Higgins Brings Bonsai to Life


IMG_5014 If you have ANY inclination to appreciate bonsai, this wonderful piece by Adrian Higgins in the Washington Post might just make that happen.

I used to think of bonsai as a freakish avenue of gardening, but I dismissed
that notion years ago. A bonsai needs continual care and the artistic skills of
its owner; the tree repays the debt by becoming, literally, a model plant — a
grove of beech trees, a stately old maple, or a bleached, writhing juniper on
some imagined mountain top. For all the playacting, there is a deep and quiet
relationship between the plant and its caretaker, and isn't that what gardening
is all about?

And about a tree from Hiroshima:

I  don't attach anthropomorphic qualities to vegetation, but just to be alone in
the quiet presence of this tree is moving, and one cannot help but feel
reverence for a venerable and palpable life force.

I know not everyone shares my love for this highly unnatural form of gardening, so the next time I need to explain it I'll just let Higgins speak for me.


  1. Hi Susan, I thought this article by Adrian Higgins to be one the best ever. We are quite interested in bonsai at the moment, have several potted and growing, and learned several things from his story not seen in other research. It was very inspirational.

  2. I’m glad to see that though you aren’t drawn to bonsai, you posted this article. I have been doing bonsai for 10 years and I still consider myself a novice. Bonsai Masters still consider themselves novices when they look to their own teacher, nature.

    Trust me, once you get into bonsai, an average drive will take on new dimensions as you look at trees differently. The grand spreading oak alone in the field, the twisted 25 ft. juniper growing on exposed granite, the stand of aspens near a lake. Bonsai is distilling the essence of nature observed in miniature.

    If you want an article on “how to take care of your first bonsai that you buy at a big box store/mall vendor cart,” let me know. Usually bonsai from big box stores or mall vendor carts turn people off to bonsai because of so many issues, I can’t name them all in the comment section.

  3. Bonsai – the real ones, kept by people who know what they are doing (as opposed to the junk “bonsai” with glued-on rocks) are amazing. They are as demanding as pets, so I won’t be keeping bonsai any time soon, but I admire those who do.

    Bonsai are more natural than meatball-shaped foundation plantings, for sure!

  4. I learned to love bonsai when we lived in China. Bonsai is a Japanese term, and the Chinese do Penjing, but I think the technique is the same. I love the simplicity and artistry of these plants. The New York Botanical Garden had an extraordinary exhibit last fall. Sometimes it just takes becoming familiar with a new form or idea before it becomes appealing.

  5. February, 2001, I purchased a bonsai from a Japanese gentleman selling off the side of the road. When I explained that I owned a greenhouse and wanted a plant for my husband, he stated with heavy accent, “Your husband was here, he liked that one. Your husband drives a blue Dodge Ram Truck,” pointing at a larger juniper that was beautifully twisted. Excitedly, I bought the plant, expecting my husband to be very happy when he came home from night shift.

    Since I was unable to sleep, when he arrived, I asked him if he liked it. A strange, “Yeah,” drug out of his voice and I began to protest that it was the one he picked out. “No, I saw him but I didn’t stop.” “But, but, but, oh, my that must have been Amanda’s husband, Bob, that was looking at that plant.”

    Amanda and I both have greenhouses that same direction, both of us have husbands that drove blue trucks back then and the poor guys are the same size and baldness even. I had bought Bob’s plant, the one Amanda would not spend $85 on.

    Amazingly, day before yesterday I saw the same Japanese gardener in the neighboring town, selling his work. I had to stop, tell him the story and tell him that my Bonsai, named Bob, is now much bigger, I have kept it alive and it was probably in need of having one of it’s cascades removed but I could not bring myself to cut it off but it stands with exposed twigs that bark has been carefully removed, in a pot that has dragons racing around still green. He was glad I had kept it alive.

  6. As an Oklahoman who lived during the federal building bombing, I can attest to the latter point about the Hiroshima tree. Although not nearly on the same scale, the OKC bombing was horrific, and the survivor tree in the plaza is inspiring. It was very old before the bombing and continues to thrive. It is almost a form of meditation to stand near it.~~Dee

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