chewing ideas down to stubble, then moving on…

Mad bonsai skills, baby!

Posted by Jason on November 12, 2008

So we had our final session in the beginner bonsai class this past Sunday. I wrangled my best friend Daniel into joining me in the San Diego Bonsai Club so that I didn’t feel like such a geek. Dan’s a freakin visual artist extraordinaire, and he was pretty stoked about the design aspects of the art. The previous classes started with us getting our trees and figuring out which side is front, then cutting back unnecessary foliage and wiring into place those branches that we wanted to keep. The final class is where we get our plants into the bonsai pots with bonsai soil mix and it’s “done.” In actuality, a true bonsai is never finished; ours are a lot farther from that “almost but not-quite finished stage” than most others.

I didn’t get a chance to take a snapshot of Dan’s tree, but here is my crazy, windswept-ish San Jose Juniper in the pot that it will call home for the next couple years. The photos aren’t the best and there are definitely some design issues with my tree, but it’s ok for the most part.

Against the fence

Against the fence


Black Background w/ flash

Black Background w/ flash


Fence w/ less light

Fence w/ less light




Now, our demonstrator for the day, Ted Matson, made a cool introductory remark about bonsai being a marriage of art and horticulture, and how this essential dichotomy gives way to other mini-dichotomies in the bonsai world. Between Dan and I, he has the artistic side nailed, and I have the horticulture down pretty well (not perfectly, though: RIP juniperus prostrata…). We almost have half a bonsai brain between us.

Which is more important in bonsai: horticulture (keeping the plant alive) or art (making it look good)? In my completely biased opinion, the care of the tree must trump the look of it. Face it, if your plant is dead, it probably won’t ever look that good. If you can keep that bad boy alive and thriving, you can fix any screw-up with enough patience by simply growing back the branch you just wrongly snipped off. Furthermore, artistic principals are constantly being thrown out the window for the sake of creativity. Proportions schmoportions, I say.

Back to our trees. Dan’s now looks like a half dead wooden pitchfork in a rectangle pot. However, once it recovers from the vicious butchery he perpetrated upon it (it will, there’s some tufts of new growth =), his tree will most likely look much cooler than mine. Until that time, my tree is green and mean and looks pretty good as long as you don’t compare it to any real bonsai you see in books or exhibits.


One Response to “Mad bonsai skills, baby!”

  1. Kelli said

    I like the design of it….of course, I was an accounting major. What do I know about art! But, to the untrained eye (which is probably most of us), it looks great!! 🙂

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