The origins of Bonsai cultivation can be traced to more than 2,000 years ago in China. Initially, a requisite of the elite classes and cultured in Zen Buddhist monasteries, such as Penjing (tray scenery), the art was adopted by Japan, to become later known as Bonsai (tree in tray).

Records have also been traced to the Egyptian and early civilisations in the Middle East where Bonsai are considered to be a medium of transporting medicinal herbs to various locations.

Despite being an ancient art form, it is comparatively new to Western culture, only having become more commonly known after World War II and a commercial and traditionally introspective approach to Japanese culture.

Traditionally, the knowledge and techniques of Bonsai cultivation were limited to prospective apprentice students having to undergo five to eight years of intensive training under the watchful eyes of recognised masters.

However, in recent years, several Western apprentices have obtained qualifications and opened their own schools, sharing their knowledge and experiences.  There are many misconceptions regarding Bonsai. The care and cultivation of trees in the restricted confines of a pot requires dedication and a deep understanding of environmental conditions. The process is never-ending as trees continue to grow and adapt to their environment. Most Bonsai enthusiasts are mere custodians of their trees, which will long outlive them. Specimen Bonsai trees are often several hundred years old.

Through this art form, one develops a deeper understanding of nature and the environmental impact of our planet. Understanding the various micro ecological needs of various species of trees and their ability to adapt to changes in climate creates a closer affinity to the environment.

Trees, alongside other plant life, have an incredible ability to survive by adapting to environmental change. Bonsai trees can be likened to the fossils found in Għar Dalam, where dwarf prehistoric elephants found their resting place.

With Malta’s lack of agricultural land and gardens, often with access only to small yards, roofs or terraces, growing Bonsai trees may be an ideal way to keep in touch with nature. The hobby can take many forms, from keeping one tree alongside other potted plants to being an experimental artist.

The Bonsai Culture Group (BCG) in Malta, set up in 1991, will be holding its 28th Anniversary Bonsai Exhibition at its gardens in Notre Dame Ditch, Floriana, on Saturday and Sunday. The group also holds regular meetings at its premises in Floriana every Thursday evening and organises exhibitions throughout the year. For more details, look up BonsaiCultureGroup Malta on Facebook.

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