Bonsai at BBG - Brooklyn Botanic Garden
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Bonsai at BBG

In nature, small details in the shape, texture, and size of a tree’s trunk and branches offer clues about the elements that guided it to grow a particular way. Poetically gnarled trunks and twisted branches tell the story of survival and adaptation to sweeping winds, drought, punishing snows, or even fire over countless years. In bonsai, a tree’s form is guided by the work of the bonsai artist, who strives to inspire the viewer with this spirit of perseverance. To achieve a believable bonsai design, one must look to ancient trees in nature and contemplate the countless scenarios of their formation.

Perhaps a seed falls into a cliffside crevice and grows to cascade off the side of a mountain, its roots clinging to boulders and its branches buffeted by constant wind or weighed down by snow. Imagining these conditions can inform the direction in which a bonsai will be trained. Each “pre-bonsai” plant has its own inherent qualities. The goal is to identify and accentuate these intrinsic features.

This spring, as part of the JapanNYC festival organized by Carnegie Hall, Brooklyn Botanic Garden will present Graceful Perseverance, a special exhibit of bonsai trained to display the characteristics of trees that have adapted to challenging environments. A rotating selection of over 80 specimens will be displayed in the C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum until May 1. For details, visit Graceful Perseverance. To learn more about the styles of bonsai, read the article Bonsai Styles.

Rebecca Bullene is a former editor at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. She is the proprietor of Greenery NYC, a creative floral and garden design company that specializes in botanical works of art including terrariums, urban oasis gardens, and whimsical floral arrangements.

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Image, top of page: Antonio M. Rosario