HONG KONG - I have always liked gardening especially Bonsai trees. I used to have much bigger trees and plants when I had a rather large roof garden. Ever since I moved to a smaller apartment the only outdoor space I had was a sizable balcony, and I therefore had to turn to smaller bonsai and other potted plants. 

Kevin Ching’s balcony

Bonsai strictly means “potted plants” but normally they look like miniature versions of very old and fully grown trees. These trees are often well over 100 years old. They are the result of years of training the branches with wires, plus skillful cutting and trimming, shaping the trees into the desired shapes and form. If looked after properly, these miniature trees would flower and bear fruits, as if they were in the wild. 

Bonsai is a horticultural and artistic pursuit going back centuries in China, and it has always been very much part of China’s literati and elite lifestyle. Like the appreciation of scholarly rocks which allow a person in the right frame of mind to “travel a million miles at one glance”, bonsai enables the literati to experience the grandeur of nature and the changing of the seasons without ever having to venture out of their comfortable scholarly studios. 

Some Bonsai and scholarly rocks can appear strange and ugly to the uninitiated, but the Chinese literati have always seen great beauty and poetry in nature as reduced and harnessed, and in things grotesque ―― perhaps that might be why our ancestors once found bound feet in ladies fascinating and sexy... ... a taste that will be hard for us to share or understand today!

From 17 to 30 June, Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery presents “Living Sculptures: The Art of Bonsai”, a special selling exhibition of bonsai trees.

Kevin Ching’s personal collection of potted plants.