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


The second topic deals with rock-clinging plants. This branch of bonsai has its own distinctive characteristics. If the plants are correctly attached to the rocks they will be very expressive of natural beauty and evocative of poetic imagery. When placed in the garden or sitting room these plants can bring home to the bonsai lover the scenery of perilous mountains, overhanging cliffs, rugged mountain ranges and isolated islands. All the while he is touring scenic spots in an armchair, so to speak. Rocks and plants complement each other in this type of bonsai. As rock must also be taken into consideration the composition is more complicated and calls for greater skill. It may be rather discouraging for beginners to learn that works of a superb quality are hard to produce. But then the road to success in any form of art is tortuous. On the other hand I can assure you that the joy of a bonsai grower in seeing his work done after a lot of contemplation is simply beyond description.

Another thing I wish to mention is that especially in this type of bonsai the grower must prepare everything himself or he will miss a lot of fun and enjoyment. Besides, the cost is quite low, the raw materials are easily obtainable and the time required for the end result to be seen is comparatively short. I therefore strongly recommend beginners to do more exercises on this type of bonsai.

The Study of Rocks
To be good at any art one must have a thorough understanding of the nature of the raw materials at hand. As rocks have been seriously studied in Chinese paintings it is advisable to pay frequent visits to art galleries for inspiration and stimulation. It is also advantageous to observe and discuss the works of fellow growers. Of course, the best teacher is Mother Nature. Only after one has acquired an understanding of the nature of rocks can he make good use of them at will.

Where to Obtain Rocks and Plants
Rocks can be readily obtained in local gardens at a reasonable price. If you have patience you may even collect them in the countryside during outings. So long as the shape suits your rock-clinging design you don't have to consider other factors peculiar to the choice of rocks for single display. As regards the choice of plants the standard is even less exacting. So long as the plants possess a small trunk and are suitable for your design, they will serve your purpose. It is not necessary to insist on aged plants. The important things are the grower's artistic gift and his ability to put his ideas into concrete form.

Raw Materials
As in ''grouping of trees'' the grower must first of all obtain an adequate supply of raw materials. Every year large quantities of nursery stalks and saplings of Ulmus parvifolia, Carmona microphylla (FukienTea), Serissa foetida Murraya paniculata (Common Jasmin Orange), and Sageretia theezans are imported into Hong Kong and sold at reasonable prices in local gardens such as Tsui Wah Garden, Yue Sun Garden, Ngai Yuen Garden Arts and Po Wah Garden. As far as I know many of them are suitable for rock-clinging purposes. In regard to the rocks, there is a large variety to choose from, such as Ying Tak stone. Lin Chau stone, Accumulated sand stone, all these at about HK$1 per catty. The locally produced aquatic rocks are available even more cheaply. Of course the grower can always collect these stones for future use whenever he comes across them.

Differences between Rock-clinging Plants and other types of Bonsai
To sum up I wish to stress two points:

1. In other types of bonsai, after the plants have been potted they can be taken out and re-planted. In rock-clinging plants this will not do, for once planted the tree cannot be re-arranged. Therefore the grower has to think very carefully whether the plants match the rocks and whether the position of the plants is suitable before he sets out to work. Plants for rock-clinging should best be fully grown ones that will not change in shape even in three to five years' time, and the rocks used should be hard solid rocks.

2. Plants clung onto rocks tend to grow faster as they absorb heat from the rocks. Their form and shape are more liable to change and the heated roots dry up more quickly. Care should therefore be taken to adequately water the plants. We may experiment with two plants of the same species in a similar stage of growth by putting one plant in soil in a pot and the other onto rocks. After three to five years the rock-clinging plant will be found to have grown much taller and stronger. Therefore if you have at hand plants which are in the stage of quick growth, you should choose the smallest ones so that when the plants have fully grown they will just match the rocks. At this stage, care must be taken to control their growth be frequent trimming. Usually rock-clinging plants will stop growing after a period of about five years.

It may be observed that there are many age-old trees such as pines and firs growing on top of mountains with a large portion of their roots clung to rocks. There are also numerous small rock-clinging trees on the hillsides which can survive severe weather conditions despite the fact that they feed mostly on sunshine and occasional rain.

Best Time for Rock-clinging Process
This differs from plant to plant. Fukien Tea, Common Jasmin Orange and the Bougainvillea glabra are best planted in summer. In any case they should not be planted later than early autumn. Generally speaking the best time for planting is about March when the new buds have not yet sprouted. This is the time when the weather begins to get warmer and most plants come to life after the cold winter. The new buds of elms sprout earlier, and we may plant them in February. Pines and firs are evergreen trees and the best time for planting them is in October and in any case not later than November. I wish to remind you that for plants in general, the rock-clinging process should not be carried out after the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival when the weather becomes dry and windy.

With regard to the place where dwarfed trees should best be kept. watering, fertilizing, etc., different species and weather require different treatment. Since there are many widely available books covering these topics, we will not cover these issues here.


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