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Bonsai's Greatest Lesson: Patience

Two bonsai trees on display at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show on Feb. 20.

HARTFORD, Conn. - What's your vision of a backyard paradise? 

For a bonsai enthusiast, it might be a yard full of tiny trees that can fit in the palm of your hand. The Bonsai Society of Greater Hartford brought this concept to life with its display at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show.

The display, designed by Geoffrey Holmes, included large Japanese design elements such as red Torii Gates. The trees on display included representation from Hartford, New Haven, Conn. and Springfield, Mass., bonsai societies.

The trees on display were also chosen based on access, since bonsai trees need to be kept outside during winter months.  "They have to go dormant. Every tree is kept in a cold environment or polyhouses," said Peter Hlousek, from the Bonsai Society of Greater New Haven. With the recent heavy snowfall, some trees were easier to get to than others.
Bonsai trees on display.

According to the Bonsai Society of Greater Springfield, Mass., "many of the trees in the display are either native to our area or can survive a winter here outside with some protection from freezing and the wind... without dormancy, a tree native to our area will die." Tropical trees can be kept indoors if they are provided with enough light.

The trees require daily attention; Hlousek said the trees need to be watered every day.

"You really need to watch them. Proper watering is huge." The soil used is very porous; there is no dirt, just gravel. "We feed the nutrients it wants," said Hlousek. Re-potting and root pruning every couple of years is also necessary.

For proper bonsai design, wiring and pinching new growth is required.

"You won't have a good tree if you don't wire," he said. When wiring the bonsai tree, the goal is to "get a triangle out of them. That's the Japanese design, " he said. "You will see a triangle out of every tree design if done correctly."

Black pines and junipers make good varieties to train into bonsai trees. "If you can shrink tree leaves or shrink the needles, you can make it [into a bonsai]," he said.

The trees need a lot of sun to get the darker leaf colors, which is common during summer months. (The trees on display were lighter in color because of the strength of the winter sun.)

For the budding bonsai enthusiast, the opportunity of getting a tree into a show in three to five years is an attainable goal. But the hardest part, Hlousek said, is the time element involved in creating a great bonsai. Patience is key.

"You can't learn from books only," he said. He suggests joining clubs to learn as much as possible. Through the club meetings, people of all skill levels are able to learn about bonsai.

Hlousek has been part of a bonsai club for more than than 15 years.  "It's very personally rewarding. Some of my best friends I've met through the club," he said. "It's fun."

To view more bonsai trees in the future or attend demonstrations, the Bonsai Society of Greater Hartford's annual show will take place in July. To learn more, visit

This is what a backyard paradise looks like to a bonsai artist.


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