The vibrant and twisted trunk of a Goyomatsu (Japanese white pine) brings an invigorating freshness to the tips of each green leaf in the beautifully pruned foliage. In their tiny pots, Bonsai fascinate me as a symbol of the strength and vitality of nature.

Although bonsai have always fascinated me, I have been daunted by the seeming difficulty of growing bonsai. However, one day, I found that a one-day hands-on Bonsai workshop was held in Saitama, and decided to give it a try – on a whim!

The workshop was held in Seikouen, a Bonsai shop, located in Omiya Bonsai Village, Saitama prefecture. It was still very hot on the day of my visit, but once I walked into the cool and green space of their premises, I felt relaxed. The Seikouen staff were very welcoming.

They told me there were two types of Bonsai: one is the traditional style named Ichi-bon Ichi-ju, a pot with one tree, and the other is the contemporary style Saika, a pot with a tree and some flowers. This time, I decided to make a Saika style bonsai, so from a large number of candidates, I chose a Momiji (maple), a tree whose leaves turn beautifully red in Autumn, a Tsukushi Karamatsu (Dwarf meadow rue), and a pot that went well with these trees.

First of all, I had to prepare a bonsai pot. As the pot has holes in the bottom to drain excess water, I anchored wire mesh covering each hole to prevent the soil from flowing out (see picture) with the water. Next, to stabilize the planted tree in the pot, I attached wires running upward through the hole from the bottom of the pot. And then, I put coarse-grained soil into the pot, loosened the roots of the maple tree and placed it in the pot.

Before placing the trees, it is important to identify the flow of the tree – right flow or left flow – by carefully checking its shape and tilt, and the directions of the leaves. My maple tree was right-flow. So, I was advised that the tree should be positioned to form a space on the right side. Space – may be an important thing to consider in making a Bonsai. A well-crafted space can give depth and breadth to the Bonsai landscape.

I then put the Tsukushi Karamatsu in the pot in the same way and added fine-grained soil near the top of the pot. After that, you usually secure the plants in the pot, so I twisted and bent the prepared tie-down wires to hold the plants in place in the pot, and cut off excess wire.

The next step is watering. I drizzled plenty of water evenly on the trees. Later, I spread moss over the soil. Finally, I added some fancy white pebbles on the soil.

I did pretty well for a first-timer! Thanks to some help from the Seikouen staff, the Momiji branch was relatively easy to bend, creating a comfortable blank space (however, most of the bending was courtesy of Seikouen). With the approach of autumn, I cannot wait to enjoy another phase of the maple tree, and I also expect to see pink flowers on the Tsukushi Karamatsu that will start to bloom from around June next year.

With the careful guidance of the staff, I thought I might even be able to learn how to grow a bonsai from scratch. This experience was just a beginning. Seikouen provides correspondence courses, so I am thinking about trying a course to learn branch bending techniques.

If you think bonsai is hard, just try it. It’s great fun!