Bonsai News

13 February 2007

Garden calendar


26th annual Exhibition of Fine Bonsai -- 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Jan. 28. Bonsai styling and refinement techniques will be demonstrated all day. Theme: "Winter Silhouettes." Purchase bonsai and related materials at nominal prices at the Bonsai Bazaar. Presented by Bay Area Bonsai Associates. Lakeside Garden Center, 666 Bellevue Ave.

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Home and garden calendar


Whimsical Animal Masks in Clay by Barbara Ryan, in conjunction with the exhibit "Sculpting, Naturally: An Exhibit of Sculpture and Bonsai," which runs through Feb. 25. Noon to 3 p.m. at Oswald Visitor Center, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska. $7 gate fee for ages 16 and older. 952-443-1400.

FEB. 4

Bonsai in Minnesota slide show and demonstration, in conjunction with the exhibit "Sculpting, Naturally: An Exhibit of Sculpture and Bonsai," which runs through Feb. 25. Noon to 3 p.m. at Oswald Visitor Center, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska. $7 gate fee for ages 16 and older. 952-443-1400.

FEB. 11

Sculpting from a live model by Foster Willey Jr., in conjunction with the exhibit "Sculpting, Naturally: An Exhibit of Sculpture and Bonsai," which runs through Feb. 25. Noon to 3 p.m. at Oswald Visitor Center, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska. $7 gate fee for ages 16 and older. 952-443-1400.

Bonsai presentation. 2 to 4 p.m. at Brookdale Library, 6125 Shingle Creek Parkway, Brooklyn Center. Bob and Pam Hampel will discuss how to use bonsai techniques in gardens and water features. A program of the Minnesota Water Garden Society. Free for members. 612-803-7663.

FEB. 18

Stone-carving demonstration by Fawzia Kahn, in conjunction with the exhibit "Sculpting, Naturally: An Exhibit of Sculpture and Bonsai," which runs through Feb. 25. 2-4 p.m. at Oswald Visitor Center, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska. $7 gate fee for ages 16 and older. 952-443-1400.

FEB. 25

Bonsai in Minnesota slide show and demonstration, in conjunction with the exhibit "Sculpting, Naturally: An Exhibit of Sculpture and Bonsai," which runs through Feb. 25. Noon to 3 p.m. at Oswald Visitor Center, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska. $7 gate fee for ages 16 and older. 952-443-1400.

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Bonsai Guys

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.

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26 January 2007


merlin 4211660 (bonsai no cutline needed)



Get a little wild at Northfield Park (10705 Northfield Road, Northfield) from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday. Anderson "Wild Thing" Varejao and rookie Daniel Gibson of the Cleveland Cavaliers are scheduled to meet patrons and sign autographs. Mascot Moondog and the Cavaliers Girls also are slated to attend. There will be ticket giveaways and chances to win Cavs gear. Admission starts at $1.75, but anyone wearing Cavaliers gear gets in free. Call 330-467-4101 or go to


Want to get creative but don't want to paint happy little trees or make a wobbly ash tray? Learn about bonsai, the art of growing and shaping tiny plants, 2-3:30 p.m. Sunday at Donald W. Meyer Center in Big Creek Park (9160 Robinson Road, Chardon). Bonsai master Frank Mihalic will give a free presentation and demonstrate how bonsai is done. If you want to learn more, a workshop follows from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Registration is $40, including materials. Call 1-800-536-4006 or go to


All aboard for a fun Saturday afternoon. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is hosting its Grape Escape Wine-Tasting Express ride, 2-4 p.m. Saturday. The ride will depart from Rockside Station (7900 Rockside Road, Independence) and go through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Saturday's theme is "Winter Wonderland, Warm Reds." Sample red wines and enjoy appetizers. Participants must be at least 21. Tickets start at $45. Call 1-800-468-4070 or go to


Tired of the usual Saturday afternoons -- a movie on TV, catching up on laundry? Get out, meet people and have fun with the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes' Big Game Hunters Club, 3:30-5:30 p.m. Saturday. The club -- for those at least 21 -- meets the last Saturday of each month for games from Cranium and Evolution to, in better weather, dodge ball and bocce. The center is at 2600 South Park Blvd., Shaker Heights. Call 216-321-5935.

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25 January 2007


Bay Area Bonsai Associates Exhibition 26th annual event includes bonsai bazaar and demonstrations. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun. Free. Lakeside Park Garden Center, 666 Bellevue Ave., Oakland. (707) 874-1679.

