The art of bonsai |

The art of bonsai

Caramie SchnellVail, CO Colorado
Shane Macomber/

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado Nearly a dozen bonsai trees decorate Liz and Timm Paxsons Vail home. There are miniature maples, elms and even a prized 60-year-old juniper tree the couple had to convince a California nursery owner to sell to them.He wanted to be sure wed take care of it, Liz said. Bonsai, which is the art of miniaturizing trees by cutting their root systems and keeping them in small pots, originated in China centuries ago during the Han Dynasty. The Paxsons were first drawn to the miniaturized plants about 35 years ago when they purchased a Chinese tangerine tree from a nursery. As avid hikers, the couple spent a lot of time outside, and the idea of having smaller versions of what they saw in nature reverberated with them both, Liz said. (Bonsai trees) echoed the beautiful trees that we saw in nature. … Wed see beautiful junipers and various trees, and to be able to miniaturize them into the gorgeous shapes people can coax them into is very interesting, Liz said. Shawn Greenfield, an indoor specialist at the Wildflower Farm in Edwards, agreed. To take the time and effort to make a bonsai look the way it does is very gratifying. People have bonsais for a long, long time; some people even will them when they die because they mean so much to them. Its a great hobby, he said.Theres a section at the Wildflower Farm thats devoted to bonsai trees. The farm sells varieties like jade, ficus, Chinese elm, juniper, Golden Gate fig and Japanese boxwood. We have a tiny Chinese elm thats 12 or 13 years old and just spectacular, Greenfield said. The price of a bonsai depends on the age of the plant and its character. Does it have aerial roots or is it grown over rocks or is it in a pot? Greenfield said. The prices range from $15 to $270 for the previously mentioned elm. Theres a serious amount of man hours put into making it look that way, Greenfield said, mentioning that some people have sticker shock about the prices. Attention seekers and gettersUntil last year, Jan Fedrizzi, a member of Eagle Countys Gardeners on the Go club, considered bonsai gardening as mysterious and totally difficult, and I could never do it. After Greenfield presented a short bonsai course to the club, she changed her mind. I realized its possible I could do it, and I really learned a lot from him. (Bonsai) is very beginner-friendly. No. 1, you dont need much, just patience. You just wait for about 25 years, and then youll see if your shaping and pruning is doing what its supposed to do, Fedrizzi said. At 25 years, Fedrizzi is exaggerating, but shes right bonsai trees do take patience and attention. (Bonsai) needs a bit more attention than a plant normally would, