Your own special bonsai-en, Prt 2

by Graeme Hill

A few comments now regarding intent as this will influence your thinking and design.

Do you wish your bonsai-en to be and remain to be purely a display area or a combination area covering display, training and even possibly your work area? If you include a work area then do try to make this inconspicuous as it will be visually incompatible with and detract from your display.

Thus layout and the use of screens become important. Remember you are aiming for visual harmony to enhance the beauty of your trees. Be careful therefore of introducing discord.

We turn now to the important element of water. We all know the importance of correct watering and the need for humidity so I'll not dwell on it, except to write a little on how to cater for these needs within a bonsai-en.

Humidity can be created in a number of ways:

  1. Method of watering: Using a watering can method of individual watering of trees creates a pocket of humidity around the tree only and usually of short duration. A misting of the whole area creates a much broader-based humidity area, a large pocket embracing the whole misted area which includes the ground surrounding the trees.
  2. Water pans or trays : Special areas into which or next to which bonsai are placed on stands. Thus while keeping their feet out of water, this ensures a high humidity surround.
  3. Bench medium : typically bonsai are set on benches comprising wooden slats or gravel chips which retain water and gradually give it off as evaporation, so creating the needed humidity.
  4. Water features: A stream, real or artificially created, with a cascade and a pond or ponds in the bonsai-en will not only provide the humidity but also add a lovely feature to it.

Finally, on the practical side, thought does need to be given to the question of maintenance. Most of us have unfortunate distractions from our bonsai - mundane things like jobs and household chores. We also have to consider our families and their important demands on us.

So be wary of creating a bonsai-en which, while it may be wonderful, requires you to spend inordinately or disproportionately large chunks of your leisure time merely maintaining it. One should of course get a sense of pleasure from working on or in our bonsai-en.

When maintenance moves from being a pleasure to becoming a chore will vary from person to person. Decide for yourself where that dividing line occurs for you and even then I suggest be conservative. One's ardor tends to cool!

One or two ideas or points to consider in this direction:

  1. Grass : Grass has to be cut! How much of the bonsai-en should be grassed and where? Remember gravel areas present a maintenance-free alternative. What type of grass is best suited to your needs?
  2. Paving stones : Consider use of these useful items. What type/ design /finish do you want to have? Or think of using wooden rings, wooden paving or railway sleepers. Where will they be laid and at what level? What purpose will they serve - decoration /accent or a path?
  3. Bonsai benches : Wooden slats - consider cost and maintenance. Asbestos roof sheeting covered with gravel chips is one alternative. Movable trays are another. Use angle iron welded and painted to accommodate asbestos cement tiles and filled with gravel chips. Mountings for the benches will be needed. Here wooden blocks, old pine tree trunks (treated with creosote!), cement tubes, cement blocks. treated wooden poles or various sizes of painted containers are all options you can use.
  4. Watering method : Consider installing a micro-jet spray/mist system. If you can afford it, a Gardena computerized watering control with various setting combinations is a great boon, especially if you go away.
  5. Bear in mind you will need easy access for cleaning, cutting grass, etc.

I would now like to move on to the more difficult area of the aesthetics or design elements of your bonsai-en.

Firstly bear in mind your intent, as I raised earlier, and keep that focus in mind. I would also suggest that you sketch and plan out on paper what you have in mind. Visualize and capture that mental picture before embarking on a new, or changing your existing bonsai-en. I thought a list of things to consider, items to use or ideas, might be useful. For this purpose though I have excluded any reference to your bonsai work area if you want to incorporate this into the whole area.


  1. Benches : trays wooden slatted tops, roofing sheets as previously discussed.
  2. Wall-mounted trays
  3. Pedestals, monkey poles, trunk cuttings, railway sleeper mounts.

A word here about height. Never look down on a tree, so the ground is not a good option unless the bonsai is a particularly large specimen and then the large pot will in itself lift the tree away from the ground line. Try to site the trees so that, without too much strain, the correct viewing height is achieved. Use different heights to create a visual balance. It is very boring if all your trees are displayed on the same level.


Always consider the background against which your trees will be featured. A dark background will create difficulty for the eye to pick out the finer features, while a fussy screen will distract and be too busy. A green background will merge with the tree and obscure it. Thus a contrasting simple background : is best. To illustrate what I mean, think of an early morning light sky, and how well trees can be seen in stark contrast.

Here are some ideas for backgrounds:

  1. Nothing - sounds strange, but a pedestal set in the bonsai-en as a single or cluster feature can be quite striking. Make sure though that the background is far enough away so that your depth of vision is such to let the bonsai dominate.
  2. A plain wall of white or neutral colour.
  3. A wooden fence or trellis.
  4. A bamboo screen.
  5. A wooden twig fence.


  1. Use of paving : stones, slabs, wooden slats, wooden rings, railway sleepers or gravel pathways or a I combination of some of these - use different sizes and shapes to add interest and avoid straight lines.
  2. Water features : ponds/pools, maybe with a few koi fish; cascade/stream or water vessels.
  3. Water trays for featuring rock plantings
  4. Use of stones to add accent or to lead the eye. This may be single or grouped. A gravel/stone area could be incorporated as a special feature with placed viewing stones. Rake the gravel to represent waves or a topography.
  5. Use of lanterns or pagodas. What about using Japanese characters, gateways and the like, and how about a half-hidden lurking stone dragon ! Don't necessarily stop with the visual impression as you can enhance the visual beauty by pleasing other senses as well.
  6. Your audio sense : the sound of running water in a stream, the scrunch of gravel underfoot, or gentle chimes in the breeze.
  7. Your olfactory sense : use aromatic shrubs as supplementary plantings. There are many indigenous varieties which can add fragrance as well as the exotics such as jasmine or gardenia or the temple tree, frangipani.

Remember though, in choosing from all the various options, your overriding aims:

To display your trees to best effect, and

To create a sense of peace, tranquility and harmony.

The K I S rule is best kept in mind. That is keep it simple!

I hope this article has proved informative and stirred you to create your own special bonsai-en.

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Fearlessly he moulds and

guides the elm tree

to a greater masterpiece

Random Bonsai Tip

If a tree lacks a branch in a specific place you could in arch or approach graft a branch in the required area or thread graft through the trunk using a long shoot of the same plant.