Bonsai collection in SU Botanical Gardens gets official name
With about 300 bonsai trees, the Botanical Gardens of Stellenbosch University probably boasts one of the biggest collections in the country.
And the collection, of which the oldest tree is 72 years old, will for the first time have an official name: The Western Cape Bonsai Heritage Collection. The name is to be registered with the South African Botanical Society.
“The collection comprises exotic and indigenous trees and we wanted to give it an identity by registering a formal name,” says Mr Fritz Joubert, a member of the Boland Bonsai Kai. A while ago, the Kai entered into an agreement with the Botanical Gardens according to which its members would take care of the bonsai collection. Joubert visits the Gardens about twice a week.
The collection contains, among others, the extensive fir and cedar tree collection that was created by the late Becky Lucas. She was the first woman to practise bonsai in South Africa. The bonsai creations of the Rev Gerjo van der Merwe have also been included in the collection and consist of wild olive trees, Kai apple trees and Chinese elms, among others. Since March this year the trees belonging to the late Louis Nel of Pretoria have become the new focus point of the collection. Nel, who was known as the Buddleia King of South Africa, died in an accident last year. His daughter Zonia, who lives in Stellenbosch, then donated the extensive collection to the Botanical Gardens on permanent loan.
“The trees have given the collection a new dimension. Some of the trees have received international awards,” says Joubert.
“A bonsai has to fulfil specific aesthetic requirements. It is a living art form and the caretaker must know how to prune the trees correctly. The tree’s lines have to be flowing and it should look like a miniature tree in nature. It must not stand upright like a pole in the soil. There should be rhythm in the stem and branches and the stem must be shaped from thick to thin. There has to be harmony.”
The minder should also take note of all sorts of insects and pests, such as white fly, thrips, red spider mite and root rot, which pose a threat to the tree. A bonsai can vary in height from mame (very small), which could be anything from 7,5 to 10 cm tall, to shohi, with a height of 30 cm to approximately 1 metre, and chumono, with a high of 1 metre and more.
According to Ms Viola Calitz, administrative officer and right-hand woman of the Gardens, the bonsai collection attracts many visitors.
“People like miniature objects. Furthermore, bonsai is an art form through which something beautiful is created.”
In addition to South African visitors, the collection is also popular among people from Britain, Germany, the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands.
It is believed that the oldest example of a Japanese bonsai is about 1 000 years old.
“This is evidence of the dedication of many generations of the same family,” says Calitz. “Our bonsai collection has to be conserved so that it can also provide pleasure to different generations.”
Joubert adds: “The collection shows what bonsai cultivators are able to do. There are people who believe that it is the best collection in the country, and we are very proud of that.” – STEPHANIE NIEUWOUDT