When you think of Bonsai, you probably imagine a small pine or conifer, with a gorgeously twisted and gnarled trunk, and windswept branches or maybe a Japanese maple with red leaves, majestically rendered in miniature. The truth is that just about any shrub or tree with a woody stem can be used in the art of bonsai. Which means that bonsai is possible with many of the native, ornamental plants that we have available to us here in Costa Rica!
What we now know as bonsai started in China, but quickly became a popular activity in Japan. The Japanese refined and perfected the art form. Most of the conventions and rules recognized worldwide come from this source, including the term bonsai which translates literally to ‘planted in a container.’ Those who practice bonsai are drawn to it for the beautiful forms that are created but fall in love with it because it teaches patience and focus. Anyone with a nurturing nature excels in this art. The oldest bonsai is a Chinese fichus tree, currently housed at a museum in Crespi, Italy and is over 1,000 years old. There are many legacy bonsai that have been passed down from generation to generation, surviving for hundreds of years. It’s easy to get intimidated by this history, but even beginner gardeners can create their own bonsai. We recently hosted a Bonsai for Beginners workshop in Ojochal as a fundraising event for the Guardavidas Costa Ballena Lifeguards program.
The group learned the 5 basic forms - formal upright, informal upright, slanted, semi-cascade and cascade - as well as the process of trimming the roots to keep the plant small, choosing the correct pot, and trimming branches for shape. Most of the long term care information found on the internet is for colder climates, so we also discussed watering techniques, repotting and sun/shade exposure more appropriate to the tropics. The next workshop benefiting the Guardavidas Costa Ballena is being planned for February.
By Nate Bright
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