IN ITS most basic definition, bonsai is the Japanese practice of growing and shaping living, small-scale trees in shallow containers. But with a history that spans over a thousand years and an intriguing plant lore that tells of monks and emperors, samurais and shoguns, artists and scholars, the passion that bonsai evokes in its more dedicated followers is said to inspire an almost spiritual devotion — far deeper than simply tending to a plant in a pot.
And then there are the bonsai themselves: mesmerising miniature versions of a wide variety of species from juniper and ficus to bougainvillea and pine; every trunk, branch and leaf strangely surreal in its perfect resemblance to its larger counterpart. For most of us, on first glance it would be easier to believe these were set pieces created for an upcoming Tim Burton movie, complete with resident forest sprites, than actual trees.
In recent years, bonsai has spread its roots from being the exclusive domain of specialist horticulturalists and serious hobbyists to becoming a part of our mainstream culture and lifestyles. Who could forget actor Pat Morita as Mr Miyagi, carefully tending to his bonsai collection in iconic movie The Karate Kid, or the bonsai logo on the gi worn by Ralph Macchio as Daniel-san in this iconic movie?
Now even a trip to the supermarket for milk can result in a bonsai purchase, allowing absolute beginners to indulge in a relaxing pastime with satisfying aesthetic results.
While most bonsai will do best outdoors, requiring the strong light that they do, because they are easily portable they can be brought indoors as the focus of a contemporary display or decorative installation.
Any balcony, fire escape
or even outdoor window sill creates a good home away from home for bonsai, while others are suitable to permanent indoor positions too. The best trees for indoor growth are those that can survive the sometimes harsh conditions found inside — directional light that can be too hot, or too little light, for example.
The following species are recommended for indoor planting:
Wild fig (Ficus natalensis)
Tree of a thousand stars (Serissa foetida)
Monkey thorn (Acacia galpinii)
Bauhinia: Bauhinia natalensis and B tomentosa
Spekboom (Portulacaria afra)
Crassula (Crassula spp)
Bladdernut (Diospyros whyteana)
Kei apple (Dovyalis caffra) © Source: Home Weekly