Bonsai is an ancient art and craft of creating a landscape in miniature in a shallow pot or container. The tradition of bonsai includes careful placement of stones, mosses, lichens, soil mixture and other materials using highly refined methods of care to reduce a trees growth to appear as a full sized tree in proportion to the rest of the the features in the bonsai container. The word bon-sai means planted tray (shallow container).
It is a great way to enjoy gardening using artistic garden design skills. Through attention to detail using so many different materials, such as beach shells, hollowed logs, naturally occurring stones, and a huge variety of pottery designed especially for bonsai plants, a miniature garden is developed.
The tradition of miniature landscapes goes back thousands of years. Their care was a part of eastern meditation practice in temples and they were considered valuable gifts by royalty in Asia. The Japanese developed the concept of miniaturising trees with various methods as a Buddhist practice including Zen gardening. A bonsai had special importance as people were able to take their garden with them or present them as a gift or family heirloom.
Creating a bonsai can be as easy or complicated as you like. Basically you need a shallow container, free draining quality soil mixture and a suitable long-lived tree with small leaves to allow proportion to the container.
The selection of the tree should take into consideration the climate it will grow. A tree that grows easily in the natural environment where you are will generally do best, unless you plan to have the bonsai in a controlled environment. If the tree is an outdoor plant it will not do well indoors for very long. Tropical trees such as ficus that are used as indoor plants are a better choice if you plan to have your bonsai indoors.
Maintaining a bonsai requires detailed care to remove excess leaves, branches and roots to maintain proportion. Wiring and clamping can also be used to shape the tree into the desired form to suit the landscape concept.
Watering application is different to most houseplants due to the smaller soil volume requiring more frequent application. Simple watering devices can be used to ensure constant watering supply.
They also need supplementary nutrient application to maintain health but not too much to stimulate excess growth. Very light or diluted applications are required frequently. A minimal amount of slow release fertiliser and weak liquid fertiliser in the water supply is a good solution.
So if you have an artistic flare for gardening, bonsai is a wonderful challenge of patience and discipline with long-lasting benefit. Established plants are readily available and, while needing a little more care to maintain, they provide a fascinating focal point to feature on your balcony, patio or terrace.