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April 7, 2014

Bonsai: Haiku of the tree world

NEW YORK — Many people have a bonsai story: a first bonsai, a struggling bonsai. And many of these stories do not end happily, at least for the bonsai.

But the very best bonsai stories are about passion and beauty and transformation.

“A dewdrop hanging for a split-second — that is bonsai,” said Julian Velasco, the curator of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s bonsai collection and C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum. “It’s very Zen-like. It’s awesome.”

‘LIFELONG PATH’

For Velasco, who nurtures more than 350 bonsai trees at the botanic garden — one of the largest and oldest bonsai collections on public display outside Japan — it all started with a bonsai he purchased as a young man at a street fair in San Francisco.

“Pretty quickly ... I knew it would be a lifelong path,” he said.

Bonsai is horticulture, art, philosophy and even a way of life in the form of a single tree, lovingly pruned and trained to exist in a small pot so that it reflects the majesty of the natural environment, he explained.

“When you see the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, you are taking in the emotion of the place as much as the visual image,” and bonsai is about that emotion, he said. It is the haiku of the tree world.

BEGINNERS

Luckily for beginners, who have not yet attained a level of oneness with their new bonsai, learning to nurture a bonsai has never been easier. 

Expert help, once found only in Japan or China, is now more readily available at bonsai clubs and shops around the world. 

The American Bonsai Society lists bonsai clubs across the United States and Canada, and Bonsai Clubs International lists clubs worldwide.

“Most U.S. states now have at least a couple of bonsai societies, and interest seems to be growing,” said David Bogan of Evansville, Indiana, who is on the board of the American Bonsai Society.

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