About Penjing
Extracted from Man Lung Artistic Pot Plants, 1967
Wu Yee Sun


One great pleasure of the bonsai grower is the satisfaction he gets from his creation of natural scenery after a lot of sweat and much thought and contemplation.

Grouping of plants provides this satisfaction and is generally known as 'the formation of forest'. The material used ranges from three to more trees which are arranged in such a way as to resemble a wood or forest. This is the most naturalistic and picturesque of all. It does not only convey a sense of serenity and calmness to the bonsai fancier but brings him into the realm of imagination in which he can roam through the miniature forest amidst the chirruping of birds, the bebbling of flowing water, the sound of scholars' reading, and the humming
of songs.

Method of Grouping
a. Raw material:
1. Dwarfed plants of the same kind
2. Dwarfed plants of different kinds
3. Dwarfed plants of the same age
4. Dwarfed plants of different ages
5. Dwarfed plants of similar form
6. Dwarfed plants of different forms

b. Forms
1. Groves
2. Woods
3. Forests
4. Distant woods
5. Near woods

c. Geographical differentiation:
1. Woods along the lower slope of mountain range
2. Swampy woods
3. Woods along the coast
4. Woods with glades
5. Woods with streams
6. Woods on low hills
7. Ancient forests
8. Woods with small paths

The grower must first choose his raw materials and then decide on the style. He may try out his idea by first making draft drawings. I think he may benefit a lot by constant reference to Chinese landscape paintings or to scenic spots he has visited during his travels. After the grower has decided on a pattern he can start putting his ideas into form.

Basic Principles of Grouping
As mentioned earlier, a grouping consists of at least three trees. They are best cultivated in shallow containers and success lies in their expression of the beauty of Nature. It must be borne in mind that over-elaborate designs do not necessarily ensure good works. They often result in artificiality and lack of harmony as such designs do not follow the dictates of Nature. Personally I think the basic principle is THE IMITATION OF NATURE. The design must be harmonious, proportionate and have depth.
Without these qualities the overall impression of the design would be disorderly and downright mediocre, To achieve the above qualities attention must be paid to the height of the trees, the size of the trunks and the distance between each tree. The grower must exercise his imagination in this miniature representation of Nature.

Layout of Tree Groupings
The grower must make sure that he has an adequate supply of raw materials. If he wishes to group five trees, he should have three or four trees as reserve, because the height and the thickness of the trees may not all suit his design.

Now come the actual layout. As mentioned earlier, grouping consists of at least three trees. They form the indispensable parts of groupings of any size. The largest and tallest tree will be used as the ''main tree'', the medium one as the ''side tree'' and the smallest one as the ''complementary tree''. For a grouping of more than three, the other trees should be smaller than the ''basic 3''. Other smaller trees may be added. In practice, add numbers are favoured, i.e. 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 . . . . . . . etc. The choice of containers depends largely on the number of trees to be grouped. Shallow containers of a suitable size should be used.

The grouping of three trees requires great skill as it would be extremely difficult to hide shortcomings in such small groupings. For beginners I think it may be a good idea to practice the grouping of three first as a means to gain experience and confidence. When they have acquired some skill in grouping they may attempt larger groupings with variations. When finally interest has been aroused, progress is assured.

It is not necessarily true that a forest scenery calls for a lot of trees. A limited number of trees can form a 'life-like' forest scenery if the arrangement is skillful. I think the crucial point is not the number but rather the choice of materials, the layout and the spacing of the trees. Appropriate spacing is important in exercising the imagination. For large-size groupings each component part must contribute to the whole in order to express the beauty of Nature.

Procedures of Grouping
Put the container right in front with the longest side facing you. Imagine that there are parallel lines to the longest side of the container. Choose the parallel line in the middle and measure 1/3 of its length from either the right or the left. Then place the main tree a little in front or behind this point (as shown in the diagram):

The complementary tree can be placed near the main tree but must not be on the same parallel line as the main tree. Measure 1/3 of the distance on the middle parallel line from the other side of the main tree and place the side tree a little in front or behind this point in the opposite direction of the main tree (as shown in the diagram):

This is perhaps the most balanced form. But of course the grower may vary the position of the side tree at will. I would like to sum up as follows: 1. the triangle formed by the basic three trees must not be equilateral; 2. the trees should not be placed on the same parallel line; 3. there must be some distance between any two trees.

Grouping of seven
Let me give another example. This time we are going to group 7 trees. The basic three trees should be placed just as mentioned and the other four trees should be placed at the back or on the flanks. Care must be taken not to place them in the middle of the container nor on the same parallel line with the other trees. This will produce the impression of depth and perspective of the forest.

What I have just said is no more than a guideline for beginners. When he has become familiar with grouping, he may change the pattern at will and will produce good results.

In large groupings the grower can break the trees into two, three or more groups. The abovementioned principles apply in this type of grouping.

What can a grower do when he is confronted with three trees of similar size? He should place them as close together as possible so as to produce a focus of attraction. These three trees take the place of the main tree which acts as the focus. Besides, the roots of the three trees should be made to intertwine and a part of them should appear a little above the soil. After putting the plants in place the grower then covers the exposed roots with moss. After some time the moss will fall off and the roots which will have grown strong by now will give the impression that the trees have been there for a great many years. If, however, the three trees are placed too far apart, the overall impression will be loose and weak.

Grouping is the sure test of originality, artistry, and realism in bonsai. Another advantage is that it does not cost much. Moreover, the changes in pattern are endless and show the grower's talents to the best advantage. I would like to mention that in the selection of materials we may come across trees without leaves or wilted plants. To the layman these trees may seem useless, but in the hands of a bonsai expert these may be ingredients of a real good work of art.

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