The first part of the workshop was a lecture that covered the horticultural, aesthetic, and cultural elements of bonsai. The lecture was followed by hands-on work where each student created their own tropical ficus bonsai. If you are considering purchasing or creating your own bonsai, or have been given one as a gift, I encourage you to find a similar workshop in your area to attend. The class was very informative and fun.
The branches of the tree must be pruned to help maintain the size, shape, atheistic, and health of the tree. Pruning is the primary method for shaping the tree. It was almost scary the amount of cuttings removed from each tree during the class.
Cuts are covered with an artificial bark compound to help the tree’s wounds to heal. Trees do need special care when undergoing so much work in such a short time.
Wiring the Bonsai
Wiring is another technique for shaping the tree. Wire is wrapped around the trunk and branches to allow the artist to shape the tree as they wish. Wire is removed and reapplied as the tree grows in order to prevent damage. Different gauge wire is used for different sized branches.
As with the need to prune the branches, the roots also need to be cut. Larger roots are removed with clean cuts in order to promote the growth of smaller, finer roots. It is the smaller roots that absorb water and nutrients for the tree. Removal of the larger roots also allows the tree to fit in the shallow pots.
There was one tree whose roots contained a surprise- a small colony of large ants. They quickly met the underside of a boot.
Bonsai Pot & Soil
The choice of pot is mostly an atheistic choice, choosing one that is in balance with the tree. This is much like choosing a frame for a painting. Soil needs to provide a balance of good drainage and moisture retention. There are many different types of soils to choose from.
Bonsai pots allow for the roots to be wired down, thus keeping the tree secure. These trees can be kept outdoors in the summer, thus exposed to wind. Stability for indoor placement is also important, ask anyone with children and pets.
Chopsticks or similar tools are used to help shake the soil as it is placed around the tree. It is important that all the roots be surrounded by soil. Exposure to air will cause the roots to rot.
I do appreciate the museum’s Assistant Curator Aarin Packard for helping to arrange my visit as well as his fellow instructor and students for allowing me to take photos as they learned and worked. I would have loved to have taken the class myself, but I knew I would get carried away taking photos of the fascinating process of trees becoming bonsai so I could share the experience with you.
- National Bonsai & Penjing Museum
- National Bonsai Foundation
- National Bonsai & Penjing Museum iOS App
Penjing means literally “tray scenery” and is the ancient Chinese art of depicting artistically formed trees, other plants, and landscapes in miniature. Bonsai means literally “plantings in tray” and is the Japanese art form using miniature trees grown in containers. Penjing specimens differ from bonsai by allowing a wider range of tree shapes and by planting them in bright-colored and creatively shaped pots. Bonsai are more simplified in shape and planted in unobtrusive containers.