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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

Getting to grips with bonsai

contained by high walls
a small forest grows within
its breathe our heartbeat

A large part of my thesis is the relationship between the self-sustaining beech forest across the road and the bonsai forest within the walls of our garden, carefully tended by my husband.

How do these two forests speak to each other? Why have we created a garden of bonsai trees within our home when there is a forest across the road that we can visit whenever we want? Why do we remove a tree from a self-sustaining forest, and through the art of bonsai, position it such that it needs our constant attention and devotion to ensure its survival? What draws us to interact with a species so different from our own human species?

Maintaining and cultivating bonsai requires horticultural knowledge to ensure not only that the tree survives but that it grows to emulate the tenacity and beauty of an aged tree that has weathered and endured many years of survival. The Japanese notion of wabi sabi, which celebrates the beauty of imperfection, is at the heart of bonsai aesthetic. The artistry of the bonsai student is to reveal the story within each tree; it requires one, “to listen to the tree, it tells you where it wants to go” (Naka).

A tree contained in a pot, with roots confined, is dependent on humans to water and repot it to ensure its survival. A potted tree that is well tended will naturally, over time, reduce its canopy size in relation to its root space and with careful pruning, the leaves can be reduced in size also.

Bonsai Beginners Course

My husband has been caring for bonsai for over 25 years so I have been fortunate to observe him repot, train and tend to his bonsai collection. A recent opportunity to attend a bonsai beginners course, held by the Wellington bonsai club, offered me the chance to further my understanding the art of bonsai and get my hands dirty.

Just like the forest, it is now time to draw John's bonsai forest that grows around our home!


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