30 Seconds of Design header 2024


Looking outside at the blossoming spring landscape, you’d think that growing a tree, a shrub, or a flower was easy work. But as many of us have experienced, having a green thumb is quite a rare trait to possess. Even if you successfully manage to take a seed, plant it in soil, and sprout a half-way decent sprig, many only consider it a real triumph if you can properly maintain and landscape it throughout its (ideally) long life. The absolute peak achievement for a burgeoning arborist like yourself is to master the art of bonsai.

Traced back to 12th century Chinese gardeners, bonsai was a practice mastered by the Japanese during the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century. This period, known for its cultural transformation similar to the Renaissance, quickly connected Japanese culture with the Western world. As bonsai specimens were brought to world’s fairs in Paris, Vienna, and Chicago which sparked a craze of Japonisme.

While many people today consider bonsai a type of tree, like we would refer to an oak, maple, or spruce, it’s actually a style of landscaping. Bonsai, which translates to “tray planting” in Japanese, is a careful training and pruning practice that allows a plant to be slowly shaped to look like an older, mature tree in a very small size. Various tree species, such as citrus, fig, pine, and juniper are all popular choices when deciding to bonsai. 

There is a precise balance of adding air, water, soil, and “stress” to the plant in order to produce the most complex, beautiful bonsai version of your plant. The “stress” referenced here means know how much and how little to prune, push, or pull the branches to achieve the desired form. Growers need to experiment and fail many times before perfecting their bonsai technique and as every tree is different, every bonsai experience will be so as well. 

Ironically, many bonsai artists find serenity in this practice as if it were a traditional art like painting or coloring. Hitomi Kawasaki, Kyoto-based bonsai curator and scholar says, “When I look at a tree, my troubles are gone. Humans worry. The tree keeps growing.”

RESOURCE 1 – The Art of Bonsai
RESOURCE 2 – Bonsai for Your Home
RESOURCE 3 – Intro to Bonsai

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