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    The history of bonsai (pronounced bon-sigh) is cloaked in the mist of the past but it is now widely accepted that it was the Chinese who first created the miniature landscapes and trees that we now know as bonsai. In Japanese, bonsai can be literally translated as "tray planting", but since originating in Asia so many centuries ago - it has developed into a whole new form.
     Called penjing by the Chinese,bonsai was believed to have had its start in the Han Dynasty. In this essay I will discuss some of the legends and facts surrounding the beginning of bonsai.  
     The art of bonsai was spread by Buddhist monks who wished to bring the “outdoors” inside their temples. From ancient paintings and manuscripts, we know that “artistic” container trees were being cultivated by the Chinese around 600 AD, but many scholars feel that bonsai, or at least potted trees, were being grown in China as far back as 500 or 1,000 BC.
     Bonsai first appeared in Japan during the 12th century. One of the earliest Chinese legends contends that it was in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.) that an emperor created a landscape in his courtyard complete with hills, valleys, rivers, lakes and trees that represented his entire empire. He created the landscape so that he could gaze upon his entire empire from his palace window. This landscape form of art was also his alone to posess. It was said that anyone else found in possession of even a miniature landscape was seen as a threat to his empire and put to death.  
     Another Chinese legend relating to the beginnings of bonsai points to a fourth century A.D. Chinese poet and civil servant named Guen-ming. It's believed that after his retirement he began growing chrysanthemums in pots. Some historians believe this was a step towards the beginning of bonsai in the Tang dynasty some 200 years later.    It is no accident that artistic plant cultivation originated in China. The Chinese have always loved flowers and plants, and the country is naturally endowed with a rich diversity of flora. The Chinese also had a passion for gardens. In fact, many of these gardens were on a miniature scale and included many miniature trees and shrubs, planted to reinforce the scale and balance of their landscapes.
     The Chinese, however, were also infatuated in miniaturization as a science in its own right. They believed that miniature objects had concentrated within them certain mystical and magical powers.The development of Chinese and Korean ceramics played an important role in the development of bonsai as we know it today.  Without the development of beautiful Chinese containers, bonsai trees would not have been admired as much as they have been. Bonsai literally means “tree in a tray.” The tree and container must form a single entity. Even to this day the most desired containers for the finest Japanese bonsai are often antique Chinese containers.

    Bonsai has evolved and developed along different lines in China and Japan. Chinese bonsai is still very much in the ancient tradition, and often appear “crude” to the uninformed. On the other hand, the Japanese styles are more pleasing and naturalistic.
    The Japanese trees are for the most part more refined and better groomed. Both types have their own individualistic charms and admirers.  In the post World War II era most of the bonsai seen in the United States and Europe are Japanese in origin. The monopoly that Japan has enjoyed until recently is coming to be shared with a number of other countries, although the quality of Japanese trees continues to be of the highest quality. Finally, we owe a great debt to the Japanese and Chinese artists for developing this beautiful art and for keeping it alive for almost 2,500 years. Without their enthusiasm, artistic tradition, and patient stewardship, we would not be enjoying bonsai as we know it today. The aesthetic sensibilities of bonsai, which have their roots in the Zen Buddhist tradition, contribute significantly to the complete bonsai experience.

    The earliest documented proof of bonsai was discovered in 1972 in the tomb of Prince Zhang Huai, of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 A.D.) who died in 706 A.D. Two wall paintings discovered in the tomb show servants carrying plants resemblingbonsai. In one of the paintings a servant is seen carrying a miniature landscape and in the other painting a servant is shown carrying a pot containing a tree.

 

 Bonsai comes to Japan  
      Even though it's the Japanese who get most of the credit for bonsai, it wasn't until the Heian period (794 - 1191A.D.) that Buddhist monks brought bonsai to the island. For many years following the arrival of bonsai, the art was practiced by only the wealthy and thus came to be known as a nobleman privilege. The fact that the art of bonsai was limited to the noble class almost caused the art to die out in Japan. It was with the Chinese invasion of Japan in the fourteenth century that the art of bonsai started to be practiced by people of all classes. Once the art was practiced by all classes, bonsai began to grow in popularity in Japan. The Chinese influence on the early bonsai masters is apparent since the Japanese still use the same characters to represent bonsai as the Chinese.  After the establishment of bonsai in Japan, the Japanese went to great lengths to refine the art and a lot of credit must go to these early bonsai masters. The refinements that they developed has made bonsai what it is today.

