Indoor gardening for the soul

Moving meditation: bonsai and ikebana

We've all sprung into overzealous action and headed to our local garden shop in spring -- purchasing heavy bags of potting soil and peat moss, deliberating over plants for sun or shade, perennials vs. annuals, and purchasing all the accoutrements such as tools and fertilizers. We lug it all home and dig into the tough ground, only to be overwhelmed by our grandiose plans by mid-summer. Why don't our gardens look as vibrant as those in the garden catalogs?

Take it easy on yourself this year and try indoor gardening. In July, when your meditative garden is as beautiful as any outdoor creation and you are not heading to the chiropractor, you will actually feel relaxed. You'll understand why many are turning to indoor meditative gardens.

When we think of meditation, we think of a person sitting with eyes closed and legs crossed, lost in deep concentration. However, movement and activity can also be a form of meditation, called moving meditation. The creation and care of an indoor garden can be a practice in moving meditation.

You don't need a greenhouse, complicated tools, or even much space to create a meditative garden. It doesn't have to be outdoors, in fact, you can create your garden indoors, in a room that is seldom used. How about your formal dining room, bedroom, basement, or even a closet?

Even in a small amount of space and with a minimal energy investment, a bonsai tree or garden can help you feel relaxed -- and the joy sticks around for a full twelve months a year! Bonsai gardening is ideal for apartment dwellers, seniors and busy people. After a hectic day, my garden beckons me. Orchids raise their heads to greet me while my bonsai stand stately, awaiting my attention.

Bonsai as moving mediation

My 35-year-old Golden Gate Ficus' thick trunk curves and twists provide a glimpse into an ancient art.

Bonsai's long history dates back to Tibetan monasteries of about 300 B.C. Early Buddhists monks lived in lofty temples, secure and inaccessible. Long winters and drab living spaces prompted them to bring limbs, branches and lichen into their living quarters. The term 'bonsai' means the "art of raising living trees in trays" or "tray trees."

Bonsai has evolved over time into an ornamental and meditative art form. When Buddhism came to Japan, the country was influenced in many ways, including the introduction of bonsai. Japan developed and evolved the art of bonsai, which is today a true branch of horticulture.

Raising bonsai is more than taking care of a tree in a pot. You are cultivating the inner spirit of the tree. You are the caretaker, creating an everyday relationship with the tree and with the natural elements -- rain, frost, wind and drought. By visualizing your bonsai being affected by these elements, you may recreate the effect of these elements on your tree. Essentially you are brought closer to nature. A bonsai is never a finished tree but a continual cultivation. Joy comes not from a finished product but in the development of an enriching experience.

A goal of creating bonsai is to create the feelings of Wabi and Sabi. Wabi is a state of mind induced by a physical or abstract place. It is a feeling of great simplicity, quiet yet dignified. Sabi is also a feeling of great simplicity and quietness, but it comes from the familiar -- something old that is used over and over. Picture yourself looking at your meditative garden this summer, at dusk, perhaps. While you are viewing your garden, you close your eyes and are deep in thought. Actually there is nothing in your mind. It is empty, and yet your mind or heart is filled with contentment. That's Wabi and Sabi.

But before we get to this point, there are a few basics you have to know.

Bonsai basics

There are two main types of bonsai trees -- indoor & outdoor. Indoor bonsai originate from tropical or subtropical countries. These plants like the non-varying temperatures, light and weather of an indoor climate. Simply put, they do not like a seasonal change. Examples of these include jade, azaleas, ficus, serissa, schefflera and many more.

Indoor bonsai can be easy to care for when you understand the climates from which they originate. Their preferred conditions can be simply achieved by the positioning them with regard to light and humidity. Simple steps may be placing the tree by a south facing window, setting a tray of water under the plant to create humid conditions or even installing a grow light.

Outdoor bonsai enjoy a change of seasons. Examples include deciduous trees such as maple and elm, and evergreens such as pine or juniper. Outdoor bonsai are also easy to care for if you understand the required climate conditions. During the summer, bonsai enjoy porches or decks that receive slightly filtered light. In the winter, bonsai need to be heavily mulched and sheltered from the intense cold. That's right: outdoor bonsai need to remain outdside for the winter. They need to enter a dormant period. One of the biggest mistakes general garden centers make in selling bonsai to uninformed customers is not educating them in the knowledge of the critical requirements for each bonsai plant.

Ikebana as a moving meditation

"Ikebana," the Japanese word, literally means "living flowers." It is also the art of arranging flowers and materials.

Like bonsai, ikebana was introduced into Japan from China. It was originally created to decorate statues of Buddha. Today, modern and minimalist, it often uses orchids as a pivotal point of the arrangement. The language of ikebana is both primitive yet highly sophisticated. It mirrors nature. The objective is simplicity, but the actual technique is complex.

What's the difference between Western flower arranging and ikebana? Issues of culture and art aside, the primary difference between the two is that ikebana can function as a path that points toward symbolic meaning; it is a meditative process. ikebana strives for a balance of opposites, favoring asymmetrical beauty over symmetrical arrangements. Ikebana follows rules based on proportion and placement, the lines and triangles create a pleasing balance that more accurately mirrors the natural world where perfect symmetry is the exception rather than the rule.

The various schools of ikebana created the ten-chi-jin (heaven-earth-humanity) principle. One of the goals of ikebana is to arrange the branch and flower materials to represent heaven, earth and humanity. For example, the flower that is the tallest and most upright represents heaven. The branch to the right is bent sideways to depict humanity, while the bottom branch on the left is pointed slightly upwards to represent earth. These three lines of flowers and/or branch materials represent the harmonious balance that should exist between human beings and the world. Ikebana is a dramatic art that is spare, simple, highly formalized, yet portrays dramatic movement, flow and balance.

Ikebana, bonsai and the concepts of other Japanese art forms are easy to learn. More and more people in both the East and the West, particularly in metropolitan areas, are searching for a way to rediscover their innate connection with living nature. The activities of ikebana and bonsai both present an expressive way to do just that.

Kerry Hinze is the owner of Botanical Boutique, 2845 Harriet Ave. S. The new specialty garden shop carries a line of specialty plants such as orchids and bonsai and related items such as fertilizers, soils and tools, as well as an eclectic mix of gift items: antique garden and vintage metal objects, vases, ceramics, bird houses and more. For more information, the author can be reached at 232-6276 or go to www.botanicalboutique.net.