One great pleasure of the bonsai grower is the satisfaction he gets from
his creation of natural scenery after a lot of sweat and much thought
Grouping of plants provides this satisfaction and is
generally known as 'the formation of forest'.
The material used ranges from three to more trees which are arranged in
such a way as to resemble a wood or forest. This is the most naturalistic
and picturesque of all. It does not only convey a sense of serenity and
calmness to the bonsai fancier but brings him into the realm of imagination
in which he can roam through the miniature forest amidst the chirruping
of birds, the bebbling of flowing water, the sound of scholars' reading,
and the humming
Method of Grouping
a. Raw material:
1. Dwarfed plants of the same kind
2. Dwarfed plants of different kinds
3. Dwarfed plants of the same age
4. Dwarfed plants of different ages
5. Dwarfed plants of similar form
6. Dwarfed plants of different forms
4. Distant woods
5. Near woods
c. Geographical differentiation:
1. Woods along the lower slope of mountain range
2. Swampy woods
3. Woods along the coast
4. Woods with glades
5. Woods with streams
6. Woods on low hills
7. Ancient forests
8. Woods with small paths
The grower must first choose his raw materials and then decide on the
style. He may try out his idea by first making draft drawings. I think
he may benefit a lot by constant reference to Chinese landscape paintings
or to scenic spots he has visited during his travels. After the grower
has decided on a pattern he can start putting his ideas into form.
Basic Principles of Grouping
mentioned earlier, a grouping consists of at least three trees. They are
best cultivated in shallow containers and success lies in their expression
of the beauty of Nature.
It must be borne in mind that over-elaborate designs do not necessarily
ensure good works. They often result in artificiality and lack of harmony
as such designs do not follow the dictates of Nature. Personally I think
the basic principle is THE IMITATION OF NATURE. The design must be harmonious,
proportionate and have depth.
Without these qualities the overall impression of the design would be
disorderly and downright mediocre, To achieve the above qualities attention
must be paid to the height of the trees, the size of the trunks and the
distance between each tree. The grower must exercise his imagination in
this miniature representation of Nature.
Layout of Tree Groupings
The grower must make sure that he has an adequate supply of raw materials.
If he wishes to group five trees, he should have three or four trees as
reserve, because the height and the thickness of the trees may not all
suit his design.
Now come the actual layout.
As mentioned earlier, grouping
consists of at least three trees. They form the indispensable parts of
groupings of any size. The largest and tallest tree will be used as the
''main tree'', the medium one as the ''side tree'' and the smallest one
as the ''complementary tree''. For a grouping of more than three, the
other trees should be smaller than the ''basic 3''.
Other smaller trees may be added. In practice, add numbers are favoured,
i.e. 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 . . . . . . . etc. The choice of containers depends
largely on the number of trees to be grouped. Shallow containers of a
suitable size should be used.
The grouping of three trees requires great
skill as it would be extremely difficult to hide shortcomings in such
small groupings. For beginners I think it may be a good idea to practice
the grouping of three first as a means to gain experience and confidence.
When they have acquired some skill in grouping they may attempt larger
groupings with variations. When finally interest has been aroused, progress
It is not necessarily true that a forest scenery calls for
a lot of trees. A limited number of trees can form a 'life-like' forest
scenery if the arrangement is skillful. I think the crucial point is not
the number but rather the choice of materials, the layout and the spacing
of the trees. Appropriate spacing is important in exercising the imagination.
For large-size groupings each component part must contribute to the whole
in order to express the beauty of Nature.
Procedures of Grouping
Put the container right in front with the longest side facing you. Imagine
that there are parallel lines to the longest side of the container. Choose
the parallel line in the middle and measure 1/3 of its length from either
the right or the left. Then place the main tree a little in front or behind
this point (as shown in the diagram):
The complementary tree can be placed near the main tree but must not
be on the same parallel line as the main tree. Measure 1/3 of the distance
on the middle parallel line from the other side of the main tree and place
the side tree a little in front or behind this point in the opposite direction
of the main tree (as shown in the diagram):
This is perhaps the most balanced form. But of course the grower may
vary the position of the side tree at will. I would like to sum up as
follows: 1. the triangle formed by the basic three trees must not be equilateral;
2. the trees should not be placed on the same parallel line; 3. there
must be some distance between any two trees.
Grouping of seven
Let me give another example. This time we are going to group 7 trees.
The basic three trees should be placed just as mentioned and the other
four trees should be placed at the back or on the flanks. Care must be
taken not to place them in the middle of the container nor on the same
parallel line with the other trees. This will produce the impression of
depth and perspective of the forest.
What I have just said is no more than a guideline for beginners. When
he has become familiar with grouping, he may change the pattern at will
and will produce good results.
In large groupings the grower can break
the trees into two, three or more groups. The abovementioned principles
apply in this type of grouping.
What can a grower do when he is confronted
with three trees of similar size?
He should place them as close together as possible so as to produce a
focus of attraction. These three trees take the place of the main tree
which acts as the focus. Besides, the roots of the three trees should
be made to intertwine and a part of them should appear a little above
the soil. After putting the plants in place the grower then covers the
exposed roots with moss. After some time the moss will fall off and the
roots which will have grown strong by now will give the impression that
the trees have been there for a great many years. If, however, the three
trees are placed too far apart, the overall impression will be loose and
Grouping is the sure test of originality, artistry, and realism
in bonsai. Another advantage is that it does not cost much. Moreover,
the changes in pattern are endless and show the grower's talents to the
best advantage. I would like to mention that in the selection of materials
we may come across trees without leaves or wilted plants. To the layman
these trees may seem useless, but in the hands of a bonsai expert these
may be ingredients of a real good work of art.
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