Bonsai - why?

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Bonsai - why?

Post  David Brunner on Sun Mar 16, 2014 8:20 pm

Hello all! I very rarely initiate posts, but something has been on my mind which might be assuaged by posting this.   Why do we (you) cultivate bonsai?

We have had lots of discussions within IBC about the properness or appropriateness of particular styles, we have had discussions about how to create a bonsai into a “tree”.  But we have had few discussions about why we undertake this difficult and time-consuming endeavor – cultivating small tree-like plants.  This is a subject I would like to explore.

I think the “why” is very interesting, and in my case at least perplexing!  

I live beneath the canopy of very large trees.  I thrill at looking up along their long trucks, their extended branches and their foliated extremities.  So why do I feel compelled to create their likeness in miniature?  I am surrounded by them.  Is that not enough?

When I spend time contemplating my little trees in pots, amateur as they are, I am taken to different places in my mind.  But – to be honest here – I am now mostly taken to a place of critique.  To judging my efforts against those which I have seen posted here and elsewhere.  Is it competition which keeps me growing small trees in pots?  I hope not!   For I should clearly concede!

Now – thinking back to what interested me in bonsai in the beginning (many decades ago, however my current skill would not show the years of effort) – it was not winning awards nor achieving horticultural acclaim, it was being able to hold an image of nature in my hand.  This image might be pastoral, ruderal, sylvic, coastal, etc, but it was compelling none the less.  Nostalgia for nature – that is what compelled me to create bonsai!  I delight in my little trees, however insignificant they may be in a competitive environment.  

Hooray to little trees and the places they might take us!

Why did you start growing bonsai?  I am sincerely interested?

Yours,
David B.

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  John Quinn on Sun Mar 16, 2014 9:12 pm

My reaction to my first exposure to bonsai many years ago could be best described as one of enchantment. I marveled that such trees could appear so old (and many times actually were) yet be so small and be able to live in such a small container. Many years later, and having had the opportunity to see many world class trees in person, my response to trees that move me is the same. To be sure, none of my trees is near 'world class' but many are important to me. They allow me to marvel at nature up close, see early signs of the subtle changes each season brings, and challenge myself a bit to keep them healthy and looking good. I especially enjoy deciduous and flowering species as they have so much to offer as the seasons change.

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  Vance Wood on Mon Mar 17, 2014 2:20 am

This question has been asked many times in many places, some active and others now gone, and the end results seem to always be the same.  It is unknown.  It isn't that people are interested in this peculiar little art it is the fact that they become obssessed with it.  People that would not think twice about a carrot or a cabbage will go nuts over bonsai.  I think in some way, regardless of the sensibilities of people today, there it a mutual attraction to the natural and primal beauty of bonsai and the agelessness that seems to come with it.  There is a quasi-imortal feature about bonsai, that seems to say if you can control this maybe you can control yourself.

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  David Brunner on Mon Mar 17, 2014 3:08 am

Thank you John and Vance for your responses and your candor!  

John you say “They allow me to marvel at nature up close…”  Yes, I concur!  To be able to hold a whole world in ones hands is provocative indeed!   This is indeed what drew me to the cultivation of bonsai.  It may not however be the thing that drives me to continue, year after year (and might I say, failure after failure…) I hope that it is so noble a motive which compels me, but that may not be the case.  I need to think on this.

Vance you say “There is a quasi-immortal feature about bonsai, that seems to say if you can control this maybe you can control yourself.”  My Vance that is quite a statement – and profound indeed!  I will have to contemplate your statement for a while, but it gets to the nature of why we might cultivate bonsai – ourselves and our own relationship with nature.  It is the last part of your observation which I find of particular interest “if you can control this maybe you can control yourself”.   What I find very interesting is that in the years I have cultivated bonsai I have realized that I actually control very little – they grow; I wire, fertilize, repot and snip.  But in the end where and how they grow is up to them and the environment – I have “controlled” little, only provided a bit of guidance here and there…  

Do we (I) create and cultivate bonsai to commune with nature, to control nature and in so doing control ourselves (myself), or do we do so to exert ourselves on the natural world if even meekly?  

I am truly grateful for your posts, they have given me much to contemplate.  

Vance, you say that this is a question which has been asked in many places at many times – I’m sorry if my posing such question here is redundant.  I am often late to the table, and this may be yet another occurrence of such lateness …

Yours gratefully,
David B.

