By Graham Burnett
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A large, well-developed plant is unlikely to perfectly fit one of the classic styles, but by paying attention to balance and flow in the structure of the plant, you can create a strikingly beautiful bonsai with a nontraditional shape. Look at a large number of plants if you can; there will be great variation in shapes available. It is not hard to find older plants that can be carved into spectacular bonsai in a couple of hours. Page 25 This Costa Rican mint bush is planted deep with a pair of shoots trained in double-trunk style.
Herbal bonsai do not require time-consuming trimming. Even with relatively fast-growing herbs, five or ten minutes once every month or two is enough to keep your bonsai in good shape. There's no messy pine sap to deal with or sharp needles to lose in the carpet. Best of all, the trimmings removed from each specimen can be used for cooking, brewing tea, or making potpourri. I often make herbal jellies and wines from bonsai trimmings. In short, there is no better way to learn about bonsai than using herbs as your first subject.
Look for a sturdy trunk with strong roots and a pleasing shape. There are several basic shapes or styles to consider when looking at a potential bonsai and trying to imagine its future growth. Formal upright, slanting, and cascade styles are the main shapes, of which there are many variations. Beautiful in its simplicity, the formal upright is one of the most popular bonsai styles. There are also a couple of less common styles that work well with herbal bonsai. Double- and multiple-trunk bonsai can be quite striking, and many herbs send up strong new shoots from the base that can be trained in this style.