Within minutes of meeting Bonsai tree expert John Hanby, he corrects two common Bonsai myths: first, the term Bonsai does not refer to a specific type of tree but is, in fact, a generic term that means “tree in a pot”. Second, the art of Bonsai originated in China, rather than Japan, and was introduced to the Japanese through Buddhist monks.
I’m looking for a hobby that lends a little serenity to my hectic life. Bonsai husbandry takes years to master, and the calm, considered approach needed to nurture and shape these little trees is appealing. I’m here for a two-day beginners’ course at Hanby’s nursery, to learn the art of Bonsai – how to pot and shape a tree from scratch.
Hanby takes me on a tour. I am amazed by the age of some of these neat, vital-looking trees with their glossy green leaves; one is 600 years old. Thankfully, novices work with much less ancient material, and my “blank canvas” is a bushy-looking juniper which, at the end of the course, I am able to buy for £10 and take home.
I learn about the different styles into which a Bonsai tree can be pruned and tamed – from the cascade (kengai) to the windswept (fukingashi) to the most popular, the informal upright (moyogi). Wire is used to manipulate branches or shoots into the desired shape. Branches can also be grafted on to enhance the symmetry. Careful pruning keeps the foliage under control and maintains the general health of the tree.
After potting and wiring my tree, I snip away carefully, delighted by the emerging shape. Bonsai is not for commitment-phobes: many trees will outlive their owners and they need constant TLC. But as a work of art that is always evolving, it is quite the antidote to our quick-fix times.
Weekend courses cost £17.50 per day, 01977 610040; www.johnhanbybonsai.co.uk
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