 

Bonsai Comes in West  
      The earliest bonsai to come to the west came mostly from Japan and China. The showing of bonsai at the Third Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1878 and later exhibitions in 1889 and 1900 increased western interest in bonsai and opened the door for the first major bonsai exhibit held in London in 1909. In these early years many westerners felt that the trees looked tortured and many openly voiced their displeasure in the way the trees were being treated by bonsai masters. It wasn't until 1935 that opinions changed and bonsai was finally classified as an art in the west.With the end of World War II, bonsai started to gain in popularity in the west.  It was the soldiers returning from Japan with bonsai in tow that sparked western interest in the art, even though most of the trees brought home by these soldiers died a short time after their arrival. They survived long enough to create a desire in westerners to learn more about the proper care of their bonsai. The large Japanese-American population was invaluable to Americans in this respect. Their knowledge of the art of bonsai was of great interest ot many Americans learning the art.

 Today, bonsai are sold in department stores, garden centers, nurseries, and many other places. However, most of these are young cuttings or starts and not the true bonsai produced by bonsai masters. Most trees purchased today are known as pre-bonsai and are for the most part only used as a starting point. To create a true bonsai work of art you need to learn as much as possible about the art and the trees you use. Information is your key to success and it is important to read as much as possible. It is also a good idea to join a local bonsai club so you are able to discuss the subject with experienced bonsai enthusiasts. As your knowledge and confidence grow, creating your own bonsai works of art will become easier and your enjoyment of bonsai will grow.

 

Why bonsai  
The Bonsai bring harmony by creating a miniature "garden" inside your place Bonsai is a truly satisfying hobby and combines both horticulture and art, creating trees that are often referred to as 'living sculptures'. Above all it is important that the trees are kept healthy and in excellent condition, as with any pot plant. Pruning and shaping does, however, require a certain amount of artistic imagination to visualise the future development of the trunk and branches. Bonsai should embody all that is so wonderful about trees that grow naturally in such a variety of shapes and sizes.  Large specimen trees, ancient trees with hollow trunks, trees which have been shaped by severe weather conditions or even small forests can all be recreated in the confines of a pot. By growing trees in this way it is possible to have a mini-aboretum of delightful small trees in your own garden or even on a balcony, whatever the size.  The timescale to create impressive bonsai is dependent upon the origin, species and general health of the tree. Trees grown from seed or cuttings will invariably take longer to create the images required than much older material, possibly collected from the wild or obtained as nursery stock, although it can be most rewarding to.

 

How to grow

 Patience is a definite virtue and the process of creating bonsai trees should not be hurried unnecessarily. Good bonsai can be trained in a relatively short space of time, provided that suitable material isselected at the beginning. Some of my trees have not always started out as ideal material, but by persevering, surprising and satisfying results have been achieved.

 Many species of trees and woody shrubs are suitable for training as bonsai, but if planted in the garden they would grow into full-size trees - there is no such thing as a special 'bonsai species'. Pruning and shaping is required to create and maintain the desired shape and size. Some trees are often used to achieve the appearance of different species, e.g. a juniper can look very effective when trained in the image of a pine.  Trees that would naturally grow outdoors must not be cultivated indoors, where they will not flourish, but will soon die. Occasionally outdoor bonsai may be viewed in the house, provided that a cool area is selected and that the duration is no longer than a couple of days. Only tropical species of tree are suitable for growing indoors, figs, serrissas and pomegranates make particularly good subjects, although even these can benefit from spending the summer months outside.

 The practice of bonsai development incorporates a number of techniques either unique to bonsai or, if used in other forms of cultivation, applied in unusual ways that are particularly suitable to the bonsaidomain. These techniques include:

•  Leaf trimming, the selective removal of leaves (for most varieties of deciduous tree) or needles (for coniferous trees and some others) from a bonsai's trunk and branches.Pruning the trunk, branches, and roots of the candidate tree. •  Wiring branches and trunks allows the bonsai designer to create the desired general form and make detailed branch and leaf placements. •  Clamping using mechanical devices for shaping trunks and branches. •  Grafting new growing material (typically a bud, branch, or root) into a prepared area on the trunk or under the bark of the tree. •  Defoliation, which can provide short-term dwarfing of foliage for certain deciduous species. •  Deadwood bonsai techniques called jin and shari simulate age and maturity in a bonsai.