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24 January 2007

Plant thefts sprouting up everywhere - Simple steps can help gardeners in protecting treasures

Plant thefts have become more frequent during the past decade, and thieves have been getting bolder and better informed.

Sometimes thieves take perfectly ordinary plants -- even newly laid sod lawns! -- but the worst losses are of valuable, old or rare plants. It's not just the money. People cherish their favorite plants on the level of beloved pets and fine art.

Thieves hit nurseries and public gardens, nature reserves and national parks. They take "mother" plants, which growers use as sources of the clones or seedlings they sell; they take long-coddled rarities that can no longer be imported or collected. They kidnap endangered natives, like saguaro and barrel cactus, swamp orchids and lady's slippers, and rob the already limited gene pool of their contributions.

But it's the home garden thieves who hit where it hurts. Stylish plants, like thread-leaf Japanese maples, are dug out and whisked away, apparently by experts who know both how to take a good root-ball and which cultivars are most marketable. One disappeared from a yard just down the street from us; another, in front of a garage on San Pablo Avenue, "was five minutes from being taken overnight," according to a regular there. "Everything was cut and dug, except the last bottom root, when the owner came to open the shop."

Some thefts are clearly custom jobs, done to order. Any bargain specimen plant, especially from a dealer you don't know, is suspicious.

Others are less commercial. Merritt College suffered a rash of plant thefts some years ago. A staffer's husky husband tucked himself up in a dark corner one evening and, sure enough, he saw a stranger climb over the gate with a shovel. He chased and tackled the guy and ended up clutching his baggy pants, watching him escape in his shorts. But the captured trousers contained a wallet with identification and an address, and staffers were able to recognize the plants they'd lost in a new front yard in a neighboring development. Since they'd reported the losses in detail, prosecution and recovery were successful.

Without a private bouncer, what can you do to protect your plants? Some desperate nursery owners swear they stalk their grounds with shotguns. I talked to one bonsai owner who mentioned booby traps: "Not punji stakes or anything like that, but when I happen to leave a roll of barbed wire or an upturned rake lying around, or have a rotten board over a hole, it's always by the fence. And if someone comes over that back corner, he'll land on my big sago palm and I'll hear him squeal."

Bonsai owners are the most organized lot in opposing theft because their prizes are small, valuable and portable; the rest of us can take some nonlethal cues from them. Homeowners' insurance covers some possessions; check your policy, and consider extending it. Getting your garden specimens appraised by a professional might make that process easier.

Walk your garden daily at irregular hours, giving thieves less getaway time and letting them notice that the place isn't ignored. Chain or cement containers to the ground or a convenient fence post -- or, as Piedmont police Capt. John Hunt suggests, "Use heavier containers." A bottom layer of brick or stone will add weight.

Fencing and security lighting are useful, of course, and so is keeping valuable plants in the backyard while presenting a bland facade to the street or making an interesting front garden of inexpensive plants.

Photograph your plants. Bonsai folks do that, and they microchip their trees like pets. National and state organizations have online stolen-bonsai registers. Stolen trees don't necessarily end up in exhibitions, but alert maintenance gardeners and contractors can see and remember them.

An East Bay bonsai maven said, "Camera phones are really useful tools now. Someone spots a suspicious tree and it's on the Internet in minutes." (One is reminded of the Hollaback Web sites, where women post cell phone pictures of street harassers caught in the act.) Bonsai collections, public and private, can be rigged with motion sensors and circuit alarms. Bonsai exhibitions don't include the names of the trees' owners these days.

One safeguard is more low-tech and traditional. "My neighbors know me, and they know I have this collection," said one Bay Area expert. "I've invited everyone over to see it, at one time or another. If they see anyone walking out of my yard with a plant and I'm not with them, they know something's wrong. Good neighbors are the best insurance."

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Gardeners' calendar

SCULPTING NATURALLY: AN EXHIBIT OF SCULPTURE AND BONSAI: Works by members of the Society of Minnesota Sculptors and the Minnesota Bonsai Society. Ends Feb. 25. Included with $7 gate admission. Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 3675 Arboretum Dr., Chaska. 952-443-1400.

THE ART OF BONSAI: Learn how to apply bonsai techniques throughout gardens. Sponsored by the Minnesota Water Garden Society. 2-4 p.m. Feb. 11. Free. Brookdale Library, 6125 Shingle Creek Pkwy., Brooklyn Center. 612-803-7663.

