A short discourse on the cultivation of bonsai
Bonsai. A plant in a dish. But if only it were that simple. It’s an art form, a meditation. It is always a work in progress; always just a little change to maintain perfection, to maintain life.
I start with a suitable specimen. It has to be mounted, firmly, then it can be formed, sculpted, and teased towards its final shape. See, I have chosen a willow, young, lythe, pale, and supple. Unfortunately I had to pin the roots down, so they learn to follow the shape of the rock it is to grow over. This discomfort is necessary for the willow, but only until rock and root flow as one, as I demand.
And this is how you will learn, my little Willow, how I will form you into the most auspicious shape, a shape that flows sinuously from your feet, through your body, upwards and outwards along those slim, smooth arms.
To get the willow to curve sensuously I bind the trunk with heavy wire. This only stays in place until the form is set and my little tree no longer resists me. The boughs, too, are held in place with binding wire, until they, too, are happy to be where I place them. Look how your arms are poised, like a ballerina’s in the - I think - third position. So elegant. I think the wire will have to remain a little longer for you.
As my willow grows, so do the leaves. These must be kept in check. I don’t want large, gross leaves, so I always pay attention to pruning. Don’t worry little Willow, I will trim your nails often, oh, and your long, henna hair, too. That autumnal colour compliments your skin so well. You will always be preened and presentable.
No! Don’t speak! Look what you have done! Your head is sagging. Chin up, chin up! Wire. I need more wire. It’s no good. I need to make sure your head is held high, and your mouth, just so. Lips slightly apart. That’s it. There, I can give you water now, without too much dribbling.
Let me look at you. Both of you, my willow, and, my Willow. Almost a perfect pair. But what's the matter? I’ve made you beautiful. Your body is just so, head positioned thus, arms - well - perfect. Yet you cry and your face contorts in a grotesque fashion. No, obviously I haven’t finished yet. There is more to do.
Why are you so difficult? My willow bends and complies with my lightest caress, but you tense and become gnarled and sinewy before my fingertips even touch you. Surely you don’t hate me? Can you not see that it is only love I have for you? That is why you must be perfect. Like my willow.
I have a pine, and a maple, too. See, they are on the window sill, enjoying the sun. I have company for you as well, Willow. Here, I kept them behind the curtain as a surprise.
OK, they are dead now. But I learned a lot, so you mustn’t worry. Open your eyes, see how their lovely shape remains, even in death. Look at them. Look! Must I force your eyes in to the correct position, too? I have pins! If you can’t move your eyes, then I will do it for you!
There. That’s better. Now you are beautiful again.
A well trained and cultivated bonsai tree will, with the correct care, survive for many years. The young trees gradually take on the appearance of old, twisted examples seen growing naturally in the wild. The formal style, upright, stands proud; the literati has a more, shall we say, avant garde look. My personal favourite, the informal or moyogi style, gently curves in both trunk and branch - like you, my dear. Just to gaze and meditate on their form is reward for the time and attention I have paid to their training.There are many trees suitable for bonsai. Pine is popular, so are maple, plum and acer. But for now my greatest pleasure is … with Willow.