Tony Green, the 2017 First Curator’s Apprentice, has worked in bonsai for years, but says he is always learning about new species, techniques, and teaching styles. As he begins his time at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, he is learning how to navigate not only a new city, but a new selection of bonsai species.
Like many in the bonsai community, Green has a background in both art and gardening. He dabbled in different artistic mediums and grew up in a family who loved farming and horticulture, but didn’t see how the two fields could fit together until his girlfriend brought a few bonsai home from a local fair.
“I was amazed at these little trees, these little works of art,” Green said.
The next morning, Green brought a cup full of coffee and a mind full of questions to the fair, where he connected with a bonsai vendor. The vendor invited Green to a meeting of the Boca Raton-based Lighthouse Bonsai Society, and the rest is history. Today, Green serves as president of the society, owns as many as 60 trees of his own, and has studied under well-known bonsai teachers and masters like Vlad Foursa and Boon Manikitivipart.
“It’s an honor to work on trees of that quality,” he said. “I really enjoy it, it’s a way for me to get hands-on experience.”
Michael James, museum specialist at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, says Green’s prior experience working on museum-quality bonsai has helped him adapt to the environment in D.C. very quickly.
“His experience at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Florida has given him a familiarity for the meticulous nature of bonsai display,” James said.
After working at the Morikami for a few years, Green decided to pursue another nature-related dream – to hike the Appalachian Trail. In five months, Green hiked from Georgia to Maine, over mountain peaks and through open valleys. But bonsai was always on his mind.
“At the top of a mountain, trees only grow to a certain height because of the atmospheric pressure and high elevation,” Green said. “You see all these little bonsai trees everywhere and you just want to collect them.”
When he wasn’t hiking or taking photos, he would tend to these dwarf trees as if they were the specimens at the Morikami.
“I’d get in there and mess around with the trees, just plucking old needles and branches out of place,” he said. “The other hikers would be like, ‘What are you doing?’”
So far, Green says the internship has been an amazing experience, and that he feels “like a fish in water” among the rest of the Museum team.
Green especially enjoys working with species that were previously unfamiliar, because they do not grow as well in the tropical Floridian climate. He is particularly excited to have access to species that are popular in bonsai worldwide, like white pines, Japanese maples, and junipers.
In addition to the day-to-day work on the trees, Green loves speaking with visitors about the Museum’s collections and how they can take care of their own bonsai at home. Though he said many people have similar questions, he never tires of answering them. He said he has a chance to speak with people almost every time he goes out to water the bonsai.
“I see it as an opportunity to go over again and again with people the questions they have,” he said. “I definitely love talking about bonsai.”
Tony will be blogging his experiences as the First Curator’s Apprentice on our website. Be sure to sign up for our email list to receive Tony’s blog and all updates from the National Bonsai Foundation in your inbox.