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Creating A Bonsai Display That Evokes Your Own Culture and Environment



a portion of a bonsai display, showing parts of the main tree, secondary tree and accent piece
a portion of a bonsai display, showing parts of the main tree, secondary tree and accent piece


My passion for bonsai arose out of my love for trees since childhood, combined with my interest in Japanese culture arising in my late teens and 20s. Once I discovered bonsai, it really took hold, and I have been studying it seriously for the last 25 years. 


But as my bonsai journey matured, I found myself becoming interested in ways to move beyond the Japanese influence. Japanese culture was not my culture, could there be a way for my bonsai to reflect my own culture and environment?


I grew up in the Midwest, from distant Northern European heritage - not close enough to really be much of an identity, beyond the red hair and freckles. I moved to California in 2005, so while I'm not a native Californian, I feel more at home here than anywhere else I have been. I have absorbed much of the Californian environment and culture into my identity. I can never see myself settling anywhere else. 


So I began looking for ways to express California in my bonsai. Beyond using native species - which I love to do - more so looking for ways to display bonsai that evoke California, rather than Japan. 


It all came together somewhat spontaneously as I was deciding what to display for the Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai club show in April of this year. I had been working on a big Cork Oak for the last 15 years, and while it had not yet arrived at my ultimate vision for its design, I felt it had progressed enough to display at our local club show. Being a European tree, I had potted it up in a really nice European pot from Tiberio Graco last winter. As I was prepping it for the show, I realized I did not have a stand large enough for it. And there was not enough time to have one custom made. I did not think I'd be able to find an already made stand from a traditional bonsai stand maker that would evoke the look I was going for, So I put my thinking cap on. It was time to think outside the box. 


I measured the tree, it was just over 18 inches from the pot rim to the apex. With a little pruning I could have a large medium-sized tree, instead of a small large-sized tree. So now I needed a secondary tree, a taller stand, an accent, etc., etc. But I really felt like the main-tree stand was going to be the key ingredient to the display. 


What could I put a Cork Oak on that would enhance the image of this very European tree that was born in California? It came to me pretty suddenly. Cork . . . wine! I'm not a wine drinker myself, but the wine industry and culture is very pervasive in California. This tree was grown in Mendocino and Lake counties, just north of the famous Napa Valley. I now had a theme. 




A cork oak bonsai tree in a dark brown pot sitting on top of a wine barrel
A cork oak bonsai tree in a dark brown pot sitting on top of a wine barrel


I found someone on craigslist selling used wine barrels and bought a half barrel. I flipped it over and placed the tree on top. It was maybe just a little too wide, but there was not anything I could do about that. It was definitely too tall, so I got out my skill saw and cut off about 4 inches. Rustic, aged, used, repurposed - it had a very Californian wabi-sabi feel. Exactly what I needed. Perfect! 


So now I needed a secondary tree. A grape vine stump would have been just the thing. Alas, none of the grapes I have been growing were ready for display, or of the right size or character. What else could fit with my theme of European natives that have been naturalized to California? Walking along my benches I came to an Olive. Of course! Olives, like grapes and Cork Oaks are not native to California, but have been happily adopted and made part of the California culture, from the days of the Missions onward. And I had an Olive that was the right size. Perfect!




An olive bonsai in a dark brown pot on a white granite slab
An olive bonsai in a dark brown pot on a white granite slab


Now I needed a stand for the Olive. Something low, that also evoked the European and now culinary feeling of my California Adoptee display. How about a nice piece of granite kitchen counter-top? My buddy Tyler whose family is in the construction business had an extra piece of counter-top left over from a job - that happened to be the same one as in my own kitchen! He kindly cut it to the right dimensions, I put some felt chair pads on the bottom and it was done. Perfect!


Now for the accent, that was easy. A glass of wine, the cork from the bottle, a small dish of olives, placed on a California Juniper jita. Perfect. It was done!




An accent piece featuring a glass of wine, a wine cork and a small dish of olives on a wood slab
An accent piece featuring a glass of wine, a wine cork and a small dish of olives on a wood slab


I now had a bonsai display that evoked California - a place that people come to from all over the world, bringing their own cultures and foods, where it all combines together into something new and special. I couldn't be happier. I hope you enjoy it as well, and I encourage everyone to see if they can create a display that evokes their own culture and environment. 




the entire bonsai display featuring the Cork Oak, Olive and accent piece on their individual stands
the entire bonsai display featuring the Cork Oak, Olive and accent piece on their individual stands

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2 commentaires


Membre inconnu
26 avr.

this was a fun display and stood out! did you run out of wine? 😀

J'aime
Membre inconnu
26 avr.
En réponse à

Ha, no I don't even drink!

J'aime
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