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  Vance Wood on Mon Mar 17, 2014 3:56 am

It is always a good question to contemplate.  It's like where did life come from?  What is life?  These are the questions of mankind that each generation strives to answer and doesn't quite get the job done.  It kind of speaks to the unobtainable knowledge that eludes us  generation after generation regardless of the kind of hubris we demonstrate when we stand before other men and boast that we know what it is.  It makes us wonder what would happen if we did know  all the mysteries  of life and they become  forever removed from our contemplation, or concern?  A man without questions is a man without a direction.  That bonsai has any part in this, I suppose, is a stretch but then again how do you account for the fact that so many invest so much in the way of time and treasure into an endeavor that promises rewards that are more etherial than monetary; a truly odd quest for men of this generation  who value profit and things more than beauty and spiritual values.

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  Walter Pall on Mon Mar 17, 2014 4:56 am

Life is possible without bonsai - but it makes no sense.

Why? Ask my psychiatrist.

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Harmony

Post  Rick36 on Mon Mar 17, 2014 10:18 am

Pondering the imponderable!! To me it is merely another attempt to harmonise with all things natural and spiritual - but without the need for organised religion. Shinto expresses it, but also organises and makes another cult. (I don't mean to offend anyone - each to his own).
Harmony is all around us - the trick is to harness it.
Maybe we can, as a result, avoid Walter's shaman!

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  arihato on Mon Mar 17, 2014 11:29 am

For me it is beauty that compels me. Seeing a spider web at sunrise with the dew drops sparkling like diamonds, fills me with the same sense of unattainable fragile beauty.

I had no interest in gardening or plants until I saw my first Bonsai. As a goldsmith I make things that are 'finished' at some point, Bonsai is never finished. They keep changing, I have to adapt and respond to those. It is an ever ongoing process of creative stimulants.

I am not interested in competing, the trees I make are unique, why, because I made them. Give somebody else the same tree and it will look radically different. This is the only field where for every question there are a hundred answers, all valid and right

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  LittleJoe on Mon Mar 17, 2014 1:01 pm

David,

I think you sell yourself short. You (we) control the most basic of things when it comes to our tree's. You control weather they live or die. We have decided to put them in pots thus, we control if they live, die, flourish or struggle. They are completely at our mercy and that has a large amount of responsibility tied to it.

Interesting post,
Joe

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Mon Mar 17, 2014 1:49 pm

I like trees.
Khaimraj

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  Vance Wood on Mon Mar 17, 2014 2:19 pm

Khaimraj Seepersad wrote:I like trees.
Khaimraj

We are still back to the original question: Why?

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Mon Mar 17, 2014 2:53 pm

Hello Vance,

as the older members of the group already know, I grew up in the Forest [ Forest Reserve ] in the gated communities of the Oil fields. Trees were there to climb, swing from the vines that hung from their branches, eat fruit, just sit and look at. The casuarinas, the Caribbean pines, the cypress [ male form ] with it's black stingless bees, the queen of flowers so beautiful with or without leaves/flowers,the tropical almonds, the silk cotton, even the small aralia hedge [ for making bows and arrows].

The memories.

Wanted to keep them around me forever.

Later, with the art training, I began to appreciate shapes even more.

Lock me in a city with no yard and I collect trees.

I will always like trees.
Later.
Khaimraj

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Mon Mar 17, 2014 2:54 pm

It is also neither difficult or time consuming.
Khaimraj

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  amanluthra688 on Mon Mar 17, 2014 4:30 pm

Hi
Before bonsai i used to look at the trees in nature.
I would say bonsai and its defination
Varyies from place to place and person to person. For some it is a bussiness and for others it is a hobby. For some it has an artistic values for others it is secret like the japnese for centuries.
I had a huge collection of potted plantsand i was not able to keep it.
One of my friend just keep potted plant and never does bonsai.he has around 300 potted plants.
Then came bonsai and with it its fundamentals.
With this i was able to reform my collection in an artistic way.and keep my tree collection in a small space.

Thanks
Aman

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Re; Bonsai-why?

Post  Michael Cooper on Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:03 pm

When I was a child father had a Sanders Gardening Encyclopaedia with only black and white illustrations and one very small one of those was of a Bonsai and I was absolutely fascinated.
Many many years later my wife gave me a Maple, long since deceased I am afraid.
Now I have a modest little collection and found them an escape from the pressures of the world when I was working full time, trying to juggle the bank manager, the landlord,VAT and my staff.Sadly though work did mean that I didn't give them (bonsai not my staff)the care and attention they deserved,perhaps I was doing it the Zen way just contemplating a tree for 25 years before actually touching it.
Now though I am trying to give them the TLC they have been missing
By the way it does seem that a lot of bonsai enthusiasts are also professional artists as well
Have just re potted everything, taken wiring seriously and am soaking up tips from the various masters of bonsai on the web. I have also long referred to Harry Tomlinson's book and was very sad to hear of his death recently it was the most opened book on my shelves,thank you Harry and condolences to his family.

