Learning the Philosophy of Bonsai in Manchester

Have you ever heard of Bonsai? Bonsai is the Japanese art of creating miniature trees, in order to capture and recreate nature in that small world.

I believe most ordinary Japanese people would consider Bonsai to be a hobby enjoyed by old men, and most Japanese people are not that interested in pursuing the hobby. (However, in recent years, the art of Bonsai has been resurrected from that image by some enthusiastic young Bonsai artists.)

So, I was very surprised to see many Bonsai trees beautifully arranged for an exhibition at a Japanese related event for the first time. I was more surprised to find out that there was a local Bonsai Society and that those beautiful trees were created by the members of that Society. The particular Bonsai Society featured here is Wirral Bonsai Society. It is not quite in Manchester area, but is close enough to Manchester, reachable in just a one-hour drive. They hold a monthly workshop at a local garden centre, where anyone can bring their bonsai trees (that usually have some problems) to get a good guidance as to what to do.

This time, I visited the workshop and managed to arrange an interview with the Chairman of the Wirral Bonsai Society, Ian Warhurst. Unfortunately, the day of the workshop turned out to be the wettest possible day for April, not to mention it was so cold. But I braved the elements to find out more about Bonsai trees.

When I got there, about four members of the Society were working on their trees at a corner of the garden center. They bring their trees to the workshop so that they can get feedback from other members to improve them. While I was there, a few groups of people brought their troubled Bonsai trees. Just like an experienced doctor, Ian diagnosed the condition of the tree, and gave the owner guidance as well as actually treating the tree. It was very intriguing to watch the little troubled tree getting to look much better with Ian’s magic touch.

After the workshop, I headed for Ian’s own garden at his house. About 50 Bonsai trees were standing in the heavy rain. I asked Ian how he got the trees, and was surprised to find out that most of the trees were destined to be burned out after being pulled out of someone’s garden as they were unwanted there. Ian managed to get hold of those unwanted trees because his friend is a landscape gardener, and had many opportunities to come across such trees. He said he had rescued so many trees that if he had given a pound each time he rescued a tree, he’d be a millionaire by now.

Then I conducted a long interview asking Ian various questions (please see the video). He said the time he is tending to the trees is like meditation. You listen to the trees, nurture the trees and through the process you become at one with nature. I felt a little embarrassed because I doubt if I have such patience to go through the painstaking work of taking care of the trees constantly AND feel such serenity inside me. At best, I would be only frustrated and throw in the towel. To me, Ian seemed to have overcome such frustration to reach to a transcendental state of mind. I am very much grateful to him and other members for this special opportunity to learn about the philosophy of Bonsai, only to realize that I have touched the mere surface of the Bonsai world.