The author’s modest, but earnest and benevolent, attempt at the Japanese art of bonsai.
The author’s modest, but earnest and benevolent, attempt at the Japanese art of bonsai. Photo David Stuart

Bonsai: keep your bush under control

BONSAI, like origami and sashimi, by and large needs no introduction for those not fluent in Japanese. Some cheeky political commentators even nicknamed former Australian Prime Minister John Howard after the "little bush".

Bonsai is to horticulture what foot binding is to pedicure. Some may say that it is tree-torture, and it is hard to disagree.

Indeed, leaves are trimmed, branches are grafted, roots are pruned, branches are bound with wire, trunks are clamped.

I love the weathered aesthetics of the bonsai and have done so ever since I first heard Mr Miyagi utter his, pardon the pun, seminal but hypocritical dictum as he trimmed the tree: "Bonsai choose own way grow because root strong." The trilogy apparently spawned an entire generation of bonsai enthusiasts across the globe.

Rather than commit to the collectively accepted rules of an art form, I decided to go freestyle and create a free-range bonsai that could live within the generous confines of a liberal lifestyle with no more restrictions that a semi-regular haircut.

So, out I venture into the Japanese forest with a plastic bag in one hand and inspiration in the other. I'm scanning the forest ground for a sapling keen for adventure. Unlike Karate Kid, I didn't scale any cliffs, nor come out with a tree. And that's when I spot my little bonsai chilling on the side of the road. An unimpressive-looking specimen, many would say, it was sitting on the berm in the shade waiting for me to come along and tug his puny roots from the earth.

My little bonsai is transported out of the forest in the plastic bag with remnants of a vine, a scraping of moss and a handful of volcanic soil. I shape out a mossy mound and clumsily allow my mongrel tree to poke out at an awkward angle. See - anybody can do it.

Follow David on Twitter: @bigkamo