The National Bonsai and Penjing collection is housed at the National Arboretum in Canberra and boasts over 80 miniature trees, some of which are over 60 years old. It is a truly inspiring collection from some of Australia’s best bonsai and penjing artists and could provide something to strive towards for those aspiring bonsai and penjing creators amongst you.
‘I’ve heard of bonsai but what is penjing?’ I hear you ask. Well, whereas bonsai is the art of growing mini trees and shrubs in containers through regular pruning, penjing is the art of growing mini landscapes in containers. The landscapes can include rocks, ground covers and small objects or figurines in addition to trees and shrubs. Penjing may also have a name, story or piece of poetry associated with it.
Bonsai has been practised in Japan for at least 1,200 years and originated from the Chinese practice of penjing, which has been practised for at least 1,400 years.
The Arboretum’s collection contains some stunning specimens. Many of the selected plants are the traditional bonsai species such as Chinese elms and Japanese maples but, being an Australian collection, quite a few use Aussie natives, making the collection a real treat.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the display for me was that all the plants are outdoors with just a metal lattice over the top of the enclosing courtyard to protect the precious plants and landscapes from hail. The site is subject to severe frosts and also receives some snow but only a few pieces require protection from the cold weather. This protection comes in the form of a glass partition that can be closed to create a small sheltered space. This area is the only section of the courtyard with a proper roof, which provides a spot for heaters that prevent the temperature dropping below 5°C.
The collection offers something special at all times of the year. Some specimens flower and even fruit, putting on a display through the warmer months. Many of the plants are deciduous and put on a particularly lovely display during autumn. There is, of course, less colour during winter but the bare branches of the deciduous species have a beauty of their own.
If you’re visiting Canberra, I thoroughly recommend a trip to the Arboretum specifically to visit the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection. Do try and pick a day when it’s not raining though.