The Art of Bonsai

Forsythia bonsai- just one of the many bonsai in Bud Brown’s collection

Every year I have the privilege a visiting a bonsai artist from Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai in anticipation of their annual show at the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz. This will be the clubs’ 31st annual show and will feature over 100 stunning bonsai trees developed by members and special demonstrators. I got the full tour of Bud Brown’s collection recently at his home in Boulder Creek plus some inside tips on how he grows such impressive specimens.

Bud told me he first became interested in bonsai way back during the second Watsonville Bonsai clubs’ exhibition. From my calculations that happened back in 1976 and since then he’s been collecting, training, buying, selling, teaching and digging up potential trees whenever he has the chance. He still has a some of his original trees although the earthquake in 1989 saw a lot of them take a tumble and most of his vintage Japanese pots smash to the ground. Now he uses bungee cords to secure them to benches. Bud hasn’t decided which of his 80-90 trees will be in prime condition for the show that takes place on April 5th and 6th but whichever ones make the cut they will be displayed beautifully.

Japanese maple bonsai

Bud’s collection consists mainly of wisteria and myriad varieties of Japanese maple but he also has an Irish yew, coast and Dawn redwoods, a couple forsythia, flowering peach, a star magnolia and a walnut although ”the squirrels always get the nuts,” he told me. Many of Bud’s trees have been in his collection since the 80’s and he has a story that goes with each. When you go to the bonsai show you will see a card telling you how old the tree is and how long it has been in training. It’s the back story that I find interesting.

One of his wisteria, now covered with fat buds about to burst hopefully in time for the upcoming show, Bud found growing out of the pavement in the road. It literally had no roots when he dug it up but as you might know wisteria are the energizer bunnies of the plant world- it’s hard to kill one.

Another wisteria that was featured prominently in last year’s show suffered last summer from the heat wave and also the smoke and soot from the fires. It’s in rehab this year but will hopefully bounce back for next year’s show.

The flowering peach which was in full bloom at the time of my visit came from a 90 year old Portuguese friend 25 years ago. It was planted on a piece of lave so Bud has incorporated the lava into the present pot so he can remember his friend of long ago.

Bud pointed out a Japanese maple that, to my untrained eye, looked quite impressive. He told me he purchased it for barely nothing from famed bonsai expert Jahn Naka as it had not been trained correctly. “A maple,’ Bud told me, “should have branches that grow up and out. This one’s not life-like.”

Japanese maple

The secret to Bud’s success undoubtedly comes from the 5 goldfish tanks and the horse trough which also houses goldfish. He keeps them to collect rainwater and for the nutrient rich water. Besides using the water directly for irrigation Bud siphons the fish debris off the bottom, too. Guess it’s not a secret now. Bud was excited to show me that one of the fish was pregnant.

When you go to the show this weekend- which runs 10am to 5pm both Saturday and Sunday April 6 & 7 at the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz on 705 Front Street- you will be inspired to learn more about bonsai. In addition to admiring the impressive finished bonsai trees, at 2pm each day there will be a demonstration by either bonsai artist Mike Pistello (Saturday) or sensei Katsumi Kinoshita (Sunday) who will style and transform a common nursery stock plant into a a specimen you’ll surely want to take home if you win the raffle. There will be many of other raffle prizes, complimentary tea, coffee and cookies, finished and pre-bonsai trees and pots for sale plus performances at 11am each day on the corner of Cooper and Pacific Ave. Saturday’s performance will be by Watsonville Taiko drummers and Sunday will showcase the Nori project musicians.

But wait, there’s more. Carolyn Fitz will be offering calligraphy and Semi-e ink painting demonstrations with hands on opportunities and Lesley Hasagawa, origami artist, will offer her expertise throughout both days.

Don’t miss out on this family friendly even this weekend. Admission is only $5.