by Cheryl Petty -- February 2, 2009
A contemporary form of bonsai called ‘Saika’ is gaining popularity in Japan. It is like flower arranging except using rooted plants in a permanent arrangement. Japanese women use these darling potted bonsai as seasonal decorations in their homes or displayed prominently outdoors where they can be appreciated for themselves, changing them out frequently.
Saika is being promoted in Japan by a few hardy bonsai artists not afraid of bucking the predominantly male oriented, single specimen tree practice. Kaori Yamada is one of these innovating women who is also fifth generation of a family who runs a bonsai nursery called Seiko-en in Omiya Village which I visited on my trip to Japan last year. Yamada is a prolific book writer, and I purchased one of her books which I am wearing to tatters. Although it is all in Japanese, the photos are very good and show every step needed to create her designs.
Saika features combinations of trees or plants and other elements in one or separate containers. The choice of plants is almost endless, but with many things it helps to have taste and a sense of aesthetics when selecting. Many effects are seasonal such as using a flowering cherry branch with spring blooming accent plants that say ‘spring is here!’ Another fun idea is to use a branch of berries combined with miniature chrysanthemums for a floral display in fall.
Another feature of Saika is the simplified approach. Yamada says, &dlquo; Conventional bonsai has so many rules, and you’re supposed to learn all of them. But that’s not much fun. The priority is to keep the plants alive and have fun growing them. I teach the minimum rules necessary for this.”
I will be instructing several workshops this year based on designs by Yamada. Making a cascade style arrangement using a species rose, rosa hugonis, capitalizes on a bloom characteristic of roses. The pliable canes are easy to form and bloom heavily on arched canes, making roses into eye-catching specimens ideally suited for the cascade or Kengai style.
At another workshop each participant receives three small pots with which to make their own design incorporating a viewing rock and two specially prepared ‘Nishiki’ willow cuttings that have been pre-wired into curled or twisted shapes. The ‘Nishiki’ willow name alludes to a brocade design frequently used in obi or kimono cloth. Singly or by twos their roots will be wrapped in two kinds of moss and the whole is fastened into very small containers. Each arrangement includes two willow dishes and a third saucer with a ‘suiseki’ or viewing rock. This style of Saika is a kind of mini bonsai whose roots are covered by moss and is called ‘kokedama.’
Yamada says, “ Many people try it just for fun, but they’re deeply moved when the plants bloom.”