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A world of small trees By: Sunjin Chang and Helen Chao

With bonsai lining the walls of the Quinlan Community Center event room, people watched a professional make these small trees, attended a brief bonsai tutorial session at the back of the room or strolled along the plants while taking pictures and smiling in awe at the odd, yet intriguing shapes of the branches. On Oct. 7, the annual bonsai show was open for residents to view bonsai, the Japanese art of artificially shaping a small tree into unique shapes that mimic the shape of a large scale tree.

Photo by: Helen Chao

A living art form

He climbed one step up the mountain. Slid back. Another step up. Slid back. Finally, he reached the plant, which was growing on a decomposed granite mountain in the Jawbone Canyon, located in the Mojave Desert. He managed to extract the roots and continue growing it as a bonsai.

At first, bonsai enthusiast Seiji Shiba simply wanted to landscape his yard, but he heard of a bonsai club forming and decided to join.

“I have friends that say after a day’s work their head is all stuffed,” Shiba said. “They come home, go directly to their backyard and start working on their bonsai. And within half an hour, [one of my friends] says that all the cloud has lifted and he feels so much better. So instead of kicking a dog, he works on his bonsai.”

Shiba himself has been working with bonsai since 1970 and has two displayed at the show: one of them received best in show and another on display. He had extracted the latter from a mountain over 20 years ago. Regardless of the time he has spent nurturing his bonsai, Shiba says that some things about the original plant simply can’t be changed, such as the deadwood, a branch or part of a tree that is dead, of the original plant. Greenery, however, certainly can be adjusted.

Photo by: Sunjin Chang

“So [what] you try to do, in this art form, [is] enhance the deadwood or the area of focal point … you make your greenery here such that it frames the particular area of interest,” Shiba said.

When displaying the bonsai, Shiba says that the soil surface and pot shape must be in harmony with the tree itself. There is often an “accent plant” to complement the main bonsai and express the main theme of the art. For example, Shiba’s bonsai has vestiges of fall color in the accent plant, suggesting that his display takes place in the autumn. He can easily use a different colored accent plant to suggest spring instead.

“Bonsai is a very creative, caring art form,” Shiba said. “It’s a living art.”

Photo by: sunjin chang

Lover of Nature

An avid hiker, Samuel Feldman was enjoying his hike when someone along the trail gave him a flyer. Feldman had previously attended Japanese lunar festivals where bonsai were featured, so he was well aware of what bonsai were but never had the chance to participate in making them. So when the flyer stated that visitors were welcome to make their own bonsai, he was hooked.

“I came in the afternoon and there were plenty of club members standing around willing to give me a lesson,” Feldman said. “So it worked out nicely.”

Feldman was glad he came because the process of making a bonsai appealed to him. From the pinching and cutting of the branches and leaves to the wrapping of individual branches with wires and shaping them, it was all an interesting experience for Feldman.

“I had no idea how vigorously you need to trim a tree and to trim the foliage,” Feldman said. “The instructor was just [using] his fingers and going in and just taking off large pieces of this plant in order to make it into something more aesthetic.”

Photo by: Helen Chao

To Feldman, the bonsai was always beautiful, and being able to see a variety of bonsai professionally crafted along with taking part in the process was an unforgettable memory. He believes that one of the most impressive parts of a bonsai is that all of them are unique in their own ways. Drawn by this form of art, Feldman looks forward to attending future bonsai shows.

“I probably would come back because even if it were the exact same plants next year, I probably [would] not remember seeing them anyway,” Feldman said.

Photo by: Sunjin Chang

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

Regardless of whether she’s working with oak trees, pomegranates or rock garden plants, plant nursery owner Nancy Shramm is happiest when there’s dirt under her fingernails. Shramm is the owner of Carmen’s Nursery, a shop which specializes in rare and unusual plants and has been in her family for over three generations. Located in Gilroy, Shramm inherited the nursery in 2004.

“I continue growing bonsai starters, rock garden plants, miniatures that are good for fairy gardens or garden railroads,” Shramm said. “And since I have a split personality, I also grow unusual edibles. I have a lot of fig trees and kiwis, capers, pomegranates.”

Regarding the “unusual edibles,” Shramm says there’s a special security in knowing you can plant a seed and grow it into something you can eat. On the flip side, her rock garden plants or bonsai starters show the beauty of plants in general.

“I really feel like if you can nurture something, whether it's animals or people or plants, it helps you be a better person,” Shramm said. “And it just makes me feel good.”

However, Shramm specializes more in propagation, not necessarily long-term nurturing for a full-grown plant. She loves starting plants from seeds, but she doesn’t have the time to learn the training for growing a bonsai. Thus, Shramm simply grows the plants and brings them to conventions such as these.

“The type of plants I grow, they're not really showy,” Shramm said. “They have flowers, but they're not big fancy flowers.”

Shramm doesn’t believe her plants are suitable for farmers’ markets, where patrons seem to be on the lookout for more food and especially aesthetic flowers. She did have a stand at the farmers’ market for around nine years, but it’s been five or six years since she last set up shop there.

This is Shramm’s third year at the Midori Bonsai club’s annual show. The original location, in Japantown, wasn’t as open or bright as the Quinlan Community Center and Shramm likes it better here. But regardless of the location, Shramm is simply there to sell starter plants to people who are interested in bonsai.

“Plants are magic,” Shramm said. “Seeds are amazing. If you have this little tiny dried thing and you put it in the dirt and put water on and it actually grows. It's really like magic. And seeds also seem to have hope for the future.”

Photo by: Sunjin Chang

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