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Columbus Bonsai Society grows works of art

Columbus Bonsai Society grows works of art

Linda Lee Baird

If you’re in search of a hobby that requires little time, few tools, and minimal energy that you can stick with for the rest of your life, the art of bonsai might be just what you’re looking for. The Columbus Bonsai Society—one of the older bonsai groups in the Midwest—will hold its 47th Annual Bonsai Show at Franklin Park Conservatory, where you can get a close look at trees, talk to experts, and decide if bonsai is right for you. And if you find the idea of caring for a tiny tree for the rest of your life a bit intimidating, you can sign up for a beginning bonsai class that will give you everything you need to get started, including the tree.

The bonsai show will include a range of diminutive trees, starting as small as six inches in height and going up to about three feet. Dean Abbott, First Vice President of the Columbus Bonsai Society, said visitors could expect to see boxwoods, azaleas, Chinese Oaks, mini jades, and pines. The event’s judges will award a “Best in Show” prize to the tree demonstrating “the highest level of expertise in grooming and training.”

Photos: Brian Kaiser

With proper care, bonsai trees can live for decades, or longer. Abbott said that one of the trees in the Conservatory’s collection is over a century old, and that there are bonsai trees in China and Japan that have lived for 500 years. The beginner classes offered by the Bonsai Society are designed to help newcomers to care for trees so they can maintain their plants for years to come.

Abbott shared the four steps required to care for bonsai trees: “prune, pinch, wire, and bend.” To successfully maintain a bonsai, he said it’s important to find a tree that will take to the pruning process. These trees can come from unexpected sources, such as the nursery section of a big box store, or landscaping detritus. If your neighbors are tearing our their old shrubs or pines, “you can collect something that’s already 30-40 years old.”


One of the most common mistakes beginners make is not caring properly for their particular type of plant. Abbott said there are two types of bonsai trees—hearty and tropical—and each has different needs. “Heartys live outside all winter; they don’t come in the house. That’s how a lot die,” he said. “They need a dormancy period.” Tropicals, on the other hand, should live outside in the summer but come in during the colder months.

Once you know what kind of tree you have and where to keep it, the other concerns for bonsai growers are soil, water, and trimming, and knowing when your plant needs these things. While it may sound like a lot to think about, the beginners class will help get you started by covering these aspects of routine care. “It’s not difficult once you learn the basics,” Abbott said.

Abbott estimated that bonsai is a hobby that takes about an hour per week, per tree. Of course, should you start attending the Columbus Bonsai Society’s monthly meetings and regular workshops, it will take more time. During the meetings, members can bring in trees they’re having difficulty with to get advice from other members. Often, bonsai specialists give guest lectures on the finer points of the craft. And frequently, growers bring in trees at various stages of the process that members can purchase for their own collections. The right starter can make all the difference, as a well-positioned starter plant can save the buyer a few years of shaping.

While it might be nice to have some time-saving tips, for bonsai enthusiasts, the work is the point. “Working with Bonsai transports you to a world of relaxation and control. It releases you from life’s daily chaos and worry,” Abbott said. Three two-hour beginner bonsai classes will cost you $65 ($60 if you are a member of the Conservatory). But finding a release from life’s chaos and worry? That’s priceless.

The Columbus Bonsai Society’s 47th Annual Show will run from July 19-21 at the Franklin Park Conservatory. Admission is free. “Bonsai Demystified” beginners classes will be offered in August at the Conservatory. To register, visit


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