Research group branches out for a day of bonsai

On 15 February, 2018, staff and postgraduate students from Process Monitoring and Systems (part of the Extractive Metallurgy Research Group in the Department of Process Engineering) kicked off the year with a social event: a Create Your Own Bonsai course at Bishopsford Bonsai Nursery in Constantia. Bonsai are small trees kept in ceramic pots, which attempt to convey the impression of great age and size in a miniaturised plant, through various techniques.

The morning began with an overview of the artistic and horticultural basics of bonsai, including different tree designs and methods for reshaping trunks and branches, and a short discussion of plants’ need for sunlight, water and fertiliser. After a short tea break, the group had a tour of the collection of bonsai at the nursery, discussing different plant species and suitability for bonsai in the Western Cape, and admiring the hundreds of trees in the collection.

After the tour, each member of the group selected a wild fig (Ficus natalensis) from the starter plants available in the nursery, and a bonsai pot from the selection of ceramic pots. Then began the process of creating their own bonsai: selecting the best viewing angle, choosing which branches to keep or to remove for visual effect, shaping branches and trunks with wire and pruning, trimming the roots and planting the tree in the chosen pot. Although several growing seasons will be needed before the small trees in pots really begin to look like bonsai, the changes from starter tree to bonsai-in-training were dramatic!

Each attendee left the course with a bonsai-in-training and the care instructions to ensure that their new tree in a pot thrives and develops over the next few years.

With the completed bonsai-in-training. From left to right: P Addo, E Nienaber, Dr J McCoy, B Wakefield, B Lindner, Z Horn, Dr L Auret

Working on the design of the bonsai, including selecting the best viewing angle and deciding which branches to remove and keep. From left to right: B Lindner, P Addo, Dr L Auret, E Nienaber, B Wakefield, Dr J McCoy, Z Horn