by Gail Theron

The art of Saikei (sigh-kay) - tree or living landscape, is relatively young. During World War 2 in Japan many collections and nurseries were destroyed, and sui table material for Bonsai was very scarce and very expensive.

Mr Toshio Kawamoto, a very important bonsai grower had the foresight to realise that the young material available might lead to a loss of interest in Bonsai so he created the Saikei art form where young plants and rocks could be blended together,using bonsai principles. An instantly pleasing result was achieved. As the trees matured, they could be split up and the m~st promising of them turned into Bonsai.

Saikei is less formal than Bonsai and therefore there is more freedom of composition; also the components of Saikei are abundant and easily obtainable. The principles of bonsai, namely design, balance, pruning, wiring and planting, apply to Saikei.

Components of Saikei:

  1. Container
  2. Rocks
  3. Trees, grasses, ferns, Moss etc
  4. Atmosphere


Must be shallow and could be round, oval or rectangular, depending on your other constituents and the effect that you are trying to create. The colour must not be bold.

If Japanese containers are not available, inexpensive asbestos drip trays can be painted and will make good alternatives . If you are industrious you could make your own tray out of marine ply - don't forget drainage holes.


Almost the most important part of a Saikei. They set the atmosphere of the scene that you are trying to create, eg. a smooth rock with touches of white could be used to depict a mountain covered in snow. You will find it a great help to put names to rocks - Cliff rock, mountain rock, Shoreline rock, Island rock - and once you have analysed the 'spirit' of the rock you can choose the material to blend.

All the rocks in a planting should be of the same type, and the trees should match their characteristics, ego rugged rocks, rugged trees. The colour of tree and rock should harmonise,but not to the extent that they blend into each other. The direction in which rocks are placed is extremely important, the direction being determined by such things as veins, grooves strata. Each rock also has a back and front, bottom and top.


Should reflect the character of the rocks. A variety of sizes will give you a more realistic effect. They can be young and untrained or partially trained by wiring and pruning. It is permissible to mix some varieties for effect.

In planting and positioning trees, the same rules apply as for group planting no two trees should be equidistant when viewed from the side no two trees should be in a straight line.

Perspective is very important and must be kept in mind throughout the whole creation.

Varieties suitable for Saikei are the Juniper, various cypress, chamaecypress pines, cotoneaster, pyracantha, serissa foetida, lonicera nitida, myrtus and many more. Auxiliary plants are most valuable. Ferns, moss, selaginella, sedum, pilea grasses can all be used with due consideration given to colour texture and size. Bonsai soil may be used for the planting, but you will find a most useful aid in "muck", a mixture of clay and compost or peat. This can be used for stabilising rocks and building retaining walls in order to achieve different soil levels.


This is very important when creating Saikei. It must have the power to transport you into a world of illusion. If you can look at a Saikei and feel that you are on a high mountain side, or beside a stream, then the artist of the Saikei has achieved his goal.

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Right at my feet -

and when did you get here,

snail? ~ Issa

Random Bonsai Tip

Wick watering - Support your tree or pot over a container of water. Place one end of a piece of rope (approx 20 cm long and one centimeter diameter) in the container and bury the other end in the pot of soil - you can now go away on holiday.