The “Bonsai Kit”
I became interested in bonsai first as a youngster, back in the 60s. I was probably ten or twelve years old, and there was this ad for a bonsai kit, most likely in a comic book. My parents had the old Sunset gardening book on the shelf, and in it was this photo of a stunning Japanese beech tree no more than a foot and a half tall. I was mesmerized. It looked just like a real tree, except it was tiny by comparison. I couldn’t figure out what they’d done with the tree’s taproot, what with that shallow pot and all, and I “knew” a tree would die without a taproot. Ah, the ignorance of youth.
Well, I got the kit. What was in it looked nothing like the picture on the box, which was clearly a bonsai. The “kit” was a plastic pot, a packet of potting soil, a few pine tree seeds, and a short length of wire. I dutifully planted the seeds in the soil in the pot, watered and waited.
Nothing ever happened. End of bonsai kit. But not the end of interest in bonsai ….
Over 20 Years Ago …
It was 1986, and I took a business trip to San Antonio, Texas. The old interest in bonsai had stirred again, thanks in large measure to The Karate Kid, and while I was in San Antonio I took the opportunity to drive out to the Bonsai Farm. Now that was an experience. All I could think about Leonard Sorge was, “This guy is living the life I want to live.” I spent maybe an hour there just looking at the bonsai he had. I was in awe. Before I left I bought a couple of issues of International Bonsai, Bill Valavanis’ wonderful magazine, which I pored over during my flight back home.
I was hooked, but I still didn’t have any trees. That Christmas I was given a green mound juniper “mallsai” as a present. And that finally did it. I set out collecting native trees growing near my home, and before you knew it I had a few dozen specimens on their way to styling – or death at my hands. Well, that’s how you learn.
It didn’t take me long to figure out it was going to cost money to pursue bonsai as a hobby, so I figured it needed to be self-supporting. I was in the bonsai business. I called the venture Woodview Gardens, and ran it from 1988 through 1994. During that time I collected and shipped several hundred really nice specimens to hobbyists all over the country. I also helped re-start my local bonsai club, and attended as many meetings as I could of the other clubs in South Louisiana. It was a pretty heady time, to tell you the truth. I was immersed in bonsai.
I also wrote quite a few articles for the Journal of the American Bonsai Society, was on the editorial board, and almost accepted the editor’s job. That wasn’t quite meant to be, but the honor of just being offered the job was incredible. I also wrote for Bonsai Clubs International’s journal during those same years.
Looking back to the 90s…
It’s amazing to me just how intense an experience it was. Here are some of the highlights:
- I remember doing a lecture-demo for the Greater New Orleans Bonsai Society back in 1991, and had the honor of visiting Vaughn Banting’s personal collection.
- I watched Guy Guidry demonstrate his amazing skills long before he was internationally known.
- I got to meet the great John Naka at BCI 92; someone may still have the photo of the two of us (master and “other guy”).
- I traveled a good bit in the South, doing lecture demos in Dallas, Lake Charles, Shreveport, and elsewhere. Also classes and workshops.
- And I worked on personal collections from Dallas to Atlanta to Baltimore.
Personal circumstances forced me to exit the hobby and business in 1994. By 2000 I was ready to return, and so I founded Bonsai South. After a brief hiatus from 2007 to 2009, I got right back out there and started collecting trees again. That’s a bug I can’t (and don’t want to) shake. I absolutely love the hunt. And amazingly enough, I still have customers from 25 years ago who have become customers once again.
I have my bonsai future mapped out. While it’s a part-time business now, it’s destined to be a full-time retirement business in just a few years. Throughout my life, among all the interests I’ve had, there’s really been nothing else quite like bonsai.
I hope to help as many of you as possible enjoy this hobby. If you ever have any questions or comments, please leave a comment or send an email. You will receive a personal response from me.
Take care of yourself and your trees,