Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mono No Aware

Coast Redwood by Elissa Hoxie

I had the opportunity to attend the Bonsai show at the South Coast Botanic Garden. Although I'm not a gardener myself, I appreciate the artistry of fine gardening. Perhaps the apex of botanical aesthetic design is the bonsai tree. The years of careful cultivation and arrangement that goes into a bonsai is impressive.

The aesthetic rules of bonsai cultivation can be simplified down to Five Basic Rules:

The first rule is miniaturization. The literal meaning of bonsai is "plantings in tray". But this isn't as easy as it sounds. The photo at the top is of a redwood, a tree type that can grow to over 300 feet tall!!! Controlling growth spurts while maintaining plant health is a difficult task.

Olive by Elissa Hoxie

The second rule is proportion. Although the tree is kept in miniature, all of its elements must be kept at a similar proportion. This includes the leaves!!! Check out the olive tree in the photo above. These trees are noted for having large clusters of small leaves. How can one replicate such an effect while keeping the tree healthy? Well, there is a functional minimal limit to how small you can get the leaves, but the cluster may be thinned out, giving the impression of proportionality. Therefore, although leaf size is disproportional, the overall foliage proportion is maintained. This effect takes a lot of maintenance.

White Pine

The third rule is asymmetry. There are many styles of creating this effect. The White Pine above is in Shakan (Slant) style. Some bonsai are cultivated with such pronounced asymmetrical design as to have their apex beneath the rim of their container. This is called Kengai (cascade) style, emulating the appearance of trees that grow over a mountain side.

Liquidambar Orientalis

The fourth rule is authenticity. The bonsai must look as if it has developed naturally, showing no trace of the artist. That's craziness!!! These trees require constant pruning, grafting, trimming, or wiring to obtain the desired effects. Well, bonsai artists have a whole series of techniques to help out with this rule. In the photo above, the tree has been granted additional stability by utilizing the Sekijoju (root-over-rock) style.

Chinese Elm

Finally, the fifth rule is wabi-sabi (transience or impermanence). This is a tough one to explain. The bonsai needs to inspire an emotional state within the viewer that leads to the contemplation of mortality and the inevitability of change. The qualities of the bonsai should speak of a long process of struggle, growth, and loss. I think the bonsai in the photo above captures this feeling, with those complex root structures, the curving trunk shape, and the expressive emptiness between the tiers of leaves.

I could go on and on about the wonders of bonsai, but I'll offer you a vid instead:

Here is the Bonsai Wikipedia page.

Here is a link to the American Bonsai Society.

And here's the website for the South Coast Botanic Garden. It's a beautiful location and I highly recommend paying it a visit, especially if there is a flower show going on.

And special thanks to Elissa and Gib Hoxie for their informative and elegant displays at the show.


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