A Journey into Bonsai

Rocky Mountain Juniper no. 40

Bonsai is something that I’ve been interested in for a really long time. Bonsai are in essence miniature trees. They can be found on rare occasions in nature, such as the one in the image below, when a seed lodges in soil on a rock (or log!) germinates and grows into a natural bonsai. More commonly bonsai are created by growing trees in containers. Bonsai literally translated means tray planting.

Bonsai really is an art, with the intent to make the trees look as, or perhaps more, beautiful than the counterpart in the wild. All this takes skill, creativity and patience. Bonsai are living things that take time to respond to the shaping, that take time to look ‘natural’. Bonsai trees in museums, arboretums and private collections can be hundreds or years old. One of the trees at the National Bonsai Museum in Washington DC is almost 400 years old and survived the Hiroshima bomb blast. Which makes the artisans that care for them stewards of the trees, taking care of them for the next generation.

Always keen to have a go I dabbled with a few of my own bonsai trees for a while. I don’t really have ‘green fingers’ though and so my bonsai trees ended up being donated to the team at New England Bonsai Gardens. I’m tempted to try again now that I’m older and a little more patient.

Recently I have been enjoying following the work of Anthony Fajarillo, @tonybonsaiko on instagram. He truly is an artist when it comes to training bonsai. To get a sense of his imagination and skill take a look at the windswept juniper before and after in the images below.

Windswept Juniper Before
Windswept Juniper After

I had drifted far from bonsai when ‘The Artisan Cup’ was held in 2015. This competition, really an opportunity to showcase top flight American Bonsai artistry, was the brainchild of Ryan Neil. Ryan is the founder of Bonsai Mirai, where he is really moving the needle for American Bonsai. He is living up to the high Japanese standards he learned during his apprenticeship in his work and expecting the community of craftsmen that provide the essential items such as handmade pots that complete the picture to strive for the same ideal. Get a glimpse of Ryan in action in the two videos below.

I’m disappointed to have missed ‘The Artisan Cup’ and the exhibition guide that accompanied the entries. Take a look behind the scenes in the video below.

The second Artisans Cup was supposed to have been held in Australia in 2020 – we all know how that went – let’s hope that it will be held again in 2025 when it is supposed to be back in the US again.

Looking at bonsai has certainly given me some food for thought and some ideas about how I might photograph full size trees in the wild.