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Arts & Entertainment

Bonsai Society shows off its little ones

| Friday, June 7, 2002

To some people, bigger is better. It seems "supersizing" is almost a way of life.

But this weekend, small is in the spotlight.

The 22nd annual Spring Show of the Pittsburgh Bonsai Society at Phipps Garden Center will be celebrating the living art form of planting and shaping trees in beautiful tiny pots.

"Bonsai is a creative or artistic hobby," says Bob Grealish, president of the Pittsburgh Bonsai Society. "What fascinates me is the subtlety of bonsai. As a natural art, there can be many subtle patterns and lines that can be discovered by the observer.

"If we take the time to look at a bonsai without any preconceived notions, and let the mind quiet down, we will be rewarded with a sense of natural beauty. It is this quieting of the analytical mind and the resulting discovery of beauty in a tree that fascinates me."

More than 35 bonsai trees owned by members of the society will be displayed at the event, varieties that include pines, maples, azaleas, junipers and hornbeams. The event also includes a silent auction, bonsai trees for sale, along with pots, tools, books and related items for potential gardeners as well as admirers.

Workshops costing $20 to $25 are open to the public. Participants will receive a juniper plant, pot and soil. The society's members will demonstrate how to prune, wire and repot a tree, turning it into a small bonsai, its care and use of tools.

A free demonstration also will take place each day of the show at 1 p.m.:

  • On Saturday, Keith Scott, chairman of the society's education committee, will demonstrate how to create bonsai using nursery stock. Scott has worked with bonsai for more than 50 years. Several of his creations are displayed at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.

  • On Sunday, Grealish will demonstrate how to refine bonsai by trimming it or restyling by pruning, wiring and repositioning.

    Free clinics also are scheduled, during which visitors can bring in their trees and ask questions of the experts.

    The bonsai society meets monthly in the Phipps Garden Center or Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden. Its mission is to create interest and exchange information in the art of bonsai through lectures and demonstrations. Founded in 1957 — one of the first bonsai societies in this country — the local group is dedicated fostering the ancient art in western Pennsylvania, Grealish says.

    The organization also sponsors free bonsai classes during the fall and spring at Swissvale Senior Citizens Center.

    Akiko Naruse is a Japanese journalist participating in an international exchange program that has placed her at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In Tokyo, she is an editor for Wedding PIA Magazine, part of the PIA Corp. She can be reached at (412) 320-7814 or anaruse@tribweb.com .

    Pittsburgh Bonsai Society Spring Show


  • 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
  • Phipps Garden Center, Fifth and Shady avenues, Shadyside.
  • Free.
  • Workshops at 11 a.m., 12:30 and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $20 to $25.
  • (412) 622-6914 or www.ccia.com/~tlryan/pbs_main.htm .

    Bonsai through the ages


    The art of bonsai was developed in China more than 1,000 years ago. At that time, the method involved growing single-specimen trees in pots on a very basic scale, according to www.bonsaisite.com.

    During the 12th century, bonsai was introduced to Japan through Zen Buddhism. The Buddhist monks refined the craft into a fine art that eventually became representative of the aristocracy. Bonsai was synonymous with prestige and honor.

    Bonsai can be developed from seeds or cuttings, from young trees or from naturally occurring stunted trees transplanted into containers. Most bonsai range in height from 2 inches to nearly 3 1/2 feet. The trees stay small and are trained by pruning the branches and roots, by periodic repotting, by pinching off new growth and by wiring the branches and trunk so that they grow into desired shapes.

    Bonsai is a personalized hobby, and there are no regulations, according to the Web site: "It does not have to be an expensive commitment, but it is a commitment that requires a great amount of time, patience, skill and endurance."

    Bob Grealish, president of the Pittsburgh Bonsai Society, says small-leaf varieties of trees are most suitable for bonsai, but essentially any plant can be used regardless of its normal growing size. In Japan, pine, maple, azalea, camellia, juniper and plum are popular. Juniper and azalea also are favorites in the United States, as well as the Japanese maple, crab apple, the Chinese elm and various pines.

    Pittsburgh bonsai growers, he adds, fancy the Scotch pine.

    — Akiko Naruse

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