Bonsai artistry explained with Shannon Young

When we think of Bonsai we often connect it to feelings of spirituality, peace and enlightenment and for many these feeling are true to thought. But what is Bonsai exactly and where did it come from?

Bonsai is a Japanese art form that uses miniature trees grown in shallow pots and manipulated into graphic impressions and interpretation by the artist. The ancient garden art was derived originally from 6th century Chinese culture, then the Japanese took it over to develop Bonsai. The Japanese monks who looked after the Bonsai were heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism.

The Zen Buddhists practised rigorous self-control, meditation and expression of insight in daily life. This is where the spirituality, peace and enlightenment comes from.

Bonsai can be cultivated from just about any woody plant, tree or shrub but there is certain art to raising these beautiful living sculptures.

We caught up with Bonsai artist Shannon Young for his insight into Bonsai and growing these majestic art forms.

“I’ve been a horticulturist for over 25 years and Bonsai has been a passion of mine for just as long.”

“My father was a keen home gardener and he encouraged my interest in horticulture but it wasn’t until I attended a garden expo at the age of 12 that I really became passionate.”

“I was instantly fascinated by the Bonsai featured at the expo and bought my first tree. This was around the same time the movie Karate Kid was popular, put two and two together and a hobby was born.”

“For me, Bonsai is not overly zen or philosophical as a lot of people believe, it’s simply nature in a smaller form. I like to make unique artwork for others to admire using Bonsai. It’s a cross between art and horticulture and becomes living sculptures.”

Contrary to popular belief, growing Bonsai is actually quite simple to grow and sculpt but it takes patience, here are 3 simple tips on growing Bonsai:

  1. Select your tree. Consider whether you’d like an indoor or outdoor tree and whether you’d like to start off with cuttings or a pre-bonsai tree. Cuttings will usually take 3 to 5 years before the tree can be trained.
  2. Shaping and styling your tree. Pruning is the single most important technique to Bonsai, it’s critical in keeping the tree miniaturised as well as to shape them. Buy a special Bonsai pruning kit as the tools needed won’t be like the average size pruning kits. Depending on how you want to shape your tree you can prune to your liking.
  3. Care and maintenance for your tree. The care and maintenance of your tree will largely depend on what type of tree you selected. Make sure you read the tree’s care guidelines. Because your tree is in a small pot you will need to water and fertilise them regularly, and re-pot every 2 years. With this in mind, you’ll need to consider getting the right soil for your tree and when fertilising only use a small amount.

Shannon Young has over 25 years’ experience as a horticulturist and Bonsai artist. He’s had a decorated career winning many local, state and national awards for his ‘living sculptures’ Bonsai art and is now Assistant Curator of the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection in Canberra. Shannon will be taking the Bonsai Clinic short course in Semester 2, 2017.

For more interesting reads, take a look at our other articles.


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