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Bonsai lovers helping preserve ‘dying’ trees

GUIGUINTO, Bulacan — One way to save endangered plant species from extinction is by growing a miniature of these plants using the bonsai method.

'We have plants that are 100 to 150 years old,' said Dr. Elmer Villareal, president of the Bulacan Bonsai Society (BULBS).

Villareal said some tree species are threatened with extinction and bonsai enthusiasts are actually preserving these plants by stunting their growth.

He said that tree species like the Langui-langui, juniper and bantigue are now nearly extinct and that bonsai enthusiasts have preserved them — particularly hardwoods that have decreased in number because they are cut down when new houses and other structures are built on the land where these trees grow.

Bonsai-making is the ancient Japanese art of keeping plants alive in miniature form and Bulakeños established their own group of bonsai artists – mostly men.

'It’s a good hobby, it keeps us engaged and away from vice,' BULBS vice president Santiago Azores told The STAR.

For others, bonsai making is addictive and some BULBS members said that, when they wake up early in the morning, they cannot wait for the sun to rise so they can start working on their bonsai.

Villareal said there are four classification of bonsai: Mame (pronounced ma-mey), which are six inches or less tall; small bonsai, which are six to 12 inches tall; medium bonsai, 13 to 24 inches tall and large ones that are 24 inches and taller.

Bonsai style classifications include: upright, informal upright, slanting, cascade, driftwood, literati and broom.

There are also bonsai classifications based on the number of trunks: twin trunks, triple trunks, forest and raft.

All these classifications will be on exhibit at the Guiguinto Garden Center until Tuesday, as the town celebrates its 8th Halamanan Festival coinciding with the 92nd founding anniversary of the town.

When asked for the price of each bonsai, Domingo Navares, another BULBS official said that pricing depends on how long an enthusiast took care of the bonsai in question.

As this developed, Rene Robles, the chairman of the Guiguinto Garden Center Cooperative, said dish gardening is gaining popularity in Bulacan.

Dish gardening is the landscaping of assorted ornamental plants into a dish or dishes. Robles said dish gardening is easy, but those who are interested in this gardening method must have a good understanding of plants: "You can’t just put anything in the dish."

Dubbed "mini-landscapes," dish gardens are also on exhibit at the Guiguiunto garden center located at the Tabang clover leaf here.

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Roots, shoots and a table top

Just because you live on the fourteenth floor doesn’t mean you can’t have tea in your own garden

As living spaces get smaller and farther away from the ground, the thought of gardens tends to creep closer and closer to that distant dream. But what if we told you that you can plant that garden you are dreaming of right in the centre of your dining table? Rani Devasar, who lives in a fourth floor apartment in New Delhi, and who specialises in bringing the outdoors indoors, is sure that with a little help from her, you can create a “green haven” for yourself right on the top of any table in your home.

Now Rani knows what she is talking about - after all, she did manage to recreate a miniature garden for former Miss India Manpreet Brar, an elaborate replication of her being driven away in a carriage through a garden.

So, anyway, back to that table garden you are planning to set up.

First, get a pot of your choice. The container can be in terracotta or ceramic in any shape - of any shape oval, round, rectangular or square, three to five inches in depth. The best shape is that of a tray because it allows you to play around with themes.

Go to a local nursery and get yourself some garden soil, mixed with a fistful of vermiculture manure, compost or leaf mould and a bit of sand, the ideal mix to nourish, retain moisture and hold roots firmly.

Line the bottom of your container with small pebbles or broken bits of old pots.

Next, decide on the theme. “The theme depends on you - a Chinese garden, an Indian forest, or even Christmas garden with a Santa and his sleigh,” says Rani. Pebbles, stones, shells, small figurines, huts, animals (those little terracotta frogs, for instance) and bird figures can be used to create an atmosphere. For Diwali, Rani created a forest like garden, complete with a little hut, a deer and figurines of Ram, Sita and Laxman.

Next, make a selection of plants you want to use; they must be small with tiny roots that don’t need deep penetration. Rani suggests something like sedums or decorative succulents (whose leaves are like flowers) and bonsai. “The pride of place is for the bonsai, or evergreen like ficus, peepal, pomegranates or china orange. On the periphery of the pot, you can grow a little hedge using cuttings of jade plant, or some variety of sedums (which have hair-like roots). “Seasonal plants like pansies, grown with perennials and evergreens make the gardens complete,” says Rani.

