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The Art of Bonsai

We chat to South African bonsai expert Hester Duffett about selecting, maintaining and caring for bonsai trees, particularly in winter.

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Bonsai trees | House and Leisure

Whether grown from scratch or bought from a specialist, bonsai trees are miniature masterpieces, and caring for them correctly is an artform in and of itself. This is why many people find the idea of owning a bonsai daunting. So, we turned to Hester Duffett, the founder of Oyama Bonsai Kai club in Cape Town, for some guidance.

Duffett discovered the joy of bonsai in 1969 and began training under 'the mother of bonsai in South Africa', Becky Lucas, before receiving further guidance from international bonsai masters John Yoshia Naka, Ben Oki, Harry Tomlinson and Deborah and Dorothy Koreshoff. With over 20 years' experience in growing and selling bonsai trees, who better to give us some bonsai basics than Duffett?

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Bonsai Expert Hester Duffett's Bonsai Basics

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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 bonsai trees can be tricky. What are your three top tips when it comes to maintaining a bonsai tree 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.

ALSO READ: Small Wonders: Fostering the Art of Bonsai
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Where is the best place to grow a bonsai tree?

Outdoors. Bonsai trees 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 can 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.

ALSO READ: Plant it Yourself: How to Make Your Own Bonsai
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How big of a role does the design and shape of the bonsai 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.