On May 11th, bonsai enthusiasts and admirers of the art gathered at bonsai centers around the globe to celebrate World Bonsai Day. The celebration pays homage to the vision of the founders of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation who believed in the power of bonsai to promote friendship and goodwill throughout the world.
We spoke with Museum intern Andy Bello about World Bonsai Day at The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum and the huge impact that celebrating the small trees can have.
The Museum recognized World Bonsai Day with Michael Hagedorn, a bonsai expert who traveled from Portland, Oregon to give pruning demonstrations and lectures and sign his book, “Post-Dated: The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk.”
According to Bello, visitors filed into the Museum’s auditorium on the morning of the 11th to listen to Hagedorn’s lecture on common bonsai care and technical myths that his soon-to-be-published book “Bonsai Heresy” addresses. For example, Hagedorn untangled the common misconception that one should lay off nitrogen fertilizers in autumn when leaves begin to fall off trees.
Bello said some believe adding nitrogen – a macronutrient involved in leaf growth – to the soil when trees’ leaves will soon fall off anyway simply wastes resources. But Hagedorn found that, as temperatures begin to drop in the fall, nitrogen fertilizer will not encourage a new flush of foliage unless the weather became unseasonably warm.
“The nitrogen will actually make the tree a little bit healthier throughout the winter season,” Bello said. “When spring comes you already have that nitrogen there, rather than just giving it a big flush of nitrogen right in the spring, there’s a kind of continuous buildup.”
After signing copies of his book, Hagedorn held a demonstration, during which he profiled the technical care and traits of five trees of various species and growth habits. Bello said Hagedorn and Museum volunteers took turns working on the trees in front of about 70 attendees!
“It was just a lot of good information on what to do when spring pests come up or fungal issues come up, especially here in D.C., when the rains start to pick up again and how to take preventative measures for that with different species as well,” Bello said.
He said World Bonsai Day celebrators – consisting of people of all ages and levels of interest in bonsai, including some who had never practiced before – most enjoyed Hagedorn’s demonstration, where they learned answers to questions like, “How are these trees maintained?” and “How are the trees kept so small?”
“People think that the trees just grow this way, but they really take a lot of work to prune back and maintain,” Bello said.
Bello said World Bonsai Day not only provides a forum to appreciate and recognize bonsai, but also promotes the trees to those in the general public who are not as familiar with the ancient art. He added that World Bonsai Day emphasizes the unity of all countries that practice bonsai, especially at the Museum, which has deep connections to Japan.
“Here at the Museum you can walk through and see trees from different parts of Japan, North America and China and see how different cultures taken similar approaches,” Bello said.