I thought long and hard about this question. I concluded that it all depends on what you see as a completed bonsai. Is a tree a bonsai if it looks well trained to the artist or is it a bonsai if it follows all the rules/guidelines? If you use images in magazines or online forums as your guideline, then you will never be done with your bonsai. You can also say that it is a living art form and therefor it is never completed. For this article, if a tree ticks all the topics listed below its completed:
- Tree is well shaped
- The tree is planted in a bonsai pot that suites the trees style
- The tree is styled to fit in a bonsai category
- All the trees parts fit together and tells the same story
I have found myself looking at my trees for a couple of hours. I look at the lines, the design, how they make me feel and if there is anything I can do to improve the tree. I ask myself, will this tree ever be a bonsai? Sometimes I even convince myself that it may win a prize in a show if I just change the one thing that bothers the eye. This helps me to work harder on getting the tree in good shape so that I can put it in a show.
Too often we want something to be what it is not. A tree becomes a bonsai after years of cultivation and applying rules/guidelines to improve the tree as you go along. A tree may take 5 – 50 year to be a bonsai that is a fact. I read an article recently where a tree was dug up and planted in a training pot. It was left for a few years to recover and then it was styled. This process toke 13 years. Now if I look at this I feel discouraged. The reason being often we start working on trees that are but 4 – 5 years old. These trees have stems that are barely five centimeters in diameter they have no real character but it is a tree that we know is used in bonsai so we assume that in the next five years we will have an excellent bonsai. This is all base on what you think. The five years pass and the tree still has a five-centimeter stem and its foliage has not change much. We look at the tree and think that it needs more time. That is true, it does need more time and so do you. A trap that a lot of young bonsai enthusiasts fall in is that they think they can start to design a master piece from nursery stock and the knowledge of what they have gained through reading books. There are more to shaping trees than just cutting and wiring. There is another element that you cannot get in books and it is called experience. This can only be taught through years of trial and error. Bonsai trees do not get character from growing in pots. There are techniques you need to apply that helps you to recreate what happens to a tree in nature. Things like planting a tree in the open ground for a few years, carving, “clip and grow” and bending the tree when it is young.
When starting off with your bonsai hobby I think it is wise to ask yourself what the goal is and how much time do you want to put into this hobby. The next thing would be looking at your budget. As most articles and book say bonsai is something that everyone can pursue, well they conveniently leave out the part where you need money for pots, potting mixture, fertilizer, pesticide and wiring. This is not a lot of money to spend if you have one tree but as we all know if you have one bonsai before you know it there are five more and they multiply as the years go by. If you have the time, patients and a horticultural background then start with young trees on the other hand if you love bonsai and like the finished product buy a semi matured bonsai and just maintain its shape and health. This is something I cannot stress enough.
Let’s wrap up. If you want to create a beautiful bonsai within a short time choose something with a unique characteristic as a starting point and work from there. Getting the right stock might take some time. Rather spend time looking for the right material then spending it on a tree that will never make a good bonsai. Get formularized with bonsai cultivation and tree species. A bonsai takes a few years to form all depending on the tree that you choose to work with, the health of the tree, the rate at which the tree grows and the techniques used to style the tree.