Ask an Expert: The Ancient Art of Bonsai

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Ask an Expert: The Ancient Art of Bonsai

Categories: Ask an Expert, Blog, Newsworthy

Each May, the Bonsai Society of Greater Kansas City brings its spring exhibit to Powell Gardens, giving visitors a wonderful opportunity to learn about this fascinating ancient art form firsthand. This year, members will be setting up during National Public Gardens Day on Friday, May 10, and will present the full exhibit on May 11 and 12.

Today we talk with Kathy Schlesinger, a board member and exhibit chair for the society, about her love for all things bonsai.

Kathy Schlesinger

Q. How did you get interested in the art of bonsai?

A. While still living on the East Coast a work colleague shared an article published in the Smithsonian Magazine about bonsai. This was just a few weeks before I was moving to Missouri. I couldn’t put the magazine down. I had always loved art, from finger paints to clay, and this art form using plants was just so incredible I knew I would have to try it some day.

Q. What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for beginners?

A. Don’t worry about the “art;” that will come with time as you train your eyes. Learn about the plant you are growing and what it needs when growing in a pot. A well-designed bonsai will still die if you don’t know how to take care of it.

Q. What’s your favorite thing about the art of bonsai?

A. That’s a hard question as I like all the different steps and the continual learning that goes into the process. However, when I am working on a tree I quickly notice how I am not thinking about anything else. The stress from the day or week are far from my thoughts and I’m relaxed and enjoying the moment. For me that is too cool for words.

Q. What are some common myths or misconceptions about bonsai?

A. There are quite a few. Among the questions asked most often: No, there is not one specific plant that is a bonsai. Any plant that will make a woody stem and will thrive in a pot can be used for bonsai. The wire used on the branches in Japanese bonsai does not restrict the growth but is used for designing the tree and is temporary. And we water and fertilize a lot compared to most other outdoor gardening.

Q. What’s your favorite thing about Powell Gardens?

A. Oh wow, that is a very hard question! I guess my favorite is not a “thing” but the feeling of being out and in nature. You can sit in one of the patio areas or you can lose yourself out walking about, but the beauty of nature is all around you no matter where you look. That is truly a gift.

Q. How do you pronounce bonsai?

A. Bonsai is pronounced “BONE’ – sigh.” Bon means pot or tray; simply put, it means pot-planted or “plant in a pot.”

Join Kathy for a free program introducing you to this ancient art at 1:30 p.m. on all three days of the exhibit, May 10-12.