Is That Bonsai Real?by Will HeathDrawing by Richard Fish
That stunning bonsai that is displayed so well, the beauty that screams perfection, the image that touches your very soul --- is it natural, or is it cosmetically enhanced? Does the award winning grace come from the bonsai and the artist who shaped and styled it? Or is it the product of cosmetic trickery, makeup, dyes, props, and other unnatural enhancements that could turn an average bonsai into a showstopper?
Ridiculous, you say?
Consider the many enhancements that we already take for granted, from Tanuki to waxing foliage to carving deadwood. We oil our pots, brush our trunks, we wax this and wax that, all to better bring out the natural beauty of our bonsai and it's display. We push or postpone flowering by adjusting climate so that a tree will reach its peak on the day of the show and we purposely keep a tree in the shade to darken the foliage. I have even recently learned a trick to hide wounds where you simply press pieces of bark from the removed portion onto the sealing putty to camouflage the area.
Acceptable? Apparently, but where and when should we draw the line? When do the innocent tricks used for so long become cheating? Do we stop at dying foliage a prettier shade or using putty or clay to thicken the trunks or limbs? At attaching additional flowers from a separate plant, or gluing on additional foliage in a needed location, or clipping removable nebari onto the lower trunk for the show? When does the judging change from skill at cultivating, styling, and displaying artistic bonsai to skill at makeup and preparation? When will the cosmetologist replace the artist?
How prevalent is this? It is truly impossible to tell as what artist would readily admit to enhancing his skill or even covering up his lack thereof? Which artist would confess that the flowers on that award winner were actually grown on another plant altogether or that the luscious green of the foliage on that pine is the direct result of spraying dye #189 on in thin layers?
In this day and age of instant gratification and even faster leaps in technology in horticulture and the art of bonsai, these may indeed be questions to be addressed sooner than we think.