Men can't seem to get enough of this ancient, elegant hobby Bonsai enthusaist Eddie Cole with a Juniper Bonsai tree belonging to Jon Wooten on Jan. 18 in Wilmington.
There's not much talking going on in this room of about 20 people - those who do speak, do so in hushed tones.
Some are huddled over tables with small tools; others do intricate work with wire and ceramic containers. A few stand around, contemplating their creations.
The concentration is so thick, it almost fogs the air at this meeting of the Cape Fear Bonsai Society.
As does the testosterone.
Of the 37 members in the society, about 30 are male - business managers, electrical contractors, retired pharmacists and military. So what is it about this ancient, delicate art that attracts 21st-century men - men who spend an average of 10 hours a week tending to (and even chatting with) their coveted plants?
Bonsai, they say, is a therapeutic, indulgent, challenging hobby. "To do it properly, you've got to clear your mind to concentrate on the details," said Bill Tart. "It's very intense - you're creating something, like a piece of art. A sculpture."
Some even socialize with their bonsai. "I play music for my plants - rock and roll," said Ken Nordstrum. Tart confessed that he talks to his. "And they don't talk back," he observed.Miniature world
Bonsai is the art of sculpting plants into pleasing shapes ("styling" the experts call it) - the object being to create a thing of beauty. Historically, the art - which probably started in China about 2,000 years ago - has been the prerogative of men. It is thought that Asian immigrants introduced bonsai to North America early in the 20th century. Later, American servicemen stationed in Japan after World War II became fascinated with bonsai and brought the hobby back to the United States.
But, there's no reason women can't enjoy bonsai, too. "Some women do bonsai, of course, and they do it well," Arthur Joura, curator of the Bonsai Exhibit at the North Carolina Arboretum, wrote in an e-mail. "I think we're talking about self-perpetuating culturally-imposed limitations. I really don't think there's anything inherent in bonsai that makes it better suited for men."
Sue Warden, an Ohio native who moved to Wilmington about 18 months ago, joined the Cape Fear Bonsai Society last fall. "I was not intimidated at all," she said about walking into a room full of men. "They were very friendly, made sure I was comfortable. It did not feel at all like a men's club."
For her, Bonsai is an escape that lets her use her imagination. "(Bonsai) takes you out of yourself," she says. "You can picture yourself in a tiny forest or under this very special tree."Bonsai vs. golf
Great bonsai is the result of years of work and study - it is not a hobby for those who seek instant gratification. "It might take as much as 40 years to get a juniper ready to show," said Jon Wooten, president of the Cape Fear Bonsai Society.
Members confessed to averaging between two and 10 hours a week working on their plants - more if they have a delicate operation to perform, like repotting, or if they are preparing for a show. "I might spend as much as 40 hours to get my juniper ready to show," said Daugherty, "And repotting is at least a 12-packer."
Bonsai need not be an expensive hobby. Wooten, for example, estimates he spends about $1,000 a year on his bonsai. "Most of that goes on fertilizers, insecticides, ceramic (bonsai) pots, new plants, wire and tools." Or, as member Eddie Cole noted: "A good bonsai plant is no more expensive than an expensive golf club." (Many of the society's members play golf as well.)
But, just like golf, bonsai can be addictive. Nordstrum, always an active gardener, got into bonsai after he attended one of the society's workshops, where he "sculpted and styled a $4 juniper. I've been hooked ever since." That was three years ago, and already he has 30 bonsai plants in his collection. Juniper Bonsai belonging to Jon Wooten.
Hornbeam Bonsai belonging to Jon Wooten.
Juniper Bonsai tree belonging to Blaire Daughtry.
Schefflera Bonsai belonging to Bill Tart.
Bonsai enthusaist Eddie Cole with his Trident Maple Bonsai.