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Discover the art of Bonsai

What is the art of Bonsai?

I’m sure many of you have seen these little trees in nurseries or kiosks in the mall, or garden shows, and have wondered how these little trees are created and remain so small and how they remain alive in such small pots.

The cultivation, styling and enjoyment of small trees in small pots is known as Bonsai, literally meaning a tree (bon) in a tray (sai). This art form is said to have originated in China centuries ago, and was later introduced in Japan. Korea, Vietnam, and other countries in the far-east have also developed their own forms of Bonsai.



Bonsai eventually was introduced in the United States, primarily by Japanese Bonsai artists and masters, through Bonsai clubs and societies. In time, the American approach to the art began to develop ” with strong adherence to the Japanese styles ” but Americans started to develop their own approach to Bonsai. Books were translated from Japanese to English and the art form became entrenched in the United States.

What are these little trees?




Bonsai trees come in many varieties, both evergreen and deciduous. Almost any tree can become a bonsai, with some limitations. There are different sizes of Bonsai from miniature to large, and each has its own challenges and beauty for the artist.

I’m sure many of you have wondered if it hurts the trees to keep them in such small pots. This is just our compassionate nature coming through, and let me assure you that these little trees, called Bonsai, are styled and taken care of with love and given very special care by their artists and owners. Though sometimes bent with wire, or styled and pruned to limit their growth, they appear at times to be bent and stressed, but rest assured they are not being harmed, only being styled to create a reproduction of what we see in nature.

Discovering Bonsai

My introduction to Bonsai was in 1980, when a friend of mine invited me to a local Bonsai club meeting. The featured Bonsai artist would be presenting a demonstration of the art of Bonsai by working on a living tree. I was thoroughly impressed by the skill and grace of the artist as he transformed a shaggy garden juniper into a graceful beautiful work of live art. I joined the club that night, and to this day, I remain fascinated by the art of Bonsai, and have made it my life-long hobby.

Getting started in Bonsai

I have joined Bonsai clubs as a means to learn from the experience and expertise of club members. This experience has proven to be invaluable, and I continue to be amazed at the knowledge and skills of club members and the willingness to share their knowledge. Taking an introductory Bonsai class is a good way to start, and attending Bonsai conferences sponsored by Bonsai clubs is also a great way to learn about the art of Bonsai.

Understanding the art of Bonsai

As an art form, like any art form, Bonsai requires some basic instruction and techniques to grow as a Bonsai artist. Many of the basic styles and techniques were developed in Japan by Bonsai masters, and remain accurate to this day. There is much to learn about the types of trees that are adaptable to Bonsai, the pruning of the tree to develop a style, the health of the tree and the soils necessary to maintain the health of the tree, the size and style of the container or pot for the tree, and the care and feeding of the tree to maintain its health and beauty. The challenge of Bonsai is trying to create in miniature the beauty of the living trees we see in nature.

I continue to derive satisfaction from the knowledge that my trees are my creations, and they are beautiful to me because I styled them into a piece of art…my art. Your creations will become your art, as you create your own Bonsai from beginning to your finished specimen.

Leo Martinez lives in Grass Valley. He can be reached by e-mail at

bonsaibyleo@cebridge.net or at 273-2628. He is interested in forming a Bonsai club in Nevada County.


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