Bonsai is a Japanese art form that typically features miniature trees grown in ornamental containers. These plants are not grown for food, medicine, or the outdoor landscape, but rather for the viewer to contemplate the scene/specimen and for the grower to practice the craft.

Bonsai does not use genetically dwarf varieties, but instead uses regular plant stock and special cultivation techniques like pruning, root reduction, re-potting, and grafting to produce small plants that mimic the shape and style of full size trees. Similar practices exist in other cultures like penjing in China and Hahn Nahn Bo in Vietnam.

Traditional bonsai can survive for hundreds of years develop over many generations. Some of the most impressive specimens are hundreds of years old and passed down between generations. For those interested in trying out the art of bonsai, one fun and easy way to get started is to use various herbs as your plant material. While many purists will eschew the use of herbs in bonsai, herbs offer many advantages to those wanting to get a taste of this ancient art form. Herbs are easy to grow, grow at a much faster rate compared to traditional trees, are readily available and are inexpensive compared to other traditional bonsai varieties.

National Bonsai & Penjing Museum
Photo: National Bonsai & Penjing Museum by William Neuheisel

Suggestions for beginners include lemon verbena (aloysia triphylla), bay laurel (laurus nobilis), rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis), french lavender (lavandula dentata), and pineapple sage (salvia elegans). You can purchase or pre-order these plants from us to grow over the winter or for the spring of next year’s growing season.

For more information on bonsai, check out the book Herbal Bonsai, by Richard W Bender or Indoor Bonsai for Beginners, by Cassell Illustrated.

Cover Image by Norio NAKAYAMA, used under its Creative Commons license.

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