The National Bonsai and Penjing Collection is a free and permanent exhibition at the National Arboretum, which is less than ten minutes from the CBD. This scenic venue overlooking the city is the perfect backdrop to this collection, with its forests of endangered trees planted all around the property - and miniature versions located inside.
The Collection is located at the Visitors Centre and contains over 80 examples of this exquisite art form, created by some of Australia's leading bonsai and penjing artists. As you walk around the bonsai's, you can't help but marvel at the intricate nature of each work and also the stories they tell in the miniature landscapes. Even if you aren't into plants or gardening, it is like walking into a mystical, natural art gallery and all you can do is appreciate the years, patience and skill invested into each one. The following are some of the highlights to discover, however you are sure to find your own, every time you visit.
Walk through the Collection and admire this cultural art form
On our visit we met a volunteer who explained the features of these beautiful trees and miniature forests, pointing out the different types of styles, with origins from all corners of Asia. For example, Bonsai is the art of refining miniature trees and shrubs in pots, styling and pruning them to perfection. In comparison, Penjing is the art of telling a story in the landscape, with forests, rockery and sometimes water to reflect an overall scene. It can also represent a poem or proverb that is important to the creator or include a figurine to put the scene in perspective. This style has been practiced in China for at least 1,400 years and it is this history, culture, craftsmanship and storytelling that I personally found so compelling. Although everyone will have their favourite style - Penjing is one highlight of the collection - for all ages.
Admiring the Penjing style from afar - no touching is allowed. Look closer to find the fisherman
Another surprising aspect of this collection was the styling and training of Australian trees into bonsai - with Bottle Brush, Paper Bark and Eucalypts reduced down to miniature form. These bonsai are on loan from artists and families from all over Australia, who can spend a lifetime tenderly pruning these trees as they grow, to tame into the right form. This cultural art form that has been passed down through the generations, is an artistry that can only be achieved by the most patient of all. This Paperbark below has been trained since 2003, over the last 13 years.
According to the informative volunteer on the day of our visit, when choosing a tree species to create into a flowering bonsai, the flowers need to be naturally tiny and in proportion to the finished size. Spring is obviously the best time to visit the Collection, to see these spectacular displays with the flowers out in bloom. On our visit in the last month of Spring there were two trees in bloom - the Paper Flower Bougainvillea and an Azalea. Both were beautiful to look at and their fragrance lingered in the air. I can only imagine the sheer joy the creator must feel when it flowers - it would be the most rewarding achievement of all.
The National Bonsai and Penjing Collection has free entry, however if you would like to make a donation, this is also appreciated. When visiting the Collection, it is important to walk on the paths provided, ensure children are supervised and to also leave your umbrella at the door. If you would like to learn more about the Collection or see a 3D tour, see the National Arboretum website for more details.
I must admit to being surprised by The National Bonsai and Penjing Collection. Having no previous interest in Bonsai's before, our family just happened to wander into the Collection after a visit to the Sprout Café next door. Walking into this large and airy exhibition space is stunning, with rows of unique, living art forms lined up to admire. Each one tells its own story, has its own creator and reflects a personal journey over a lifetime. As they grow, they will continue to take shape and evolve into something new. All we can do is stand back and appreciate them for what they are now - and for what they will be.