Bonsai, the art of miniaturizing trees and bushes in pots, can seem a mysterious oriental art that takes many lifetimes to master. And though it may be true that the art comes from the orient and may take many years of diligence to master, it can still be learned and enjoyed by the casual hobbyist. The main thing holding the novice back is knowing where to find simple answers to seemly complex questions. Here is a list of helpful resources for finding those beginning answers.
Books: You want to find a book on the subject, one that will not only give you some pointers but will have pictures of bonsai that will excite you. I especially suggest Amy Liang’s The Living Art of Bonsai(beautiful and inspiring pictures), Dorothy S. Young’s Bonsai: The Art and Technique (detailed discussions of the craft), and Jerald P. Stowell’s The Beginner’s Guide to American Bonsai (good for a Western take on an Eastern art). Look to see what your local library has and also browse the bookstores. Almost any bonsai book will give you a good guide to the basics.
Bonsai sellers: They are an excellent resource because they stand to profit on your increased knowledge on the topic and subsequently increased interest. Some sellers even offer classes on the art of bonsai–some free and some for fees that often cover material and supplies that will be used to create a bonsai. The only problem with these sellers is that most of them work from home and thus are located in odd or out of the way areas and keep erratic hours.
Clubs: There is bound to be a local club near you–most heavily populated areas have several. You can find out about these clubs using the Internet or by asking your local bonsai seller, who will most likely be heavily involved in the club.
Clubs offer you a network of support and experience, access to bonsai material and supplies, and often offer learning sessions and seminars by bonsai masters. They may also go to conventions and allow you the chance to display your own bonsai efforts. The drawbacks of these clubs could be the nominal membership fees and location.
Internet sites: Any search engine will pull up hundreds of bonsai related sites. Many of these sites are sellers’ home pages but these pages also include information on the art of miniaturizing trees. One of the best sites on the web is run by Bonsai Clubs International (www.bonsai-bci.com), which includes a lot of valuable facts as well as a nice list of bonsai links.
Another place to consider learning about bonsai is auction sites like eBay where a keyword search will bring up hundreds of items and will give you the idea of what kind of trees are used and are available. You can also buy some trees and supplies from these sites at good prices. But as always, buyer beware.
Experience: Put a tree in a pot. Nothing teaches like the act of doing. After you’ve read a few books, talked to a few fellow enthusiasts, went to some club meetings/seminars, or checked out the Internet offerings, try it yourself. Find an inexpensive tree to start with–try a juniper bought at Wal-mart or Home Depot or similar garden center.
Buy the other necessary supplies (I suggest starting with a pot, soil, and wire, and leave the professional cutting tools till later) from a bonsai seller or order them from the Internet–check eBay. Then, see what happens. The worst you can do is kill the tree, a tree that can easily be replaced, and by failing you’ll learn what not to do next time. So get to it.