The living art of bonsai on display

“Must love plants,” is the first rule in growing bonsai according to Anita Kaneakua, a 50-year member of Kaua‘i Bonsai Club.

“The second rule is water,” she added. “How much water you drink on a hot day? You water bonsai daily and in summer twice a day.”

Kaua‘i Bonsai Club is 30 members strong and will display this living art all weekend at the Farm Bureau Fair. Members will also give demonstrations from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.

Longest standing member of the club, William Kaneakua began his love affair with this ancient art at 15 years old — the day he tore a mail order sheet for a Ming tree from the back of a comic book.

“I did (bonsai) on my own until I joined the club in 1958,” he said. “I’d get trees in the wild — mostly ironwood — and grow them in a burlap sack.”

The miniaturizing of trees is an art that requires an eye for balance and a generous measure of patience. Through pruning and waiting, trees that can grow 30 feet tall are trained to grow in pots.

“Bonsai literally translated means, ‘a plant that’s grown in a pot,’” said 12-year club member Tony Romo. “It was originally a Chinese art that was refined by the Japanese.”

To be called bonsai, the tree cannot grow over 40 inches tall. Many bonsai artists start with an existing tree harvested from the wild.

“From seed to tree is 35 years,” said William Kaneakua. “You need ‘em fast? Fastest way is you go for dig.”

By cutting the branches back drastically, new growth is encouraged to grow. As the growth sprouts, the artist shapes the tree.

“It’s a painting,” Anita Kaneakua said. “You are always revising.”

Veteran bonsai artists recommend starting with a tree that is easy to grow, like a banyan.

One of the newest members to the club, Napua Romo, confessed to her early challenges.

“I wanted to bonsai natives and have learned that native trees are the hardest to grow,” she said.

The third and final criterion may seem obvious to some.

“You need to be willing to trim your tree,” said club president Butch Buddingh. “Sometimes it’s hard to chop a big branch.”

Since this living art does require patience, the club consensus was that more is better when it comes to growing bonsai.

“It takes a long time — that’s why we have many trees and not just one,” Anita Kaneakua said.

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