 

 

How to care  
Small trees grown in containers, like bonsai, require specialized care. Unlike houseplants and other subjects of container gardening, tree species in the wild, in general, grow roots up to several meters long and root structures encompassing several thousand liters of soil.  In contrast, a typical bonsai container is under 25 centimeters in its largest dimension and 2 to 10 liters in volume. Branch and leaf or needle) growth in trees is also large-scale in nature. Wild trees typically grow 5 meters or taller when mature, whereas the largest bonsai rarely exceed 1 meter and most specimens are significantly smaller. These size differences affect maturation, transpiration, nutrition, pest resistance, and many other aspects of tree biology. Maintaining the long-term health of a tree in a container requires some specialized care techniques:

•  Watering must be regular and must relate to the bonsai species' requirement for dry, moist, or wet soil.
•  Repotting must occur at intervals dictated by the vigour and age of each tree.
•  Tools have been developed for the specialized requirements of maintaining bonsai.
•  Soil composition and fertilization must be specialized to the needs of each bonsai tree, although bonsai soil is almost always a loose, fast-draining mix of components.
•  Location and overwintering are also species-dependent, and it is important to note that few of the traditional bonsai species can survive inside a typical house.

 

 

Display  
A bonsai display presents one or more bonsai specimens in a way that allows a viewer to see all the important features of the bonsai from the most advantageous position. That position emphasizes the bonsai's defined "front", which is designed into all bonsai. It places the bonsai at a height that allows the viewer to imagine the bonsai as a full-size tree seen from a distance, siting the bonsai neither so low that the viewer appears to be hovering in the sky above it nor so high that the viewer appears to be looking up at the tree from beneath the ground. Peter Adams recommends that bonsai be shown as if "in an art gallery: at the right height; in isolation; against a plain background, devoid of all redundancies such as labels and vulgar little accessories."  For outdoor displays, there are few aesthetic rules. Many outdoor displays are semi-permanent, with the bonsai trees in place for weeks or months at a time. To avoid damaging the trees, therefore, an outdoor display must not impede the amount of sunlight needed for the trees on display, must support watering, and may also have to block excessive wind or precipitation. As a result of these practical constraints,outdoor displays are often rustic in style, with simple wood or stone components. A common design is the bench, sometimes with sections at different heights to suit different sizes of bonsai, along which bonsai are placed in a line. Where space allows, outdoor bonsai specimens are spaced far enough apart that the viewer can concentrate on one at a time. When the trees are too close to each other, aesthetic discord between adjacent trees of different sizes or styles can confuse the viewer, a problem addressed by exhibition displays.

 Exhibition displays allow a large number of bonsai to be displayed in a temporary exhibition format, typically indoors, as would be seen in a bonsai design competition. To allow many trees to be located close together, exhibition displays often use a sequence of small alcoves, each containing one pot and its bonsai contents. The walls or dividers between the alcoves make it easier to view only one bonsai at a time. The back of the alcove is a neutral color and pattern to avoid distracting the viewer's eye.  The bonsai pot is almost always placed on a formal stand, of a size and design selected to complement the bonsai and its pot. Indoors, a formal bonsai display is arranged to represent a landscape, and traditionally consists of the featured bonsai tree in an appropriate pot atop a wooden stand, along with a shitakusa (companion plant) representing the foreground, and a hanging scroll representing the background. These three elements are chosen to complement each other and evoke a particular season, and are composed asymmetrically to mimic nature.When displayed inside a traditional Japanese home, a formal bonsai display will often be placed within the home's tokonoma or formal display alcove.  An indoor display is usually very temporary, lasting a day or two, as most bonsai are intolerant of indoor conditions and lose vigor rapidly within the house.