Remember to plant in a gentle season - September-February is best and as for time of day, dusk or dawn are best.

Since it’s a small garden, no elaborate tools are required, says Rani. A fork, a small knife, and a butter knife are more than adequate for digging up the soil now and then to air the roots.

Now, the biggest worry is that you’re going to make a mess and your dining table is look like a disaster area. For that, Rani suggests keeping a pretty table mat, a trivet, or even a plastic sheet under the container, anything that will not let the moisture through.

“A miniature garden demands love, time and attention. If you forget to water it, it may not forgive the lapse,” instructs Rani. That means water it when dry - never too much; dig it up gently, taking care not to damage the delicate roots; remove all dry and dead leaves. “And most important, see that the plants are happy in the setting you have put them in,” adds Rani.

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Garden calendar

MON The Puget Sound Bonsai Association: Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41st St.

# Monday, 7:30 p.m. -- David DeGroot, curator of the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection, will do a group planting with trident maples.

SUN Weyerhaeuser's Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection: 33663 Weyerhaeuser Way S., Federal Way. Free. 253-924-5206.

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Until spring, low humidity is the curse of houseplants

We call our green indoor friends houseplants, but as Mitch Baker, horticulturist at the American Plant Food nursery in Bethesda, Md., points out, no plant volunteered for the role. They’d much rather be back in the subtropical rain forest, luxuriating in the dappled shade and afternoon showers.

Bonsai, African violets and orchids are among the plants subject to the dangers of low humidity. This bonsai is from Bonsai West, one of the exhibitors in the 2004 Rhode Island Spring Flower & Garden Show.

Mine currently huddle in the corner of the dining room, as if waiting for a bus that never arrives. Here, in the brightest part of the house, the schefflera, citrus, orchids, clivia and philodendron sit out the winter — yellowing, wilting, attracting mites and generally longing to be with the plants on the other side of the windows. If we can get to April still standing, we consider it a triumph. The lemon tree may have dropped half its foliage by then, but it refoliates with abandon once back outdoors on the patio.

As many other houseplant minders know, the key to survival is not so much the moisture in the soil, though that’s important, as the moisture in the air. With sufficient humidity, most houseplants achieve a measure of health; without it, they grow sullen.

Keeping the relative humidity at an optimum 50 percent to 60 percent, however, can be difficult.

A home with forced-air heating may have an automatic humidifier integrated into the ductwork. It is typically fed by a water line, which tops up the reservoir as needed, and moistens the hot air from the furnace or heat pump. But homes without this device soon find themselves parched: The already low humidity of the dry winter air is pushed down by the heated air in a home, especially if the occupants like it toasty. The humidity level drops to 20 percent or lower — desertlike. Static electricity bites our fingers. The long-haired cat becomes a fright wig with legs.

One impulse is to take a spray bottle and mist the plants and the air around them. In a greenhouse with continual spraying, misting keeps humidity levels high. But the odd squirt from a mister is not going to do much except promote carpal tunnel syndrome. “For most people,” said Baker, “it’s something that would occur so infrequently as to add little benefit.”

Water trays are an effective method of raising the humidity. Set underneath plant pots, they allow the water to evaporate in the air around the foliage. You can fill the trays with gravel, which increases evaporation and, most critically, raises the pots above the level of the water. If you set the pots directly in the trays, the water wicks into the soil, keeps it wet and rots the plant’s roots.

You can also buy humidity trays that have a plastic grid insert that keeps the pot dry, available from garden supply catalogs or garden centers. American Plant Food sells three versions, including one that is 10 inches by 26 inches and 1 1/2 inches deep, priced at $22.99.

These are favored partic- ularly by fanciers of bonsai, African violets and orchids. When you have large plants in big pots, as I do, the trays become less practical. Baker said I could simply fill the existing pot saucers with gravel and top them up with water.

Fortunately, we also have portable room humidifiers. Years ago, I had one that worked up some steam and sent visible vapor into the air. You could see the plants clearing their nasal passages. Most satisfying. I went in search of a modern version a couple of winters ago and found something called a cool-mist humidifier. This has two thick pads that wick cold water. An impeller blows air over them and humidifies the room. The device works well: I can see the needle on my humidity gauge climbing to 50 percent. And I hear the machine taking deep, filling drafts of eau de Alexandria, Va. The water in its tanks glugs down into the reservoir.

