Book Review: Herbal Bonsai

Herbal Bonsai:  Practicing The Art With Fast-Growing Herbs, by Richard W. Bender

The author seems unsure of whether to celebrate or to bemoan the impatience of potential American bonsai enthusiasts.  On the one hand, the author celebrates the way that herbs can serve as a rapidly growing (sometimes in only a few months) way of developing striking plants that can serve to demonstrate techniques of pruning and training plants, not least plants that can serve the plate as well as look attractive to the eye.  Edible attractive arrangements sounds like a win on all fronts for someone like me [1].  On the other hand, though, the author seems to bemoan that Americans are so impatient that they are unwilling to wait to have the kind of attractive traditional bonsai arrangements that one may find in Europe or Japan.  The author notes, though, that such traditional arrangements could only be enjoyed by (great-) grandchildren, and so are unlikely to be undertaken by most Americans.  Americans don’t have time to wait a century for a plant to show aged woody trunks and a striking, wizened appearance.  A few months to a couple of years seems about right for the attention span and patience of many would-be bonsai enthusiasts, though.

This book is about 100 pages long, and although there are some lovely pictures, the book as a whole is text-driven, and driven also by the author’s experience in working with herbs given the bonsai treatment.  After a preface pointing to the rise in popularity for bonsai after the popularity of the Karate Kid (!), the author opens with a discussion of the history and change over time of bonsai from its roots in Egypt and India to its development in China and Japan and beyond (1).  After this the author moves to the selection of the right herb to grow as a bonsai specimen (2).  Once the herb is chosen, the author discusses how to train the candidate (3) and develop it in one growing season through planting it outside and then bringing it inside as winter approaches (4).  Another couple of chapters talk about the potting (5) and shaping (6) of the field-grown bonsai once it is brought indoors, keeping in mind the varying need for moisture and the desirability of avoiding rot and pests.  After this the author discusses how to train a container-grown bonsai (7) as well as how to care for (8), dress up (9) and display bonsai (10) once they are indoors.  The book then closes with an afterword as well as references and resources for future reading and research.

What makes herbal bonsai growing appealing.  Let us count the ways:  you can grow attractive plants fast, and even though you have to trim them to take care of them, often you can eat the basil, thyme, sage, oregano, or use the homegrown lavender for essential oils if you are into that kind of thing.  Additionally, the plants look striking and attractive if they are well-cared for, and the combination of good looking plants with rock and moss elements, fast growing, and practical use is certainly a winning combination for somewhat busy and impatient American audiences.  One only wonders why, in light of this, that there are some who might sniff that this is not real bonsai because one can do it relatively quickly, as if most people had decades or centuries to wait before having a worthwhile result of their labors and efforts.  Considering how some bonsais do not handle being moved about all that well, it is a wonder that there would be any grown at all in the United States given how impermanent our society is and how rare it would be to have land undisturbed for decades or centuries in the light of our development and growth.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/08/book-review-harvest/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/04/03/book-review-the-bee-friendly-garden/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/22/book-review-miniature-gardens/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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