If you look at young trees, they are very symmetrical and healthy-looking. But as they get exposed to the elements and get older, you always see this asymmetry in their design. If you try to get that into your [bonsai] tree as young as possible, it helps in making the tree look old.
You also need to think about design principles: Do you want tension or do you want harmony in the design? It’s really about taking the tree from the bottom and looking at it. It’s very rewarding.
I mean, you completely get lost in the world of the tree, you know?
Even when you’re working with indoor plants, or any plants, when you really start paying attention to the way that you water them, the way that you take care of them, how it affects them, it’s really just amazing.
And the same with the trees. Because you try to get this design, but you can’t work against the tree, you have to work with the tree. And that’s really the essence of it: you’re trying to make the best of the tree that you can.
And you’ve got to really have respect for the tree. So that gives you that real zen, peaceful space.
The thing is, bonsai is never really finished. Because what you’re trying to create is essentially, I don’t know if one could call it art, but I mean, it is an art. It is evolving. It never stands still. It’s a living thing.
And, when you have a tree that has been styled, in springtime when it starts growing I want to see how it reacts to what I’ve done to it; how far can you push it before you start damaging the tree.
Because of this, it’s kind of like you just can’t wait until springtime. It becomes an exciting time of the year. — Henk Swanepoel, owner of the Bonsai Studio in Johannesburg, as told to Sarah Smit