Monday, October 26, 2015

Do You Really Love Your Bonsai Trees? or Do You Just Want To Be A Skite

So often I look around and see two different types of bonsai enthusiast.

The first type is the person who just loves the challenge and thrill of creating a bonsai.  They snap up every little bargain tree at the garden centre with an excited look in their eye.  "yes, this has bonsai potential".  They get it home and spend days just looking at it, pondering their next vital move.  Should I just shorten it, cut out the main leader, should I plant it in the garden for a year or two?

Eventually with secateurs in hand, something is done to start it on its journey to one day hopefully become a beautiful bonsai.   Usually they end up with heaps of trees, at all stages, from seedlings/cuttings, to nice trees that they have nurtured and trained over the years. They look out lovingly over their trees, remembering where each one came from, what conditions they like, which ones nearly died because you put them in the wrong position or the wrong soil mix.  Which ones got a bit dried up and droopy in the drought of 1996.  Which ones lost their branches with rugby balls kicked during after school practices.  Most of the time they will know the history of each and every one of their trees.  The thrill when they showed you their first flower, or had their first pine cone. The regrets when they chopped off that vital lower branch, or the smiles of memories of people they met and worked with at bonsai workshops.

To this first group of bonsai enthusiasts, the real thrill is not the end result, but all of their travels and ups and downs just getting there with their trees of all stages. This group of people could spend hours wandering around their trees telling you stories about their sometimes precarious lives.  They have a great sense of achievement when they say  "I've raised this one from seed 15 years ago".  These people have quite a connection with their bonsai. They know their bonsai so well, that any little change in leaf colour or the beginnings of a bug infestation will upset them greatly, and great care is taken to rectify these problems.There is also a willingness to help and teach others with this group, with lots of laughter and sharing going on.  Your trees almost become part of your family, there is a real connection between these people and their bonsai.

Now this other group is a very interesting lot.  I'm sure to offend a few people by saying it, but everybody reading this will know or have heard about one of them. They are the ones who will jump straight into the hobby of bonsai by buying up as many mature trees as they can and skiting to anyone who will listen about how wonderful they and their trees are.  They have to have the very best trees, even if they don't know how to look after them. There will be deaths, but it doesn't matter too much to these people as they will just go out and offer someone big money to purchase a replacement.  I am jealous of these people as I too would love to have the money to splash out and buy trees worth hundreds of dollars at a whim. But having said that, I don't think I 90% of  my enjoyment is from growing and nurturing my trees.

It's a bit like the old fella that spends many years doing up an old wreck of a car. Nine times out of ten its not about the flash shiny car at the end, its about the journey and the stories he had getting there.  The people he met while trying to get replacement parts, the yarns and stories told while leaning over the bonnet tinkering with something, the beers and stories shared while sitting down on a greasy oily old car seat having a rest.  Its all about the journey for some people and its the same for bonsai.

Sure some people would just go out and buy the latest brand new modern car just to be seen to have and be the best, but I guarantee that old fella would have more of a sense of pride and achievement spending years toiling away creating something he loved, than the chap that just bought something brand new straight off the showroom floor.

So sure, you may have the most beautiful bonsai collection, everyone will oooh and ahhh over them, but without that connection that you get from creating something yourself, to me it must seem like very empty praise.  And that is all that some bonsai enthusiast want, they want to be the very best, they want the best trees, and they want to let everyone else know it. They sometimes lack the knowledge you learn starting from scratch, why bother they can just buy it! They so often will look down their noses at those of us that don't have award winning trees, or the best styled or tended trees.  They expect to win or at least get placings at exhibitions and shows and grumble if they do not.  It can have a negative effect on other enthusiasts, especially in a club situation. I have heard of one or two clubs with divisions among the ranks.  And at worst, members have left as some of the "I have the best trees" attitudes are not the most welcoming and after a while can be darned right annoying and soul destroying, especially for the enthusiastic beginner.

If you got these two groups of bonsai enthusiast together and gave them all a bonsai "starter" tree, I recon that the group who have spent years nurturing and training their not so mature trees would have no problem in styling and creating a new and wonderful bonsai (albeit may be not perfect).  Whereas the other group with "the best trees" would struggle. Perhaps its their reluctance to learn, as they already have the best, or they are just so used to buying instant ready made, or paying someone else to work on on their trees, that they really don't know how.  Quite sad really.

Right, now I've got that off my chest.  No doubt I will get criticised for my opinion, but am only stating what is clearly obvious to me.   I never ever want to be like that second group, don't think I could ever be.....I love the journey too much.

Feel free to comment, controversy is good, it means people care.