The art of bon­sai

An­cient prac­tice pro­duces per­fect minia­ture trees

Daily Dispatch - - Weekender - ZISANDA NKONKOBE zisan­dan@dis­patch.co.za

Peo­ple’s pas­sions and hob­bies may dif­fer, and for East Lon­don res­i­dent Vic­to­ria Har­ri­son – it’s all about grow­ing trees.

Not your typ­i­cal trees though. Har­ri­son, a part-time drama teacher, spends her days lost in the art of bon­sai.

An art form said to have its roots in Chi­nese and Ja­panese cul­ture dat­ing back hun­dreds of cen­turies, bon­sai grow­ing can be de­fined as grow­ing a minia­ture tree in­side a pot.

Har­ri­son – who got her first taste of bon­sai grow­ing on her fam­ily farm in Stut­ter­heim dur­ing her child­hood – said her love of the art was sparked by watch­ing her fa­ther care­fully grow, nour­ish and cul­ti­vate the dwarf veg­e­ta­tion into per­fect spec­i­mens.

To­day, she has close to 400 trees. Though fa­mous in Hol­ly­wood movies such as the Karate Kid fran­chise, Har­ri­son said the amount of work that went into grow­ing the per­fect bon­sai was sel­dom por­trayed.

To get started, one ei­ther needs to se­cure tree cut­tings, grow seeds, buy black bag stock from a nurs­ery or dig trees out of the wild, which is known as “ya­madori”.

While most trees can be turned into bon­sai, Har­ri­son said it was al­ways eas­ier to start with trees that grow well in your par­tic­u­lar cli­mate or re­gion.

For the East Lon­don re­gion, fig, wild olive and pa­per bark trees are great to start with.

Har­ri­son ex­plained that af­ter pot­ting a tree, one should try to shape it in a nat­u­ral way, which would mimic na­ture. The branches and leaves should al­ways be in pro­por­tion to the rest of the tree.

“Your tree must ba­si­cally look like a big tree in na­ture, turned small,” Har­ri­son said.

“A rookie mis­take is to find a tree and stick it in a bon­sai pot. A tree needs to grow and fat­ten so the train­ing pots should be big enough to al­low that. The line of your trunk needs to have shape and it’s very im­por­tant to have a good root struc­ture.

“While try­ing to keep the tree look­ing as nat­u­ral as pos­si­ble, some ma­nip­u­la­tion goes into it as well.

“We would wire the branches so they don’t grow straight. Straight tree branches don't hap­pen in na­ture any­way.”

While bon­sai grow­ers are free to prac­tise their own style, there are rules which should not be bro­ken.

For one, the tree should al­ways “wel­come” you, mean­ing it should lean to­wards you. This is how you choose the front of the tree.

“You never want any­thing ob­struct­ing your view of the trunk or pok­ing you in the eye,” she said, adding that bon­sai trees needed to be wa­tered daily, weeded of­ten and re-pot­ted at least every two years.

Pa­tience is key as some trees can take years be­fore they look right.

Known and loved by many for the tran­quil­lity and re­lax­ation it of­fered, Har­ri­son said it could be a rather ex­pen­sive hobby. “It just de­pends on how much you put in. “The gravel, how we do our pot­ting mix and the pots them­selves can be a bit costly,” she said, adding that pots could range any­where be­tween R300 to R4,000.

One also needs spe­cific bon­sai tools plus wire for the trees. Dec­o­ra­tive rocks come in handy for shows.

Har­ri­son, a mem­ber of the Bor­der Bon­sai Club, which has 30 mem­bers, said they held weekly meet­ings plus an­nual shows to share and show off their work.

“I’ve bought a few bon­sai, but they don’t give me the sat­is­fac­tion I get from grow­ing some­thing from noth­ing.

“It’s such a re­ward­ing hobby,” she said.

● The Bor­der Bon­sai Club an­nual show is from Novem­ber 10 to 11 at the Ama­linda Nurs­ery in East Lon­don. En­try is free.

There will be a re-pot­ting sta­tion for those wish­ing to be shown how to re-pot, and there will be about 30 trees on show.

Pic­tures: RAN­DELL ROSKRUGE

SMALL WON­DERS: (Below) Vic­to­ria Har­ri­son, a drama teacher at the He­len O’Grady Drama Academy, grows bon­sai trees as a hobby from her home.

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