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  ironhorse on Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:13 pm

Relaxing, challenging, stimulating, rewarding and frustrating, life in microcosm...(deep thoughts for a Monday) - actually I just like small trees too

Dave

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  daudelus on Mon Mar 17, 2014 10:32 pm

I believe that doing this art/craft/hobby for me allows me to focus my attention on something that is inherently challenging but ultimately offers reward... Challenging because it is unnaturally taming nature and also rewarding for the moments when you feel a sense of accomplishment... It is also something that allows an escape from everyday life... I'm not Walter Pall's psychiatrist but I am a psychotherapist and I understand the value of finding peace and calm in life... Even when that peace and tranquility involve a die grinder shooting tree fragments at my face.... My most enjoyable time in bonsai remain those times when I collect a tree and get it in its first pot and then contemplating the possibilities of the future...

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  Orion on Tue Mar 18, 2014 1:29 am

They are timeless and limitless potentiality.

They simply make sense to me.

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  Ebbtide on Tue Mar 18, 2014 8:09 am

Ahh, exactly the same question I asked myself. I didn't have any interest in bonsai until 3 years ago, after a friend decided to give me a mallsai. He later confessed he ran out of ideas on what he thought might be a cerebrally- stimulating gift. I'm no horticulturist or compulsive gardener but I was up to the challenge with a mallsai begging me to save it from certain death. The plant thrived for another two years until I learned bonsaiphilia is not mine alone but also true to a taxon of invisible bugs. The challenges did not end there. Before I knew, hours of online reading ultimately introduced me to this 'strange' hobby of creating Tolkienese trees. I immersed myself with photos after photos, bonsai books after bonsai books. I postulated that if I can recreate miniature trees the way they look in the photos, I'll be able extend my passion in art beyond painting, designing, etc.

Soon I had two, three, four and more bonsai plants in training. Soon, I started noticing trees in nature and saw how they harmonize with its immediate environment. I began to look closely at the roots, the bark, the leaves, the crown and its orientation to the sun, wind, ground. I saw my interest grow as I began to touch the trees, swaying the branches with my hand pretending how they would move when the wind blows on them or when the water drenches its leaves with heavy rain or snow. The idea of a non- fixed art was akin to art imitating nature in a somewhat Euclidean space, with a multidimensional ever changing perspective. I saw a bonsai at different angles though still imaginary based on what I have achieved so far with my plant. The vision was on my mind. Everyday now, with boasting rights to two dozen live trainee plants and two more dozen in my phyto obituaries, I smile with every little change and growth I notice on my little trees. And I haven't wired them that much yet.

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  Vance Wood on Tue Mar 18, 2014 2:14 pm

Ebbtide wrote:Ahh, exactly the same question I asked myself.  I didn't have any interest in bonsai until 3 years ago, after a friend decided to give me a mallsai. He later confessed he ran out of ideas on what he thought might be a cerebrally- stimulating gift. I'm no horticulturist or compulsive gardener but I was up to the challenge with a mallsai begging me to save it from certain death. The plant thrived for another two years until I learned bonsaiphilia is not mine alone but also true to a taxon of invisible bugs. The challenges did not end there. Before I knew, hours of online reading ultimately introduced me to this 'strange' hobby of creating Tolkienese trees. I immersed myself with photos after photos, bonsai books after bonsai books. I postulated that if I can recreate miniature trees the way they look in the photos, I'll be able extend my passion in art beyond painting, designing, etc.

Soon I had two, three, four and more bonsai plants in training. Soon, I started noticing trees in nature and saw how they harmonize with its immediate environment. I began to look closely at the roots, the bark, the leaves, the crown and its orientation to the sun, wind, ground. I saw my interest grow as I began to touch the trees, swaying the branches with my hand pretending how they would move when the wind blows on them or when the water drenches its leaves with heavy rain or snow. The idea of a non- fixed art was akin to art imitating nature in a somewhat Euclidean space, with a multidimensional ever changing perspective. I saw a bonsai at different angles though still imaginary based on what I have achieved so far with my plant. The vision was on my mind. Everyday now, with boasting rights to two dozen live trainee plants and two more dozen in my phyto obituaries, I smile with every little change and growth I notice on my little trees. And I haven't wired them that much yet.

