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Bonsai at Tanglin Core

August 30, 2011

Bonsai is the art of dwarfing trees or plants and developing them into an
aesthetically appealing shape by growing, pruning and training them in
containers according to prescribed techniques.
To begin with, the tree and the pot form a single harmonious unit where the
shape, texture and colour of one compliments the other. Then the tree must
be shaped. It is not enough just to plant a tree in a pot and allow nature
to take its course – the result would look nothing like a tree and would
look very short-lived. Every branch and twig of a bonsai is shaped or
eliminated until the chosen image is achieved. From then on, the image is
maintained and improved by a constant regime of pruning and trimming.

Bonsai first appeared in China over a thousand years ago on a very basic
scale where it was the practice of growing single specimen trees in pots.
These early specimens displayed sparse foliage and rugged, gnarled trunks
which often looked like animals, dragons and birds. There are a great
number of myths and legends surrounding Chinese bonsai, and the grotesque
or animal-like trunks and root formations are still highly prized today.

Bonsai was introduced to Japan during the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333) by
means of Zen Buddhism – which at this time was rapidly spreading around
Asia. Once bonsai was introduced into Japan, the art was refined to an
extent not yet approached in China. Over time, the simple trees were not
just confined to the Buddhist monks and their monasteries, but were also later
introduced to be representative of the aristocracy – a symbol of
prestige and honour. The ideals and philosophy of bonsai were greatly
changed over the years. For the Japanese, bonsai represents a fusion of
strong ancient beliefs with the Eastern philosophies of the harmony between
man, the soul and nature.

Currently, the bonsai display in the Gardens is located around the Bandstand.
It comprises of 48 specimens ranging from tropical to sub-tropical
species and varieties. They are made up of 29 plant types which include
Baekia virgata; Bauhinia racemosa; Bougainvillea sp.; Carmona retusa
(Fukien Tea); Caesalpinia ferrea; Casuarina sp.; Diospyros sp; Ficus
microcarpa
; Ficus benjamina; Gmelina arborea; Gmelina asiatica; Hibiscus
tiliaceus
(Sea Hibiscus).; Juniperus chinensis; Limonia acidissima.;
Loropetalum sp.; Malphigia glabra; Murraya paniculata; Myrciaria cauliflora
(Jacoticaba); Pemphis acidula; Phyllanthus myrtifolius; Pithecellobium
dulce
(variegated); Podocarpus macrophyllus (Buddhist Pine); Psidium sp.
(dwarf); Rhapis excelsa (Lady’s Palm).; Schefflera arboricola; Serrisa
japonica
.; Triphasia trifolia; Wrightia religiosa (‘Sui Mei’); and Ulmus
parvifolia
(Chinese Elm). Sizes vary from 40 cm to 200 cm in height.
Plants were trained and portrayed in different styles viz. upright,
informal upright, slanting, semi-cascading, cascading, forest, raft, twin
trunk, root over rock, rock landscape, etc. according to the inherent
characteristics of the plant.

The Gardens shall continue to add on new plant types to the existing
collection to build on its diversity. With this, we hope to further
explore the capabilities of other local plant materials suitable for bonsai
training as well as to introduce more sub-tropical plants that can be
acclimatized to our local climate.

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