Slow move­ment finds peace in Bon­sai

Take the edge off to­day’s rush and clut­ter by tuning into a slower pace and tran­quil­lity

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

THE SLOW move­ment is a call for quiet calm in a world that is mov­ing faster and faster. Iden­ti­fied by Pierre du Plessis in this month’s South African “flux trends” (www.flux­ as an is­sue which is now trend­ing across the world, slow has its roots in the slow food move­ment (www.slow­ which was es­tab­lished in the late 1980s by Carlo Petrini.

The slow food move­ment op­poses the stan­dard­i­s­a­tion of food by gi­ant multi­na­tion­als and is com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing lo­cal, tra­di­tional and sus­tain­able qual­ity foods. Mem­bers also de­fend the bio­di­ver­sity of wild va­ri­eties as well as lo­cal cul­ti­va­tion and pro­cess­ing meth­ods.

The rip­ple ef­fect of peo­ple try­ing to get away from the fre­netic pace of life has con­tin­ued. “This sparked other slow trends,” says Du Plessis. “Two in­ter­est­ing ones are Slow Sex and Slow Kids, or rais­ing un­hur­ried chil­dren in re­ac­tion to the pres­sure to live ever more hur­ried life­styles.”

The ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fits of slow gar­den­ing have never been dis­puted. “With our fre­netic life­styles, it is not at all sur­pris­ing that many peo­ple are look­ing for qui­eter and more gen­tle pur­suits to bring some bal­ance into their lives,” says Peter Bruyns of the Cape Bon­sai Kai.

“If peo­ple are look­ing for pur­suits that they can en­gage in at any time, at home, with min­i­mal ef­fort and with­out sig­nif­i­cant cap­i­tal out­lay, it is not sur­pris­ing that more peo­ple are de­vel­op­ing an in­ter­est in grow­ing and keep­ing bon­sai.”

The grow­ing in­ter­est in bon­sai comes at a time when Cape Town’s two bon­sai clubs have been cel­e­brat­ing their 25th and 40th an­niver­saries re­spec­tively. It is also in­ter­est­ing to see that the city coun­cil, in con­junc­tion with the bon­sai com­mu­nity, staged a suc­cess­ful nine-day Bon­sai-ar­bor Day event in the Com­pany’s Gar­dens in Septem­ber. Why bon­sai? What is the at­trac­tion of bon­sai? And why is it ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this sud­den pop­u­lar­ity?

Bon­sai is the ul­ti­mate in slow gar­den­ing. It is quiet, tran­quil, spir­i­tual, artis­tic and mean­ing­ful. It re­quires low cap­i­tal in­put and hours of quiet time. It has his­tory, can of­fer an out­let for creative en­deav­our and is a hobby that can be pur­sued in your own home.

“The art of bon­sai de­vel­oped in China, and later Ja­pan, many cen­turies ago,” says bon­sai ex­pert Peter Bruyns. “Keep­ing bon­sai was prac­tised first by roy­alty and later by the com­mon peo­ple, all of whom sought to cre­ate havens of peace and tran­quil­lity in their crowded cities. Even in those days, bon­sai en­deav­oured to cap­ture the essence of a scene in na­ture, whether it is a leaf-bare cherry tree or a gnarled and twisted pine tree. To­day bon­sai grow­ers ex­pe­ri­ence a sim­i­lar sense of peace and tran­quil­lity in grow­ing and view­ing their trees.”

Ini­tially this comes from the creative process.

“Most grow­ers start with a ‘bush in a black bag’ ob­tained from the lo­cal gar­den nurs­ery,” says Bruyns.

How the three key fea­tures of the bon­sai – the root struc­ture, trunk and branch struc­ture with its fo­liage – are grown and trimmed will de­ter­mine the im­pres­sion the bon­sai cre­ates. “The late John Naka, a great Ja­panese-amer­i­can bon­sai mas­ter who vis­ited Cape Town many years ago, said the ob­ject was not to make the tree look like a bon­sai, but to make the bon­sai look like a tree,” says Bruyn.

Bon­sai grow­ers spend many ther­a­peu­tic hours trim­ming and shap­ing their tree to cre­ate a par­tic­u­lar vi­sion, much as a gar­dener will trim and shape a hedge or topi­ary. A tall, thin trunk with branches reach­ing up­ward gives the im­pres­sion of a young vig­or­ous tree, while a short, squat tree with droop­ing branches gives the im­pres­sion of age and power – like an­cient oaks in the Com­pany’s Gar­dens or at Groot Con­stan­tia.

But you can­not sim­ply copy, in minia­ture, the tree in na­ture. “The over­all de­sign and de­tail need to be sim­pli­fied,” says Bruyn. “Just as a great painter uses broad brush strokes of colour to rep­re­sent sec­tions of a land­scape, so the bon­saist sim­pli­fies the de­sign of the tree to its es­sen­tial el­e­ments, leav­ing the viewer’s imag­i­na­tion to fill in the de­tails.”

The use of asym­me­try can cre­ate a feel­ing of move­ment or dy­namism in the tree. For ex­am­ple, hav­ing a tree in a pot that leans to one side and has all its branches mov­ing in the same di­rec­tion will im­me­di­ately re­mind one of the windswept trees at Zand­vlei.

“There is noth­ing more peace­ful and re­lax­ing than to come home at the end of the day and spend an hour sit­ting on my pa­tio work­ing on my trees,” says Bruyn. “As I trim and shape them I have the sounds of birds com­ing to roost in the trees in my gar­den, and then as it gets later and the birds go quiet, the frogs in the small pond pick up the cho­rus. And all is quiet and peace­ful, my in­ner soul is at rest, and then I pinch my­self and re­alise that I live 300m away from one of the busiest com­muter in­ter­changes in the city. Bon­sai does that for me.”

If you would like to try your hand at this de-stress­ing hobby, visit the Cape Bon­sai Kai ex­hi­bi­tion of trees at Kirsten­bosch to­day and to­mor­row from 9am to 5pm. Con­tact Tony Bent at 083 230 5348 ( or Dorothy Franz at 021 797 8972 ( Or go to www.cape­bon­


LO­CAL: Cape fyn­bos species are used in bon­sai such as this white con­fetti bush

( Coleonema al­bum)

de­vel­oped by Gail Theron.

FAVOURITE: Conifer species such as this Ju­niper procum­bens ‘Nana’ have been used for decades as bon­sai. This bon­sai was cre­ated by Dorothy Franz.

IN­SPIRED: This Chi­nese celtis or hack­berry ( Celtis sinen­sis) bon­sai was cre­ated by Gail Theron.

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