 

Bonsai Styles 
The Japanese tradition describes bonsai tree designs using a set of commonly-understood, named styles. The most common styles include formal upright, informal upright, slanting, semi-cascade, cascade, raft,literati, and group/forest. Less common forms include windswept, weeping, split-trunk, and driftwood styles.These terms are not mutually exclusive, and a single bonsai specimen can exhibit more than one style characteristic.  When a bonsai specimen falls into multiple style categories, the common practice is to describe it by the dominant or most striking characteristic. A frequently used set of styles describe the orientation of the bonsai tree's main trunk.  Different terms are used for a tree with its apex directly over the center of the trunk's entry into the soil, slightly to the side of that center, deeply inclined to one side, and inclined below the point at which the trunk of the bonsai enters the soil.  Formal upright or chokkan style trees are characterized by a straight, upright, tapering trunk. Branches progress regularly from the thickest and broadest at the bottom to the finest and shortest at the top.

Informal upright or moyogi trees incorporate visible curves in trunk and branches, but the apex of the informal upright is located directly above the trunk's entry into the soil line. Slant-style or shakan bonsai possess straight trunks like those of bonsai grown in the formal upright style. However, the slant style trunk emerges from the soil at an angle, and the apex of the bonsai will be located to the left or right of the root base.

Cascade-style or kengai specimens are modeled after trees that grow over water or down the sides of mountains. The apex (tip of the tree) in the semi-cascade-style or han kengai bonsai extend just at or beneath the lip of the bonsai pot; the apex of a (full) cascade style falls below the base of the pot. A number of styles describe the trunk shape and bark finish. For example, the deadwood bonsai styles identify trees with prominent dead branches or trunk scarring.Shari or sharimiki style involves portraying a tree in its struggle to live while a significant part of its trunk is bare of bark. Although most bonsai trees are planted directly into the soil, there are styles describing trees planted on rock.    Root-over-rock or sekijoju is a style in which the roots of the tree are wrapped around a rock, entering the soil at the base of the rock. Growing-in-a-rock or ishizuke style means the roots of the tree are growing in soil contained within the cracks and holes of the rock.

While the majority of bonsai specimens feature a single tree, there are well-established style categories for specimens with multiple trunks. Forest (or group) or yose ue style comprises a planting of several or many trees of one species, typically an odd number, in a bonsai pot. Multi-trunk or ikadabuki style has all the trunks growing out of one spot with one root system, and is actually a single tree. Raft-style or netsuranari bonsai mimic a natural phenomenon that occurs when a tree topples onto its side, for example, from erosion or another natural force. Branches along the top side of the trunk continue to grow as a group of new trunks.

Other styles
A few styles do not fit into the preceding categories. These include:

Literati or bunjin-gi style is characterized by a generally bare trunk line, with branches reduced to a minimum, and foliage placed toward the top of a long, often contorted trunk. Broom or hokidachi style is employed for trees with fine branching, like elms. The trunk is straight and branches out in all directions about 1/3 of the way up the entire height of the tree. The branches and leaves form a ball-shaped crown.Windswept or fukinagashi style describes a tree that appears to be affected by strong winds blowing continuously from one direction, as might shape a tree atop a mountain ridge or on an exposed shoreline.



Interesting facts

•  The practice of bonsai is sometimes confused with dwarfing, but dwarfing generally refers to research, discovery, or creation of plant cultivars that are permanent, genetic miniatures of existing species. •  Bonsai does not require genetically dwarfed trees, but rather depends on growing small trees from regular stock and seeds. Bonsai uses cultivation techniques like pruning, root reduction, potting, defoliation, and grafting to produce small trees that mimic the shape and style of mature, full-size trees. •  Bonsai trees require regular watering, feeding and repotting to keep them in optimum health and in many cases they are actually healthier that their counterparts in the wild, enjoying the same longevity.

 

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Sources:
http://flare360.com/caring-for-bonsai/
http://www.walldesk.net/wallpaper/wallpapers-bonsai-17.asp?f=9419
http://aibob.blogspot.com/2011/11/bonsai-tree.html
http://www.bonsaiboy.com/catalog/historyofbonsai.html
http://www.phoenixbonsai.com/Terms/Hachinoki.html
http://www.phoenixbonsai.com/Paintings/Japanto1600.html
http://www.phoenixbonsai.com/Paintings/Japan1600to1800.html
http://www.phoenixbonsai.com/Books/18001849.html
http://www.bonsaimalta.org/resources/lectures/03_ch.pdf
http://www.bonsaimalta.org/resources/lectures/07_ch.pdf
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