The ancient art of Bonsai …still blooming

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Donna Collins

Swakopmund-It takes a certain skill and artistic temperament to miniaturise what would normally be a massive tree, and transform it into a decorative mini replica that can become a beautiful ornament and live for decades.
For those of you unfamiliar with this process, Bonsai is a blend of ancient art and horticultural knowledge that originated in the spiritual temples of China and Japan to create miniature landscapes.

The annual Bonsai exhibition held at the Swakopmund Municipal Nursery was proof of this specialised art culture, where over 30 jaw-dropping creations standing over a few centimetres high, were displayed by the Namib Bonsai Kai (club), which celebrates its 20th anniversary this November.

Hendrik Koekemoer, one of the co-founders of the club and chairperson, also held a Bonsai demonstration to draw more public interest in this age old oriental art form.

Working nimbly with a young plant, he magically transformed a scraggly example into a perfect ‘Bonsai’ exhibit by pruning the roots, leaves and branches. He also styled it into the desired shape before planting it in a small pot. “It doesn’t stop at this,” Koekemoer said and explained that Bonsai are not genetically dwarfed plants, but instead a living art form. “It takes the Bonsai enthusiast a considerable amount of time and care to maintain their masterpiece, and keep it in shape.

“Many people are familiar with Bonsai creations, but they don’t know that it is something they can do at home, which is why we hold these public demonstrations and exhibitions,” Koekemoer, who fascination with Bonsai started around 25 years ago, added.

Since then he has produced a private collection of around 200 ‘Bonsai’ trees, and attends ‘Bonsai’ conventions in South Africa, plus has visited Japanese villages that still hold dear their spiritual connection to the Bonsai art form.

But Bonsai has come a long way since they decorated the temples, and the legacy lives on around the world, even here in Swakopmund.

The weeklong exhibition had an impressive array of some of the finest specimens on view, ranging from a baobab tree, wild fig, white stinkwood and a variety of acacias’ to mention some.

The smallest measured about 8 centimetres high, all of which were the creations from some of the 30 active members.
Over the years people have advanced many styles to classify Bonsai trees, closely resembling circumstances in nature, and open to personal interpretation.

Bonsai literally means ‘Tree in a Pot’, and an essential part of Bonsai is to plant them in a decorative pot, since many of these miniature beauties are displayed in people’s homes or outdoor areas for all to admire.

“The Bonsai can be much more than just ‘miniature’ Japanese trees, and the difference between them and normal trees in nature is the artistic shapes, especially for decorative value.

“Bonsai can challenge the enthusiasts gardening skills, artistic aesthetics and design capabilities, but once you start you are hooked,” Koekemoer said.

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