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Petite potted wonders

chandigarh Updated: Jan 10, 2014 11:38 IST
Nanki Singh

Bonsai is an ancient Japanese art form that’s typical to miniature trees grown in containers. ‘Bonsai’ is a Japanese pronunciation of the earlier Chinese term ‘penzai’, though once the art form was introduced in Japan in 1185 AD, it was refined to an extent not yet approached in China.

Following World War II, a number of trends made the Japanese tradition of bonsai increasingly accessible to western and world audiences.

One key trend was the increase in the number, scope, and prominence of bonsai exhibitions.

Another key trend was the increase in books on bonsai and related arts, now being published for the first time in English and other languages for audiences outside Japan.

The third key trend was the increasing availability of expert bonsai training outside of Japan with Japanese teachers travelling worldwide and students coming from all parts of the world to Japan to learn.

With Bonsai having made its way to Chandigarh as well, we talk to a few creators in the city and their love for their plants.

Major General (retd) Bewli, who has been creating bonsais since 1999, says, “A common misconception is that bonsai is considered miniature in nature; they are just pruned in such a way and are not a dwarf species.”

Bonsai does not require genetically dwarfed trees, but depends on growing small trees from regular stock and seeds.

Bonsai uses cultivation techniques such as pruning, root reduction, potting, defoliation and grafting to produce small trees that mimic the shape and style of mature, full-size trees.

The growth is guided, not halted. According to him, the most common species in Chandigarh are the Ficus plant and the Banyan tree, with a sapling costing a few hundred rupees, whereas a full-grown plant can sell for up to R1 lakh.

“The price depends on the maturity and species,” he says, further adding, “I have about 50-60 plants in my collection now.”

The average age he says is 70-100 years with proper care. So, there’s a good chance your plant will outlive you.

Maninder Sandhu, another Chandigarh-based creator says that she does this out of the peace and pleasure it gives her to watch her plants grow.

“I got into it because of late Mr Anil Kaushik, who had started a Bonsai club about 15 years ago and got us budding enthusiasts together,” she recalls.

According to her, Bonsai has technicalities that all Indian plants aren’t conducive to. “Most of our bonsais are indigenous, but when we started, the nurseries here did not have any variety.

So, Mr Kaushik would source plants for us from outside the country,” adds Sandhu. Her collection also comprises of Ficus-based varieties.

Arvinder Randhawa, 57, was introduced to bonsai by late Dr JS Sarkaria, who used to run a club for enthusiasts. She believes that even non-tree plants can be cultivated using Bonsai techniques.

"Proper pruning is the key. You can even make bougainvillea bonsai, which I have done, and then I have a plant called the Vilayati Imli, which I picked up when I was in Bombay, and of course, I have some Ficus varieties too," says she.

According to her, a bonsai is never fully-grown, as long as you keep taking care of it.

“People ask me to sell some of my plants because a mature bonsai could easily fetch me R20,000. But, they’re like my kids; I have put a lot of love and effort into them.”

Narinder Jaspal, another enthusiast from Chandigarh to have been introduced to the world of Bonsai by Dr Sarkaria, says she has always admired the art form.

“Dr Sarkaria was a very strict teacher,” she reminisces, and adds, “Unlike potted plants, the first thing you need to know is absolutely no mud should be used; only a mixture of slightly thick sand and finely crushed manure and other nutrients, if need be, but no mud.”

According to her, when picking out a plant, you should keep in mind the thickness of the trunk, which should be 8-10 inches, and one should also keep in mind the trunk’s shape and size.

"I completely cut off the leaves of my plants twice a year, as I find that a good way to maintain their size," she says.

Basic care tips for bonsai:

Avoid dehydration as well as over watering; there should never be standing water.
Compost should be very rich in nutrition, as these plants require more mineral-rich soil than normal potted plants.
Constant pruning and shearing is a must.
Plants need to be repotted every 2-3 years because of the constantly growing roots.
Plant needs a lot of sunlight and should be kept in a well-lit corner of the house.