In Pt I we discussed how to judiciously use the power of search engines to surf cyberspace and bring back answers to our questions. In Pt II, I would like to discuss reference material as a whole.
What is bonsai?
A simple enough question in my opinion but to many, bonsais are deemed special. Well they are, sort of, by the purest definition a bonsai is tree in a pot, simple right? Well not exactly. What is the difference between container gardening and bonsai? What is the single most important thing we do? Is it maintaining trees in a miniaturized state or is it maintaining trees regardless of their environment healthy and prosperous? What is required to maintain both, are they not the same? What ensures the latter? Good horticultural practices or bonsai techniques? Is there a difference, and if so what? For sake of argument, let's presume they are both one and the same.
Well since I am a bonsai enthusiast, I will set out and acquire bonsai books. That is indeed a good starting point. But what we often find when we acquire such references is that; we are often left with more unanswered questions than before our purchases. Why is that? Well in my opinion, is that many authors assumed we already have a good horticultural foundation, and they merely need to provide us with the tools and pretty pictures they deem necessary for us to succeed in bonsai. Nothing can be further from the truth. We might as well be talking to a computer. Notwithstanding, there is indeed some extremely good bonsai books out there, finding them is often difficult. However many sites these days contain reviews of most available references.
That being said, why do we purchase bonsai references? Well in part to further educate ourselves on the subject. It has been found that one will acquire quite a large library in quest of information. Some of these volumes will contain only a portion of the information we seek. Is there a better way? Yes!
Understanding plant/tree anatomy is the most important aspect of what we do. Only portions of the latter can be found in bonsai related books. Further understanding the variance between species, their growing needs, there habits, habitat etc... is of paramount importance. Any good container gardening or gardening book will provide a good foundation of horticultural practices which will permit you to succeed. There is one caveat to this however, and that is the substrate to use (soil). I do not like to use the word soil as it leads to confusion, bonsais have unique "soil" requirements.
You will notice several non bonsai related books in the "Book Review" section. These volumes were all acquired for general horticultural information. For example: The Home Gardener Problem Solver. This book serves multiple purposes and is not strictly related to bonsai. Several bonsai books will cover pests and diseases in general, some better than others. As mentioned in Pt I, what is the information you seek, refine it.
Not dissimilar to refining Internet searches, is the acquisition of what I deem specialty books, "The problem solver", the "Growing Tree" to name a few.
As one grows in this hobby, I find myself purchasing more and more "specialty books", why? If I want to know everything there is to know about Pines as "Bonsai", do I buy a "general" book on the subject, or purchase a book that deals "specifically" with the subject. I believe everyone will agree with the latter.
In the beginning (before cyberspace), all books contained pretty much the same information. With the advent of the Superhighway, much more information as been exchanged, and now authors and publishers are responding to the need, writing/publishing specialty books. Several can be seen in the Book Review section of this blog.
The free additions
Oh boy! free stuff, not exactly, but extremely useful if one is willing to invest the time and effort into it. As previously mentioned, there is a wealth of good/pertinent information found in various written articles. In the beginning I use to bookmark said articles only to find out they could no longer be found in cyberspace, and a great deal of wealth was lost forever. Now I copy and save everything and will often print these articles out. In saving/printing these articles, I also save the author's credentials, so I can request permission to post them in cyberspace. Most authors will not object to this practice providing the article is not modified and the rights of the author are published.
After a while, acquiring all this information and retrieving it at a later date can become cumbersome. A simple index will render retrieving information child's play. To many this is or deemed quite a chore. I find winter is the best time to carry out this bonsai chore. One does not need to build such a reference in any given day, but bit by bit will get you there. Once constructed maintenance becomes a simple task. This task is rendered easy if one has necessary skills to build a "database" index, complete with search function.
In closing there is a wealth of information at our fingertips. Bonsai is surrounded by a certain mystical aura, why is that? I believe that learning and applying good horticultural practices, is far more important than creating "bonsai". Understanding horticultural practices is the foundation in creating and sustaining the life of trees in a pot, the rest is basically varying techniques in pursuit/creation of artistry. Therefore, a good reference library is one that contains general horticultural information, that is further refined with bonsai related material and expanded upon by well written articles from experienced enthusiasts in our field.
Although good literature/reference material will provide you with a solid foundation, nothing can replace one on one teaching or hands on experience. But it is my opinion to succeed, one needs a good foundation.