You don't get that with tulips, peonies, cabbage or carrots, gold fish, or baby birds. Why trees?

Vance Wood
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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  Leo Schordje on Tue Mar 18, 2014 5:23 pm

(Intended to be light hearted)

Why? Silly question. No need to ask why, if you are here, and have one or more trees (even a stick in a pot) you have already answered this question for yourself.

Myself, raised in heart of Chicago, I was always happiest on weekend trips to natural areas. I am most comfortable when I am around trees. In my teens was always venturing off to see both near and far, awe inspiring natural wonders or wildernesses. My father was stationed in Japan during the Korean war, at a hospital in Nara, He sent home photos, as pictorial love letters to his fiance, my mother. As a kid I would frequently page through the photo albums my mother assembled from these images. He had made friends with some of the civilian nursing and hospital staff, and every chance he got to leave the base he and his camera and one of the civilians would tour all the wonders of the various parks, temples and museums of Kyoto and Nara area. He had some nice photos of Niwaki, but no bonsai that I remember. When one of his friends would visit the USA in later years, my father, who was only a high school educated house painter, he would be able to speak in Japanese with them for an hour or more without having to resort to english. When the visitor was female, my mother would eye them suspiciously  Rolling Eyes  who would have thought in one year he could go fluent in Japanese? I guess one nurse in particular was inspiration. Interestingly, if Dad ever saw her off base, she would never agree to meet him unless a brother or uncle could accompany him. She came from a proper Japanese family. One year, when I was maybe 7 years old, she gave me a photo book with pictures of bonsai, I still have it. When I was about 14 or 15 I actually began to try. One victim of my early efforts, a pomegranate, is still with me today, now I am 59. So that is how the 'bug' hit, but that is not the why, other than it is a way to capture the feel of seeing a natural wilderness in my home. Also it is a chance to 'play god' to create, design and nurture something living. So that is my why.

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  MichaelJ on Tue Mar 18, 2014 6:04 pm

Because they are beautiful, and because they bring me peace and can help me with the daily transition from business mindset to relaxing with my family mindset. Also got my blood pressure down by 20 points. Because I like creative activities, and I like to grow things. Because other people are amazed by them. Because it looks hard. Because I'm getting better at it. Because I've made friends through it.

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Why?

Post  lennard on Tue Mar 18, 2014 6:16 pm

To me it is about achievement(determined by myself) and gaining knowledge (5 years ago I knew very little about trees and bonsai).

From 7 years old to now, I have done it all when it comes to plants as a hobby. I have done vegetables, garden plants, pot plants, bulbs, ferns, bromeliad, tilandsia, water plants, orchids, fruit trees, cacti, other succulents, palms.........and my interest in fungi (I know they are not plants) is growing! With all the named hobbies it ended when I achieved and learned all there was to learn.

Achievement and gaining knowledge when it comes to the named hobbies, came quickly. Orchids as a hobby lasted the longest, about 8 years. I lost interest after one of my Laelia anceps hybrids (grown by myself in flasks) won a national award.

I do have examples left of all the above, but today they are just beautiful plants to me and not a hobby anymore.

Achievement and knowledge, when it comes to bonsai, will take much longer to obtain,...and with that all the positive soul rewarding benefits - especially calming down now that I am getting older!

I don't have a love for trees in general, I like trees that are different than the normal- that may be the flowers, the shape, the age, the massiveness etc. of a tree.

Lennard


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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  juniper07 on Tue Mar 18, 2014 6:36 pm

Why I do bonsai is very simple....

- It relaxes me when come home from a really stressful day at work.
- It relaxes me when I am done from a long string of errands on a Saturday.
- It relaxes me after a session of yelling, or getting yelled at... for whatever reason.
- And it truly relaxes me when I water my trees - everytime. Just watching the trees soak up the moisture is tranquilizing.

Bonsai is a great mental therapy for me. It is my escape from the madness around me (it is my Yin for the Yang around me). Ofcourse, I don't have a hundred trees in my backyard, but enough to enjoy taking care of them and not being a huge burden.

This explains why we enjoy bonsai, but does not explain why we are crazy about bonsai. I have an answer for that too, but that is not the question here.

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Re: Bonsai - why?

Post  Vance Wood on Tue Mar 18, 2014 7:21 pm

AHGH but it is precisely the question

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Re: Bonsai - why?

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