Bonsai is Addicting and It’s Good For You

I was going to use this as my cover photo for this post. Not sure how it will show. This is a photo of a drawing on Kodak slide. I did this in 1985 when I was still in high school.

I confess, yesterday we went to a 5:30pm Saturday evening mass and while sitting at church relaxed (maybe too relaxed) trying to be mindful of what is going on, my mind wanders and started thinking about my massive lilac tree. It was a beautiful sunny November day yesterday and had a chance to work in the yard. After doing some the chores of weeding and leaf blowing, I saved some bonsai work for last. I repotted a very old butterfly bush and I studied the branches of my massive lilac. The root base (nebari) is roughly 19 inches wide and for a lilac, it has to be very old. My estimate is around 75 years old. Although it will be very big as a bonsai, keeping this lilac as a landscape tree will not be appreciated to its maximum potential. I decided about 2.5 years ago when I collected this tree from a client that I will turn it into a large bonsai. By carving out some of the large branches and allowing new ones to grow, I can envision this tree becoming anywhere between 3 to 4 ft tall. This year it actually produced some flowers and they were white. If you’re familiar with lilac, the flowers emit the most amazingly sweet aroma. I was drawn to it yesterday as most of the leaves have fallen and now, I see the branches. My mind must have continued to think about this tree as the many task I want to do to continue developing this tree. This is where my mind started to wander off while sitting at church yesterday. I was contemplating on the possible future pot for this massive tree. With the size of the tree, the pot will have be custom made. It is currently in a large 3 x 3 box plastic pot now in just regular soil. I’m inclined to repot this tree late winter or early spring (probably in a wooded pot for now) using either pure pumice or a mix soil ( mostly pumice, some akadama, and lava. Since it’s so large it will take a lot of soil. Using akadama in the mix will be very expensive while pumice is inexpensive and more readily available. I know it works because, I have another lilac in pure pumice and it’s going gang busters. Back to the pot and thinking what my options are, I’ve narrowed it in my mind that it will be an oval pot with matted glaze or some dirty white color with light moss green or blue (see photo below for a sample pot). It will probably be at least 10 to 12 inches deep. It’s will be massive. At this point, my mind is back to paying to the church’s mass.

This tree was the same tree I was carving when I posted

Confessions of a Bonsai Addict

Thus the title of this blog Bonsai is Addicting and It’s Good For You. Now, just to be clear, I have no experience with addiction due to chemical dependency and I’m no doctor but I define addiction as something that brings you back to that thing time and time again and it occupies your thoughts frequently. From my limited perspective, Bonsai can be that thing. Once you have some success with bonsai, here’s what happens and why it can bring you back time and time again:

  1. A tree designed into a bonsai can be styled and develop to look appealing to the eyes.
  2. By developing a tree into a bonsai, it can potentially provide “instant” gratification and happiness by seeing it become beautiful.
  3. But of course a tree is alive and will need continued care. You have to water, prune, wire, fertilize, repot that tree.
  4. Given the correct care, the tree will continue to look better and mature in time.
  5. As the tree get’s better in time, the more satisfaction, fulfillment, you get, and the happier you become.
  6. The happier you become with one tree, you want to repeat the process with another tree.
  7. While you accumulate more trees the existing trees will continue to give you happiness.
  8. Unfortunately for some of us, the process gets repeated too many times until there are more trees that can be handled by one person.

I suppose the word addiction has a bad connotation and I shouldn’t apply that to the art of bonsai. Here’s the thing, if bonsai brings someone happiness repeatedly and naturally, then it doesn’t matter what we call it, we should have more of it.

Here’s my simple explanation to this based on my limited research and explanation. Studies have shown that being in nature and with trees can induce the release of dopamine or endorphins in our bodies. I’m expanding this study to include bonsai since it’s natural and it’s a tree. This is the feel good chemical that our own brain pituitary gland releases when we experience something euphoric (such as orgasm) or even when we are in so much stress, pain, or during and after exercise. They sometimes call this “runner’s high” when after a strenuous run, it’s followed by feeling good. That’s our own brain releasing a morphine-like chemical. Once you feel that “high”, you want to do it again and want more of it. Now, bonsai may not be an activity you would equate to “orgasm” or “high” but I can tell you that there could be some stressful moments. Carving a tree, repotting (could be stressful to some), bending a trunk or a branch. At higher level bonsai activities, there are those stressful moments but very rewarding as well. You may have to make a seemingly difficult cut on a tree to take that tree into a higher level of beauty. But then after all that stressful work, you come up with a beautiful tree it’s hard to explain the feeling to someone who has not done it. The bottom line is this; bonsai can be addicting when it’s done right, but the result is feeling good about a tree and it is rewarding. Feeling good about something usually replaces stressful feelings. Therefore I conclude that it must be good for you.

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This is the pot color I had in mind for the lilac. This one is from Denny Hirakazu Takeda from Takedapottery.com
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Nebari approximately 19 inches wide.
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This is the lilac as it is now, untouched. Obviously needs branch wiring, more carving, and pruning.
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This is the old budlea (butterfly bush) I repotted yesterday. This was laying flat on the ground and roots have grown from the sides like a raft style but I cut off all those and just left enough roots for a cascade style. I was very aggressive with this as I know they grow like weeds. You don’t see this often as a bonsai but look at the natural deadwood. This will be interesting.

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