Inside The New York Botanical Garden


Kiku in the Conservatory, Pumpkins in the Garden

Posted in Around the Garden, Exhibitions on October 3 2013, by Ann Rafalko

kiku3You probably know (or at least think you know) all about bonsai, the Japanese art of growing, tending, and shaping miniature trees in trays. But do you know about kiku? Where bonsai is small, kiku is large. Where bonsai is about long life, kiku is about ephemerality. Where bonsai is about a minimal aesthetic, kiku is about color, pattern, and profusion.

Or at least that is how we interpret this tradition of shaping and tending chrysanthemums in Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden, opening Saturday in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Many of these huge chrysanthemum “sculptures” begin as one single stem, despite looking like brilliant tapestries of many flowering plants woven together. They are tended for months on end to bloom for just a few weeks. There is no way for us to extend kiku beyond their natural lifespan, so to see them in their full glory, you have got to act fast!

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Bonsai’s Magical Lure Beckons During Kiku

Posted in Exhibitions, Kiku on October 21 2009, by Plant Talk

Special Display by Yama Ki Society on through November 1

Michael Pollock is Vice-President of Yama Ki Bonsai Society, whose members will display their bonsai in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory during Kiku in the Japanese Autumn Garden.

Scots pineBonsai’s beginning is shrouded in the mists of time. With origins in either China or India, bonsai (or penjing in Chinese) found fertile ground when visiting Buddhist monks brought potted trees to Japan. When Japan opened up to the West, interest in bonsai, which means “tray planting,” reignited throughout Asia and began to spread to other parts of the world. As the art form continues to reach new areas, new plants are used to create local bonsai. Whatever the climate, there are plants that can make beautiful bonsai.

I first studied bonsai in 1982 with Yuji Yoshimura at The New York Botanical Garden. I was immediately captivated by a mixture of feelings these trees elicited from me: tranquility, calmness, excitement. Unfortunately, a busy career prevented me from seriously practicing bonsai then and I gave up. Twelve years ago, I realized that if I could successfully raise children, I could probably grow bonsai, too. It has been a wonderful journey of discovery and creation ever since. Now I grow between 40 and 50 bonsai. In 2004 I won a prestigious “new talent” competition and was awarded a trip to Japan, where I visited many of the most famous bonsai nurseries, growing fields, and public and private collections.

There are many ways to create a bonsai: starting with seeds or cuttings, buying a plant from a nursery (Shanti Bithi Bonsai Nursery in Stamford, Conn, has been an important resource) or collecting a tree from the wild. Of course, for beginners it takes longer to establish an impressive bonsai, but someone with experience can create a “showable” tree within three to five years. Older bonsai plants bring their own stories with them as they are trained, whether it be the twisted and scarred trunks with old, flaky bark or the bonsai practitioners who have cared for the tree over generations, as is witnessed in Japan and China.

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