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The ancient and fine art of bonsai

Illustration: Catherine Skipper
Illustration: Catherine Skipper

Bonsai, in fact, is the pinnacle of horticulture. It is the ancient and fine art of growing miniature trees. Bonsai has been around for over a thousand years.

Invented by the Chinese (who needed a portable source of food when travelling and trading), the art was perfected by the Japanese (the Japanese word bonsai means “planted in a container”).

The basic rule of bonsai is to observe nature. You might see miniaturised trees growing in shallow soil, in-between bricks or stones, even around roots.

There are rules (but there are no rules!). Pruning is very important – prune roots, stems and branches. The main thing is to restrict the roots – to prune the plant to suit the pot.

Suitable candidates for bonsai include pines, figs and citrus. There are many options. You can read more about techniques and traditions here:

You need to be careful not to over- or under-water. Bonsai is very artistic, and the trees are sensitive, very vulnerable (because the roots are so small). As well as first-class soil you might need to use netting (for support) and pay close attention to shade and sunlight. You will definitely need quality gardening tools: very sharp secateurs and knives.

There are different styles: broom, formal and informal upright, slanting, cascade, windswept and double-trunk.

All the best with your bonsai experiments.

Au revoir!

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