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THE BONSAI HANDBOOK (article first published : 2001-11-3)

Don’t let the title The Bonsai Handbook create in your mind any pre-conceived ideas conjured up by the word “handbook” which seems to suggest that it is some sort of handy pocket-sized publication. This is a magnificent volume of 160 pages and larger than A4 size in format (280x215 mm) with 200 full colour pictures, all of them the epitome of horticultural photography.

The literal translation of the word “Bonsai” from the Chinese is “tree in a pot”. A tree whose size is skillfully controlled. Now …before any of your thoughts fly in the direction of “cruelty to plant life”, let me put your well-meaning and caring minds at rest.

Nature, with its usual ingenuity produces bonsai specimens without the aid of specialised nurseries or enthusiasts of the art. Very often a seed from a tree gets blown into a crack in a rock-face but prior to the seed arriving, tiny amounts of soil over the years have also been blow into this same crack. If that seed had fallen on the ground and germinated, there would be available nutrient it needed to allow it to grow to the size of its parent. But if the seed germinated in this crack, the miniscule amount of soil would produce a size of tree commensurate with its limited supply of nutriment. A small edition of the parent. Nature is clever, but not cruel!

If you doubt what I have said, look in the gutters of your home or in the cracks of the surface of a disused tarred road – you may well find a bonsai specimen produced by nature growing quite happily.

Enough preaching and now to The Bonsai Handbook which I feel sure will become the bible that deals with every aspect of bonsai, from the history of its beginnings to its present-day art-form linked very much with horticultural science.

There are so many credits - and deservedly earned - in the production of this fine volume that the list would be as long as we see at end of a classic movie. David Prescott, the author, is to be congratulated. Internationally recognised on the fascinating subject of bonsai is the Consultant Editor, Colin Lewis, who I would say was responsible for the superb photography.

Without a doubt, I forecast that this book will recruit many devotees to the world of Bonsai.

The Bonsai Handbook is published by New Holland Publishers Ltd of London, Cape Town, Sydney and Auckland. In good bookshops in South Africa the price is about R139.95. – John Simpson




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