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Published June 19th 2019
Be enchanted by a world of miniature trees and landscapes
There's something quite endearing and enchanting about representing life in miniature, whether it's dollhouses, fairy gardens, Christmas village displays, Lego sets, miniature parks such as Cockington Green Gardens at Gold Creek, or bonsai and penjing.
In China, creating miniature landscapes (or penjing ) has been an artform for well over 2000 years. About 1200 years ago Buddhist monks took penjing to Japan where it became very popular. But the Japanese developed their own unique style. Instead of creating landscapes, they started growing miniature trees in containers that mimicked the shape and scale of full-sized trees. And so the art of bonsai was born.
Here in Canberra, we have an outstanding, world-class collection of about 80 bonsai and penjing, created by leading Australian artists. And you can see them all at the National Arboretum.
The National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia at the National Aboretum includes miniature trees, landscapes and forests, with a mix of Australian and exotic trees. About 20% of the collection consists of Australian natives including Eucalypts, Banksias, Casuarinas and Acacias. The oldest trees are more than 60 years old.
Whereas bonsai is about creating the illusion of a full-sized, old tree in miniature, penjing is more about a landscape or scene and may have a story or piece of poetry attached to it, as well as rocks, different trees and even small figurines or objects. However, both bonsai and penjing evolved from the cultures of China and Japan and are therefore infused with concepts from Taoism, Confucianism and Zen Buddhism, such as minimalism, the harmony and beauty of nature, calmness, peace, and respect and reverence for old age. These are all captured and reflected in the penjing and bonsai of the National Collection at the Arboretum.
The Collection also includes a petrified tree stump dating back 165 million years to the Jurassic Era when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. The tree stump comes from the Wandoan region in Queensland and was kindly donated to the Arboretum by the National Dinosaur Museum.
The Collection's bonsai and penjing have all been donated or loaned by the artists, their families or friends. Volunteers help to maintain and look after the collection. New volunteers are always welcome and free training is provided. If you're interested in the art of bonsai and penjing and would like to learn more, contact the Curator, Leigh Taafe on 02 6207 8483, email: email@example.com.
The Arboretum also hosts bonsai and penjing classes, workshops and talks. From August 30-September 2, the Arboretum will host 'World Bonsai Masters', a once in a lifetime experience to meet and learn from world-class bonsai artists, Master Kunio Kobayashi from Japan and Ryan Neil from United States of America. Participants will engage directly with the bonsai masters for a weekend of workshops, discussions and demonstrations. Go here to secure your places or to find out more information. And in September, the Arboretum will host a four week beginner Bonsai course which will cover the essentials for creating, styling and maintaining bonsai. For more information, please call 6207 8484. You can also secure your place here.
The National Bonsai and Penjing Collection is located at the Village Centre, National Arboretum, Forest Drive (off Tuggeranong parkway), Weston Creek. Open from 9am-4pm every day (except Christmas Day). Entry is free.