Only now I understand nothing

Rhododendron lysolepsis. Pot by John Pitt (UK).
Rhododendron lysolepsis. Pot by John Pitt (UK).

How much do you live bonsai? Or how do you appreciate your bonsai in daily life?

I have been doing bonsai for app. 20 years now, if I count in the very first lessons learned, killing innocent small trees collected in local forests, working on them way too early and way too hard. Before that I bought a book, maybe 30 years ago, first time bonsai caught my attention. It took a while before I then tried and failed and had few successes. Today I know more, but still now nothing. As a Danish artist expressed it: “Only now I understand nothing” after many years of work with his art. In other words, the more I know the bigger the world of untrodden land seems to be.

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Today I know plenty of techniques, how to prune, how to fertilize, how to develop a tree from raw form, how to keep them healthy and growing i.e. and am still learning. Secondly the land to discover that seems endlessly open is the aesthetics and appreciation of bonsai as art. We all (most of us I guess) are flabbergasted when watching a stunning aged Juniper with dramatic deadwood and nicely arranged foliage pads. But how about the small things, the less intrusive and silent expressions of bonsai. The fine and graceful maple, the flowering small Shohin Potentilla e.g. The aged branches where even the small branches are showing age like the bark of the trunk, the well developed root base (nebari); do we watch and appreciate?

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What about the pots? Do we value new nice clean pots over aged weather exposed and aged pots? I now put unused pots outside during the growing season to add weather to my pots. Sun, dust, fertilizer and rain develops patina and age. This is the aesthetic preference of a bonsai pot, and I enjoy as well the the silent expression of the old Japanese maple in an old pot. Maybe more than the over exposed and over appreciated Junipers with massive deadwood. Maybe because I live in a country with soft landscapes and silent trees. I am fascinated by watching the dramatic mountain trees, but they are so far away from my daily life, that I do not see them as a natural bigger part of my personal bonsai collection, and even tend to find them a little odd in local bonsai exhibitions if present. I appreciate and study more and more the textures of bark, end enjoy the new buds during winter getting ready for spring. I study and practise how to display bonsai, and how to arrange a shohin-bonsai display with the right mood and feeling.

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I try to understand the aesthetics of bonsai through my daily work with my trees. And I develop a sense for the simpler and humbler trees like deciduous trees often are, as time goes by. But I feel that I have to know more about how to express this in bonsai displaying, and in the way the bonsai are styled. This is an endless road with many directions, and I just hope to learn it little by little. This is the joy of bonsai for me developing through experience and facing an even wider field. Experiencing the feeling and the untold, and trying to understand how to express this. Not easy to put words on, and not easy to learn. But I try, and keep trying. Maybe some day I will succeed 🙂 This is part of the dedicated work. Next is the daily living with my bonsai. Remembering to stop and observe. Just standing and watching, without doing anything else.

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From time to time I try to remember taking a tree aside and just study it. No work, no watering – just using my eyes to observe and enjoy textures of bark, branches, leaves and the pot. This I find as valuable as working with the trees, and I think it is as important as learning techniques and  horticultural knowledge. I can recommend this – just relaxing with a tree for an hour (more or less doesn’t matter) – just do it, and learn your tree better than you do when just passing it when watering, or wiring it.

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15 thoughts on “Only now I understand nothing

  1. Reblogged this on our forum….CYPRUS BONSAI FORUM……Amazing article so true and honest emotions,thx for sharing….

  2. Amazing article….Reblogged it on our forum…..CYPRUS BONSAI FORUM…Thanks for sharing your emotions which in turn more or less are every enthousiasts emotions….

  3. Thank you for this post. I am at the first steps of my journey, going through the same beginner lessons.
    I am starting to “see” the path and trying to understand and accept the joy and depth of walking it.
    I do look at my bonsai a couple times per week, observing a new leaf, being surprised with a sudden growth, discovering a new colour in the fall.
    There is a great joy to be found in slowing down and taking in all the details.

  4. Thank you! Well written, and you’ve voiced what it’s all about. Seeing, Feeling, Sharing and simply Enjoying beauty. Helping to create or arrange such beauty is an incredible joy, but sadly shallow if one doesn’t slow down long enough to enjoy even the smallest details. Watching others discover the same beauty is another great joy; I’m sure you get to see this happen all the time in your garden. 🙂

    Great work, thanks for sharing!

  5. I must say that is one of the best written articles I have read about someone’s passion for bonsai. From the photos I’ve seen I think your passion truly shows in your amazing bonsai. Thanks 🙂

  6. I did do that when I was young…tried many different saplings. I appreciate bonsai as beautiful living art. But for people have space I think trees should live free in the ground happily not in small pots.

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