Still, I’d rather see the vapor and know that water is pouring into the air. Happily, warm-mist humidifiers are still around. They are not as popular as cool-mist models because consumers fear that a warm mist conveys mold and bacteria, said Laura Conklin, of Kaz, a Southboro, Mass., manufacturer of Honeywell and other brands of humidifiers. In fact, the heating kills virtually all pathogens.

THE OTHER THING I like about warm-mist versions is that there are no pads to clean or replace, burdens accompanying the cool-mist types, though you do have to clean the heating plate occasionally. A third type of humidifier uses ultrasonic sound waves to send microscopic droplets into the air. The ultrasonics have fallen from favor because they also generate a white dust, Conklin said. All these are different from vaporizers, which saturate the air for people with respiratory ailments.

When it comes to humidifiers, it seems, cool mist rules. Only 17 percent of humidifiers are warm-mist versions, Conklin said. Most of the rest are cool-mist, either room versions or larger console models that will humidify a whole floor.

One of the effects of low humidity on houseplants is the worsening of such pest problems as infestations of mites. Scientists know that mite populations build when hardy plants are subjected to hot, dry conditions in summer. The reasons for mite problems indoors in dry conditions are not as well understood, but may have to do with the fact that dry plants are not pushing new growth and so the mite damage doesn’t get repaired, said Michael Raupp, an entomologist with the University of Maryland.

And the pest problems worsen when you overfeed plants during this period of rest and stress. Mites, mealybugs and scale “all enjoy a nitrogen fix,” Raupp said. “It’s what sucking insects adore. They convert it right into protein to make eggs.”

So, keep your plants humid but half-starved, and turn down the thermometer a few degrees. In just a few weeks, your bus will come in.

Keeping a room’s relative humidity at an optimum 50 percent to 60 percent can be difficult.

Keeping a room’s relative humidity at an optimum 50 percent to 60 percent can be difficult.

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Garden Calendar

Tuesday: Memphis Bonsai Society: 7 p.m. meeting. Memphis Botanic Garden. Presenter-demonstrator is Kurt Young, production manager at Brussel's Bonsai Nursery, on 'Converting Landscape Material into Bonsai.' 576-4100.

Feb. 27: Memphis Bonsai Society: 7 p.m. meeting at the Memphis Botanic Garden. Guest presenter Paul Little (of Little Hill Nursery), demonstrates/assists members to make hypertufa. Bring a pair of rubber or latex gloves.

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19 January 2007


Resolution: Learn something new.

Step 1: Sign up for a continuing education class at a local college. Inexpensive, short courses (some of them just one day) will teach you the basics of bonsai gardening, tap dancing, astronomy or wine appreciation. Go online to check out the offerings at Texas Christian University (, the University of Texas at Arlington ( or Tarrant County College (; click on 'Continuing Education').

Result: You might have fun. You might meet new friends. You'll definitely be smarter when it's over.

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Entries due soon for essay/art contest

GAINESVILLE -- Entries for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 10th annual 'What Trees Mean to America' contest are due at the Forest Service Office by 4:30 p.m. Friday.

Five entries in the essay category and five in the art category will be accepted from seventh-graders at each public, private and home school in Gainesville/Hall County.

The Forest Office is at 1755 Cleveland Highway.

The contest focuses on what trees mean to America from an ecological, economic and aesthetic standpoint.

Prizes in each category are $100 for first place; $50, second place; and $25, third place.

Bonsai trees also will be presented to the winners at the Arbor Day observance, set for Feb. 16 in the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University.

The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce Beautification and Tree Committee, Keep Hall Beautiful and the Forest Service are sponsoring the contest.

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Home & Garden calendar

Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection
Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday through Wednesday, closed Thursday and Friday, at Rhododendron Species Garden, Weyerhaeuser Corporate Headquarters, 33663 Weyerhaeuser Way S., Federal Way. Free guided tours every Sunday at noon. Admission is $2.50-$3.50. Call 253-661-9377.

The Puget Sound
Bonsai Association: PSBA will meet 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41st St. Seattle. Guest artist will be David DeGroot, curator of the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection, who will do a group planting using Trident Maples.

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17 January 2007

Like 'em short and shapely? Try your hand at bonsai

How about a pet plant for the new year? A touchable, vivid little conifer in a pot, resembling bonsai, can become a fun hobby as well as a favorite patio adornment.


The artistry opportunities of shaping dwarf conifer bonsais are unlimited. That is particularly reflected when they are bunched tightly in entry areas or on decks.

