“I think once you initiate practicing bonsai and once bonsai gets inside of you, you’ll never look at trees the same again. Because you start realizing this magnificent microcosm that is happening inside every tree and you see similarities to trees and people.”
Although the word ‘Bon-sai’ is Japanese, the art it describes originated in the Chinese empire. By the year 700 AD, the Chinese had started the art of ‘pun-sai’ using unique techniques to grow dwarf trees in containers. Originally, only the elite of the society practiced pun-sai with native-collected specimens and the trees were spread throughout China as luxurious gifts. During the Kamakura period, the period in which Japan adopted most of China’s cultural trademarks, the art of growing trees in containers was introduced into Japan. The Japanese developed bonsai along certain lines due to the influence of Zen Buddhism and the fact that Japan is only 4% the size of mainland China. The range of landscape forms was thus much more limited. Many well-known techniques, styles and tools were developed in Japan from Chinese originals. Although known to a limited extent outside Asia for three centuries, only recently has bonsai truly been spread outside its homeland.
Tony Crossley has resided in the ‘Land of Smiles’ for roughly nine years now and three of those have been here in Krabi Province. During those nine years, he has been teaching English as a ‘Foreign Language’. Apart from teaching, he hosts bonsai workshops at his garden and styles trees for clients for their homes, gardens and even businesses.
The first time he saw a bonsai was in the film ‘Karate Kid’, Mr. Miyagi’s bonsai garden and the dojo and his little workshop just hit him with a warm sense of love for nature. Then, a couple of years back, he was strolling through a local fair down South and caught the display of a bonsai shop with many different trees. For a small price, he bought a pair of leaf pruners, it died after one month as he hadn’t a clue what to do. But, after settling down in Krabi with his lovely family of two children and a woman who shares the same passion for bonsai and gardening as he does, his love for bonsai and all that is important in life has skyrocketed over the years.
During the past year while Tony and his wife were home hunting in Krabi, he met a very eccentric gentleman by the name of Olivier Michaud who has been practicing the art of bonsai for fifteen years to date. Olivier had rekindled that flame inside of him that had been burned out for many years and once it lit, there is no putting out the flames. Right before connecting with Olivier, he had just operations to build up his bonsai garden and after almost a year of hard work and sweat, the bonsai cave is running at full speed. In addition, he had made good relations with bonsai enthusiasts and masters from around the World who share a deep passion for bonsai together.
“Caring for a bonsai tree is not nearly as hard as is commonly thought. However, as bonsai trees are planted in small pots, a few basic guidelines have to be followed when watering, fertilizing and repotting your trees. Different tree species have different care guidelines, so make sure you establish what tree species you have first then research into their growing requirements and maintenance needs. As we live in a southern tropical climate here in Krabi, the sun can get quite painful at times and some tree species may or may not like being tanned all day long”, Tony said. Deciding on the right location to position a tree is crucial for its well-being. A special soil mix is also required for high water drainage, this helps the roots to spread and grow, thus, allowing the tree to develop and mature quicker. A bonsai is planted into a small container, therefore, there is not enough room for the roots to spread. The more air and space there is under the soil, the better it is for the tree. Finally, to keep a bonsai in good shape is to make it part of your family. Nurture it as you would your children and your household pets. Think about yourself, if you were hungry what would you do? If you had bodily problems what would you do? Plucking weed grass and getting rid of pesticides from soil is the direct comparison. If we were abandoned we would feel depressed and alone. A bonsai tree is the same. Bonsai that have been watered and lovingly looked after day by day can make a deep and lasting impression on the viewer–particularly when such trees are centuries old and have been handed down from one generation of bonsai lovers to another.
Unlike other works of art, there are no such things as “finished” bonsai as long as the trees are still alive and growing; they must continue to be tended to on a daily basis. That is why bonsai growing is sometimes referred to as an art without end. For many enthusiasts though, it is precisely this timelessness that makes raising bonsai specially rewarding and worthwhile.
When he works on his bonsai, Tony feels like there is no real world outside of his garden. Once he sets foot into it, he is lost in thought with nature and all that is around it. The only happiness apart from family is being around his trees. He explained that “in addition, as less and less nature is being removed from the World every minute of everyday, being able to bring back some nature and growing it right in front of your doorstep is the closest we will get to enjoy what was once a wild and undeveloped landscape. Nowadays, you will find it a right off challenge to be close to nature at all unless you reside somewhere deep in the valleys of the mountains away from all the daily painstaking of urban life and it feels awesome”.
Bonsai is something of a paradox, precise and specific steps are needed to get it started, yet it depends on an intensely personal interpretation of life and nature. If you think abstractly enough you can draw a direct correlation between almost everything a human being does and a tree does. Trees are people, almost virtually identical. So try and put yourself into a meditative state of calm and quietness and imagine that you are resting peacefully along a serene untouched waterbed. This is where your bonsai will be and this is where you can be if you can open that deep sense inside and sing with nature.
For the most part, as mentioned above, you have to open yourself up to nature. You must clear your mind of worldly problems and find solutions rather than create hassles. You have to understand what it means to be a part of nature and have a feel for what it can offer. You have to take nature into your hands and embrace it. Once you can accomplish “most” of this, you can train yourself to cultivate bonsai. Another very significant aspect is ‘time’. Tony has met many people here who say they ‘don’t have the time’. Little do they realize that to do bonsai, infinite numbers of time is all there is. All we have to do is put in as little as five minutes a day in order to make sure that our trees are doing well. Lastly, come prepared by getting yourselves the right set of tools. As Krabi is known for its lack of import diversity, you can always order your particular bonsai tools from either Tony or from other reliable sources off the internet. The right tools will assist you in your bonsai art.
To begin the art of bonsai, one must put him or herself inside a tree and look at the world from the tree’s perspective. As the world revolves and evolves around it, you will gain the picture of what this art form is really about and have a clearer reflection and path to successfully being one with nature.
“Thus, the next time you prune a branch, wire it or re-pot your tree, reflect that what you are doing is continuing a thousand plus year tradition. In your own way you are exploring and composing a miniature version of your universe.”