Bonsai Trees: The Origin Story

By Sarah A

One of the most instantly recognisable symbols of Japanese art and culture has to be the bonsai tree, a Japanese word that when translated literally means ‘planted in a container’.

However, what’s interesting to learn is that the fine art of bonsai isn’t technically a Japanese creation, but rather the work of the Chinese instead, who way back 2,000 years ago, started designing and creating miniature landscapes. 

It was thought that the further the miniature version was from the original inspiration, the more magic it was able to hold. Students would focus on the garden’s magical properties and try to absorb them for themselves.

This led to the start of pun-tsai, where Chinese people began growing dwarf trees in pots. The trees were often given to friends and loved ones as a beautiful gift, with the Japanese discovering the artform in the Kamakura period, developing their own unique and distinctive style - and lo! The bonsai was born!

The art was certainly an accessible one, with everyone from the upper echelons of society to the bottom able to grow their own tree in a pot. Come the late 18th century, capital city Kyoto was holding an annual show for traditional pine dwarf potted trees!

Over the years, different styles and sizes of bonsai have been developed and it really has gone on to become a serious industry, with books, tools, trees and all sorts now available to keen hobbyists all over the world.

If you’re travelling to Japan any time soon, you must make sure you visit the Omiya Bonsai Village. After the Great Kanto earthquake shook Tokyo in 1923, a group of professional bonsai gardeners made the move to Saitama, looking for fresh air, land and water to help them further their passion for the trees. 

The Omiya Bonsai Village was built in 1925 and it has gone on to become the very epicentre of bonsai culture in Japan.

If you’re keen to get going with growing your own bonsai, make sure you take the time first to know how best to take care of it. It’s not as hard as you might think when first looking at these trees and the first step you need to take is deciding where to put it.

Positioning is important and will depend on the type of tree you have, whether it needs to go indoors or outdoors, for example. But generally speaking, keep it away from direct heat or any drafts and keep it somewhere it can enjoy plenty of sunlight. Humidity is also a requisite factor, as the soil needs to stay moist.

Under-watering is something to watch out for - and this is what causes the majority of bonsai deaths. The soil layer is very shallow so dries out quickly and you’ll need to water it as soon as the top layer seems dry. 

You’ll soon get into a rhythm with the tree when it comes to watering… but remember! Different trees will have different watering needs, so avoid sticking to a watering routine if you can help it and just do each one individually.

For house plants in Brighton, come and see us here at Rooted & Co today.