Slow movement finds peace in Bonsai
Take the edge off today’s rush and clutter by tuning into a slower pace and tranquillity
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.fluxtrends.co.za) as an issue which is now trending across the world, slow has its roots in the slow food movement (www.slowfood.co.za) 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Dorothy Franz at 021 797 8972 (email@example.com). Or go to www.capebonsaikai.co.za
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.