art, decor

The Art Of Bonsai


HL chatted to bonsai expert Hester Duffett about the art of growing and maintaining Bonsai trees during winter. How and when did you start working with bonsai trees? I visited a bonsai show at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town and was fascinated by the miniature trees. That was in December 1969. I bought a small oak bonsai tree for 25 cents. After that, I joined the first Bonsai Club in Cape Town - Becky Lucas' Bonsai Society of South Africa… and the rest is history. Taking care of bonsais can be tricky. What are your three top tips when it comes to maintaining a bonsai during winter? Be aware of positioning, watering (even if it's during the rainy season) and pruning. Deciduous bonsai trees need to be pruned back. Where is the best place to grow bonsais? Inside or outdoors? And why? Outdoors. Bonsais need early morning or late afternoon sun. They also need to be sheltered from harsh winds. You need to think of it as a tree, not as a pot plant. Place it on your stoep, balcony or under shade netting for the best results. When buying a bonsai tree, how do you tell whether it is in good condition or not? The leaves should be green and healthy and you should be able to see the start of new growth. Bonsai = horticulture meets art. How much of a role does the design and shape of the tree play in its value and sustainability? Art and design are very important when it comes to bonsai. There are a variety of styles and it's up to you to choose one that will suit a specific tree. Horticultural techniques are integral in the sustainability of bonsai trees. Pruning, trimming, wiring, as well as the cutting and reducing of the root ball will promote healthy growth and increase the value of the tree. Hester Duffett studied under bonsai expert Becky Lucas in 1969. Later, she formed Oyama Bonsai Kai, a club that showcased their trees at bonsai shows at Kirstenbosch Gardens. She trained under international bonsai masters, each of whom taught her new techniques, including John Yoshia Naka, Ben Oki, Harry Tomlinson and Deborah and Dorothy Koreshoff. She has been growing and selling bonsai trees for over 20 years.  Hester still sells young bonsais at a small craft market in Heidelberg in the Western Cape on Fridays and Saturdays from 9am until 2pm. Prices depend on age and design. Interviewed by Lindi Brownell Meiring