Also known as “forest plantings,” Saikei are miniature landscapes. Using stones and seedlings on a tray or flat surface the artist adheres to the basic tenants of bonsai, but with a greater freedom in composition. It is a more natural interpretation of bonsai.
The literal translation from the Japanese for Saikei is “living landscape.” It is the creation in miniaturized form of entire scenes from nature. Whether you want to recreate a Western Colorado style red rock and pine landscape or a South Florida tropical bog, you can realize your vision on a tray that is just 15 inches in diameter.
Saikei does not have the boundaries of more traditional bonsai. It avoids the rigid formality often associated with the artform and allows the artist the opportunity to experiment with composition. One advantage of this style of bonsai is that the materials are readily available and inexpensive.
Since an individual bonsai tree can take several decades to be fully mature the practitioner could spend half a lifetime on a single tree. In saikei there is no need to wait for trees to be fully mature before they can be appreciated. Frequently seedlings from two to four years old are used. This makes saikei an easy and not too time-consuming planting for someone new to the hobby.
The techniques involved in forming and caring for saikei are basically the same as those practiced in bonsai. Pruning, trimming, wiring, reporting, etc. are essential saikei activities. For this reason a beginner can begin learning bonsai by creating saikei and learn proper techniques on inexpensive material. Working with “pre-bonsai seedlings” can free one to experiment and let their creativity flow. For people who enjoy plants in their natural environment, and who love nature’s own compositions of trees, rocks, mountains, and springs, saikei can be a very satisfying pursuit.