Bonsai magic

WHEN entering the Addo Gateway Lodge near Colchester, one could be forgiven for thinking that you are Gulliver and you had stepped onto the island country of Lilliput. There may not be inhabitants less than 15cm tall, but you will certainly feel you are in a Lillipudlian forest.

Here you will find yourself surrounded by an exhibition of intricate bonsai trees – each one unique in its style, character and its ability to captivate onlookers with not only its intriguing miniature size, but also all its fascinating detail.

Bonsai – the Japanese art form of cultivating miniature trees and shaping and creating the illusion of full-size trees by using techniques such as pruning, root reduction and defoliation – dates back 1000 years.

Maggie Mann and bonsai master Lesley Kingma, owners of Addo Gateway Lodge, have decided to start up their own Bonsai Day. This came about after years of interest and the fascination of locals and guests who constantly visited the lodge to examine the numerous bonsai and also discover the hidden gem that is Mann’s immense collection of figurine tortoises.

The lodge – which is situated at Sundays River in Colchester about 40km east of Port Elizabeth – will be hosting its annual Bonsai Day today.

It is an event which has steadily grown over the years, from the humble beginnings of just five people attending.

“The main reason this Bonsai Day started is because people wanted to know more and, through this day, I can bring this living art to the layman,” said Kingma.

He will be giving lectures and exhibiting his bonsai, and also demonstrating how to prune a bonsai that is overgrown.

“My passion for bonsai stems from my mother. As a child I always had a passion for horticulture. She introduced me to these plants and that is where it all took off. She still does bonsai in some capacity – and she is now 80,” said Kingma, who started cultivating bonsai when he was 19 years old.

After starting out at East London’s Border Bonsai Society, Kingma travelled to Swaziland.

“In Swaziland there was no society so I continued doing bonsai in my private capacity. I collected plants and continued doing it to the best of my ability, but bonsai in those days was very much in its fledgling capacity. There wasn’t much literature around so you couldn’t find out much.”

He left Swaziland in 1984 and settled in Port Elizabeth, where he joined the Eastern Province Bonsai Society, which is one of the oldest in the country.

Kingma managed to cultivate a larger collection of bonsai, most of which are now more than 50 years old.

The collection includes both exotic and indigenous trees.

One of these is the Boer Bean (50 years old) which is in the “broom style” – one of the most natural of the five basic styles of bonsai.

These also include formal style, informal upright, slant and cascade.

There are more advanced styles that Kingma has also used in his bonsai garden like the “root over rock” style which is depicted by a 40-year-old wild fig and which is fairly difficult to achieve as the root must be coaxed to grow around the rock.

With the forest style of a Chinese hackberry (15 years old), the style is made up of an odd number of individual trees arranged in such a way as to create the illusion of a forest.

Kingma said the secret to this ancient art came from experience, trial and error, and exposure to the philosophy of bonsai. What is evident, when one gazes at these living sculptures and looks past their incredible beauty, is that it is a painstaking art form created from a labour of love and plenty of patience.

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