromised light situations. Pomegranate, peepal, banyan, euphorbia milii, murraya paniculate, bottle brush, citrus, cassia, jade plant, many junipers, boxwood, bougainvillaea, coffee, honeysuckle, crape myrtle, lantana, ixora are only some of the many possibilities.

Start either with seed or cutting. Let it establish its root system. Gradually keep pruning to create the desired shape and fullness. Every one or two or even three years, roots can be trimmed back. Fine new roots should be retained, and some main roots must also be preserved while removing the dead roots.

Growing bonsai is a lifelong practice towards excellence and a relationship with nature. There are a few inspiring bonsai gardens in the country including the Kishkindha Moolika Bonsai Garden in Mysuru, where more than 100 bonsai plants are nurtured, and the National Bonsai Park in Lodhi Gardens, Delhi, displaying amazing specimens. The one in Mysuru is unique because of the overall Japanese theme working in harmony with the art itself. Several dedicated artistes have been creating awe-inspiring bonsai. National and international bonsai associations regularly hold exhibitions and provide guidance. If you are lucky, travel and take classes in Japan by the masters of the tradition.

(Published 02 November 2017, 15:54 IST)

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