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"And the LORD God made ... trees that were pleasing to the eye ..." Gen. 2:9, New International Version.

"Bonsai isn't just something I do; it's part of what I am." Remark to my wife and daughter.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Children

Before trim and repotting. 12-25-11.
This elephant bush (Portulacaria afra) belongs to my daughter. Repotting it was a nice little Christmas Day project for the two of us. She did most of the work (and made most of the decisions,) with assistance from me as needed.

There's a story connected with this little elephant bush. I bought it for my daughter in the summer of 2006, when she was six. If she had any natural interest in, or aptitude for, the art of bonsai, I wanted to encourage it early. Portulacaria is a good starter plant for a child: a desert plant, it's very forgiving of neglect; and it grows quickly, so results are seen relatively soon.

When the time came to move it into a proper bonsai pot, we had a 180-degree difference of opinion about where the front should be. I mean that literally: her choice of front was my choice for the back! Since I'm the parent, tho, and the one with the bonsai experience, there wasn't much question: my choice of front prevailed.

Trimmed and repotted; same pot. 12-25-11.
In August of 2008, I took my daughter's tree along to a Styling and Refinement workshop with Mr. Susumu Nakamura at the Mid-America Show in Chicago. Mr. Nakamura, an internationally-renowned bonsai master who has done a great deal to promote the art of bonsai around the world, is still a very helpful and approachable man.

I set my daughter's bonsai in front of him -- with the front toward him, of course -- and asked for his comments. He immediately reached out both hands and rotated the pot 180 degrees. "Make this the front," he said, "tilt it a little this way, plant tree a little more to this side, and -- perfect!" That was his word: "perfect."

Lesson learned! A child can have a good artistic sense and a good eye for design, even when young. I'd made a mistake when I dismissed my daughter's opinion without any more consideration than I gave it.

And of course, my daughter was delighted when I told her that a very experienced bonsai master had agreed with her about which side should be the front! She's still liable to remind me of that incident when we have a difference of opinion on design. But she does it nicely.

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