Entry to the Toowoomba Bonsai Show is through a curtain akin to Kimono sleeves bearing traditional Japanese art. A forest of dwarf trees await your appraisal and vote for the best bonsai. I chose the wisteria because I love their delicate lilac flowers and for the shape of the bonsai branches. Other stunning floral trees were Japanese Azalea, Gardenia and Indian Hawthorn.
Bonsai is a unique and ancient art form which began around 700AD in China where it was called 'punsai'. It is considered to be the highest form of horticulture because of the level of skill required for maintenance and because the trees live indefinitely in a controlled environment. Trees in the display were in a variety of sizes, breeds and styles. Ligustrum, Chinese Elm, Cedar Atlanticus, Willow Leaf Fig and the popular Juniper were some to admire.
So what attracts people to the art of bonsai? Some simply enjoy its shape while others feel the need for an artistic, horticultural hobby. One club member explained that he was moving house so much that he wanted mobile trees that he could continue to enjoy in each new location.
Trees range in size as preferred, while maintaining suitable proportions, their twisted limbs and miniature foliage forming living 3D art. Foliage can be allowed to grow larger, provided the tree stays proportional.
Ornately carved Japanese pot stands are ideal for showing off the years of hard work. Mock, jade pebbles create an even stronger Japanese feel to presentation. Traditional Japanese figures such as miniature fishermen or mountains enhance the look of miniature outdoor scenes. Styles of trees include mame, twin trunk, informal upright, broom and saikei.
The Bonsai Show raffle prize was a Japanese Juniper valued at around $180. Small trees for sale were suitable for use to begin your own bonsai, for around $100.
Starting a bonsai from scratch involves a procedure called 'air-layering'. Some of the bark of a tree is scraped back to the cambrian layer. A pot or plastic bag of sphagnum moss and rooting hormone is placed around the scrape area and left for three to twelve months. The piece of tree is then cut off and planted in a pot. You are then ready to begin tending to the pruning procedures required to keep the tree miniature.
Bonsai grow in the same kinds of light conditions as a tree grown naturally. Growth times are spring and autumn. Re-potting may be done once a year. The Bonsai Group experts were on site to answer your questions, for example, if your bonsai is too light in colour is it due to overwatering? The answer is 'no'. In this case look for air pockets by watering and looking for excessive bubbling. You can always jump onto an online chat room for an in-depth discussion.
There are thirty to forty bonsai clubs in Australia, plus an annual international convention. The Association of Australian Bonsai Clubs represents individual clubs throughout Australia and some in New Zealand.
The Toowoomba Bonsai Group meets at the Rose Cottage in Newtown Park's Queensland State Rose Garden on the first Saturday of each month from 10am - 4pm. Since 1977 the group has provided a venue for enthusiasts to share information, skills and experiences and to hear talks by professionals. An impressive library of print and digital materials is available for borrowing. Members work on their bonsai trees with experienced help on style and horticultural care. Each year the group take bus trips to shows and nurseries in south east Queensland. Beginners are welcome. Who knows, you may even get to put your very own bonsai in the annual display during the Carnival of Flowers festival.
The Toowoomba Bonsai Show was well attended and appreciated by visitors. A red blossom tree tapestry, miniature Japanese bridge and lots of potted shrubs helped to create a leisurely atmosphere. Stay tuned for next year's exciting display.