Bonsai is (Usually) Not a Rescue Mission

The phrase “bonsai is not a rescue mission” is sometimes used to discourage eager bonsai enthusiasts from trying to make a bonsai from every plant they find. Instead, we should focus on the best material we can possibly get our hands on, thus increasing our chances of making something we can be proud of.

Sometimes, however, bonsai really is a rescue mission. Story time!

Last August I responded to an online ad where someone was selling their collection. Not knowing what to expect from the vague description and two blurry pictures of some tropicals, I arrived surprised to see a very old and once impressive bonsai collection in its final death throes. This elderly gentleman had been doing bonsai quietly in his backyard for 30-40 years, away from the clubs and shows, and now was in the predicament of having to sell everything due to failing health.

He had (understandably) put off selling them for years, but in those last few years the trees suffered greatly. To make matters worse, everything was planted in pretty much pure topsoil and was weak to begin with, therefore many were unable to handle the stresses of erratic watering.

Some of the tougher species were still hanging in there, but other more finicky ones like this impressive Japanese white pine had no chance.

Imported Japanese white pine.

Imported Japanese white pine.

After much haggling I went home with two larches, a ginkgo, and a Japanese maple – three very tough species that had managed to survive but were now in serious need of rehabilitation. This was August 2014 and some of the trees were already showing fall colours- A sign of definite stress.

I’m happy to report that all four trees survived the winter and were completely barerooted and repotted this spring. They seem to be doing well and I anticipate that they will have recovered their strength by the end of this growing season.

3 Responses

  1. alka

    great job there done by you – keep it up

    May 10, 2015 at 7:47 pm

  2. Hi there! Love your blog. Being from Quebec city I can understand really well the harsh realities of our canadian winters.

    I was wondering, do you have any idea where he could have put his hands on the imported white pine? These days it is pretty impossible to get our hands on pines through importation with the canadian customs.

    What are the best bonsai nurseries in Ontario?


    May 10, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    • LSBonsai

      Hi Chris,

      He was from BC and lots of his trees came from there. The JWP along with the ginkgo and maple were probably imported from Japan or Korea a long time ago.

      Unfortunately there are only a couple of nurseries here and they don’t really specialise in temperate bonsai. It is a tough business!

      May 11, 2015 at 10:19 pm

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