Landscape in a Pot

Bonsai enthusiasts have a finely honed appreciation for the natural beauty of the petite.

Focus On Hobbies


Bonsai -- growing small, elegant ornamental trees in containers -- is an ancient art, tracing to China more than 2,000 years ago.

Pun-jing, dating to the early Han Dynasty from about 200 B.C., combines the Chinese appreciation for life with the art of gardening. It involves the discovery of "dwarfed" trees and stones in their natural state, arranging them according to their proportions, individual characteristics and growth, then reducing their size to fit a pot or shallow tray. The result is a man-made landscape scene.

During the Chin Dynasty (A.D. 265-420), the art form of planting trees alone in small pots was developed. Known as pun-sai, it was introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks during the 10th century.

The Chinese characters making up the words pun-sai were translated into the Japanese bonsai (pronounced bone-sigh). In Japanese, bon means shallow and sai means a plant. By this name, the hobby has become known all over the world.

It was the Japanese who developed, refined and popularized the tools, structure and styles of the hobby and introduced the art form to the West with bonsai displays at the World's Fair of 1878 in Paris and the 1910 World's Fair in London.

There are many styles of bonsai -- informal upright, suitable for many species of trees; slanting, perhaps best for conifers; and cascade, to name three. At a recent meeting of the Baltimore Bonsai Club, Martha Meehan of Rohrersville, a professional bonsai grower for 30 years, demonstrated another, more challenging style: "root over rock."

This involves the planting of a small tree over a suitable rock to mimic trees growing on a cliff face or a river bed. The rock used is collected for its unique shape, which gives it character. This technique combines the concepts of bonsai and pun-jing, in which the tree and rock are brought together to complement and balance each other to form a miniature landscape.

Step by Step

1. A three-year-old trident maple seedling is shaped using wire.

2. The taproots of the shaped trident maple are then cut back, allowing the finer roots to spread.

3. The fine roots of the shaped trident maple are draped over a rock of interesting shape.

4. The tree, with its roots over the rock, is wrapped with stretchable plastic to protect it and to retain humidity.

5. The potted tree is then watered. It will be allowed to grow undisturbed until spring, when the plastic wrap will be removed to expose the root.

If you want to learn more about bonsai, a good place to start is the Baltimore Bonsai Club. It meets on the fourth Sunday of each month from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Towson Library, 320 York Road, Towson. Information: Arschel Morell, 410-744-6478.

Professional bonsai grower Martha Meehan's Web site is Phone: 301-432-2965. Other online sources are: / plants / bonsai / intro.html

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