A saikei is created with trees, rocks and small plants in proportion. Each must be in scale otherwise the illusion of a natural scene will be lost. In fact this harmony between all the objects within one pot/tray is what makes a saikei different from any other form of bonsai planting. These were created at our recent meeting.
You will need a wide, shallow pot, tray or slab to give room to spread your items.
The next thing is to look for suitable materials with which to create that saikei. You need to decide which plants and rocks could work well together and which do not. Always use one type of rock eg just sandstone or just limestone if more than one rock is used.. Always remember that you are creating a scene in nature. To have different trees within the one planting is not beyond the realm of possibility, however you need to consider whether they would be likely to grow together normally.
The trees and rocks that you have should start to make you think about what those trees or rocks suggest to you. Do you feel they would make a mountain scene? Perhaps a coastal scene? Or maybe an alpine meadow? Turn the rocks over, stand them up on end, be imaginative. If nothing springs to mind then start laying them out on a tray, placing the trees in different positions, try to create the various types of scene. You will start to see what looks right, and what doesn’t. Try different combinations of both rock and trees. Try to keep an odd number of objects (i.e. the total number of trees and rocks) within the planting, aesthetically this is always more pleasing.
As you are creating a landscape rather than showing off a particular bonsai, the trees and plants you use are representing plants that you may find in the natural landscape, rather than being ‘themselves.’ So the juniper that you plant in your saikei may represent a conifer, rather than being a juniper. Or the fern that you plant is representing the smaller plants that inhabit say a river area rather than it just being a fern. I hope that makes sense! Saying all of this though, you do need to pay attention to whether you would find certain plants in the landscape you are trying to create.
Rocks are important. They form the backdrop to the whole saikei, within which the trees and plants accentuate these features. In bonsai a rock compliments the tree. In saikei it is the other way round. Once you have created a naturalistic setting with the rocks, perhaps they are forming mountains, or creating a coastline, then you can start to place your trees and plants to assist with perspective and glossing it up. In art terms, the rocks are the pencil lines, the trees and plants your pastels or paints.
Your tree does not need to take on a form as it would if it was planted on its own as a bonsai. The ideal is about creating an overall effect, a silhouette of a tree in nature. It is important to think of the scale and perspective and for this reason trees smaller than 4-6″ in height are best. To assist you with creating perspective small-leaved varieties of trees and alpine plants are often used for the landscape eg Chinese elm.
There are some nice examples on the internet if you submit ‘saikei’ as your search word and then select ‘images’ under the heading when the listing comes up.