Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
June, 2011
Regional Report

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A local bonsai artist created a poem without words to commemorate the earthquake victims in Japan.

Witness to Passion

I was witness to passion yesterday. It shone brightly from the eyes of the rock man and the plant poet. It was evident in the combined energy, devotion, and dedication of the crowd. It was a joy to behold and a door was held open to me, if I cared to walk through. It was the amazing world of bonsai.

My friend Sylvia had asked if I wanted to attend a bonsai show. I'm always up for an outing, especially with a fellow gardener. We drove to the San Mateo Garden Center under overcast skies. Obviously, the weather didn't faze the faithful -- the parking lot was full. We immediately encountered a vendor who had a van loaded with a magnificent collection of flowering azaleas that had been trained in the bonsai style. They were more than Sylvia could resist. She selected and bought a beautiful plant, then placed it in her car for safe keeping while we attend the show.

Sylvia is not a bonsai expert. She only had an inkling that she might be interested in this ancient art by browsing through the Lee Valley catalog. The tools were what first caught her interest and she began collecting the instruments, one piece at a time. Little did she know that her slight interest in these exquisite tools would be the beginning of a new family.

As we wandered through the exhibition it was evident that the people who created these magnificent trees were more than dedicated to their art. They were passionate! Their delight showed in the way they handled the foliage and caressed the twisted trunks. There was one display that had broken bits of concrete surrounding the pot with origami cranes flying from the branches.

"Look, Sylvia," I said, "this tree is a tribute to the earthquake victims in Japan." Unknown to us, the creator of the tree was standing near by and asked what I thought the cranes meant. I told him that I felt they were the souls of the people who lost their lives in the recent disaster. He was delighted that I was able to read his poetry, even though it was written without words.

Outside the exhibition hall were various vendors who, as hobbyists, brought their work to sell at the show. I was very interested in the art of Suiseki and Daiza, which includes carved wooden tables and platforms for beautiful stones. The daiza were perfectly carved to seat their resident rocks. It must be a painstaking process to get every ridge and crevice fitted exactly. I spoke to the gentleman who carved the pieces and his eyes told the story before he even opened his mouth. He was passionate about his craft and shared with us a stone he found in Cash Creek that had the image of a bonsai forest embedded in its veins. He was like a lover describing his new bride.

We then joined the group of bonsai faithful who were gathered under a protective tent to attend the demonstration. I was impressed with the demonstrator's knowledge of both bonsai history and plant biology. He explained why he cut in certain locations and how it would effect the plant. His plants were "children" under his care. He explained that in very hot weather he blankets the pots with floating row covers to preserve moisture and to keep the ceramic containers cool. He said that after a vigorous pruning the plants should be allowed to rest for several years. He was generous with his considerable knowledge.

There was a raffle after the demonstration and poor Sylvia, who only thought to dip a toe into the world of bonsai, is now the owner of four brand new bonsai trees. We swept the raffle competition. Luckily, there are passionate people dedicated to helping beginners in this ancient and addictive art.

There are hundreds of bonsai clubs throughout California and several on the peninsula alone. If you think you might be intereste, plan to attend one of their shows, but beware! You might just come home with a new family member and an entirely new group of friends.

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