Bonsai enthusiasts may accuse me of heresy, but I'm going to suggest a simple start at bonsai without following the ancient rules. You'll pick out a small evergreen conifer plant and nurture it so that it stays small rather than leaping to great heights.

To keep them small, start small. Visit your favorite independent nursery; many have separate displays of dwarf conifers that resemble bonsai even before they've left their spot on the nursery shelf.

Many conifers, such as Douglas fir, can grow up to 100 feet tall, but those in the dwarf category vary in eventual height. Look for plants that are labeled as growing from 18 inches to 3 feet over 10 years. Some reliable pines are Pinus mugo 'Valley Cushion' and Pinus mugo 'Humpy.' For fascinating texture, the feathery Cryptomeria japonica 'Tansu' appeals. And if you like gold plants, check out Hinoki cypress 'Nana Lutea' (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea'). The designator 'Nana' generally indicates shorter stature.

Don't be alarmed by their jaw-breaking names; talk to the nursery staff, and simply pick out a small one that appeals to you. A terrific local retail and mail-order source is Coenosium Gardens in Eatonville;

Pot them: Choose a pot that's barely bigger than the original growing pot. Be sure it has excellent drainage holes and is sturdy enough to take cold weather. These plants like to spend winter outdoors, so small wood containers or high-fired ceramic or attractive plastic will work. Do not put a saucer under the plant. Good drainage is essential, and the roots will rot if they sit in mucky water. Untangle and trim off any long, circling roots before repotting.

Add some grit to the soil: Pick a potting soil that has perlite or pumice in it, and buy an extra bag of pumice to add about 1/4 by volume. Or add 1/2 by volume of "cactus mix." The objective is to get more open spaces into the soil.

Care is simple: Keep the plant outside on a deck or patio year-round. Water when the soil is completely dry; once a week in summer is fine. Overwatering will kill these plants. Fertilize once a year, using half-strength of a complete fertilizer with trace elements, like Alaska fish fertilizer.

Pruning can be fun: True bonsai requires shaping to meet specific, ancient standards for form and stature. You won't have to worry about rules, but you may find that looking carefully at the plant, turning it round and round and removing a branch here or there to reveal the trunk may make it more pleasing and sculptural.

You'll see change as spring brings soft new growth; the color and texture of small conifers will alter through the seasons. Some, like the cryptomeria, turn bronze or red in fall. On my deck, several small conifers in pots give me year-round pleasure for minimal effort. The most fun is choosing new ones!

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15 January 2007

Bonsai masters and novices connect

HAYWARD — Kathy Souther was at Centennial Hall on Sunday obeying the orders of her sensei.

Souther, 54, of Danville last spring began to learn bonsai, the art of miniaturizing trees through a combination of potting and crown- and root-pruning. Bonsai has a large following in the Bay Area.

The eighth annual Bay Island Bonsai Exhibit, which ended Sunday, is one of the country's premier bonsai shows and allows amateurs such as Souther to get a look at more accomplished work.

'It's baffling,' she said, commenting on the shapes and designs of the trees in the exhibit.

She looked through the small leaves to the trunk of one cascading tree design, trying to spot where the artist made decisions to clip branches and shape the growth.

'It's really baffling, and you can see some of the scars on this where decisions were made and branches were taken off

in the past, what they have chosen to wire and the form,' she said.

Most beginning bonsai students believe the trick is to bend the plant to their will, holding it back by cutting and restraining its development. It's a common mistake, Bay Island Bonsai Club President Morten Wellhaven said.

"Someone who wouldn't have a lot of artistic ability would take the knife and rip the bark down the front and call the tree 'distant thunder,' and everyone laughs at the new student trying to do something like that," he said. "But a great artist can take what is already in the tree and improve on it a little bit to bring out the personality of the tree.

"And a bonzai master is not someone who masters a tree. The bonsai master is someone who masters his relationship with the tree," Wellhaven said.

A well-tended bonsai will tell a story and evoke a feeling in the person looking at it, Wellhaven said.

"To learn the rules of how to style a tree, that's easy," he said. "But to put a feeling into a tree, that requires experience and artistry."

Patience, if one does not have it, is a quality a bonsai artist must develop. The other, Wellhaven advises, is detachment, because one day the tree will outlive its master, he said.

"That tree over there is over 250 years old," he said pointing at one of the larger displays in the hall. "And you will never be 250 years old, so in the end you will give it away or it will be given away for you."

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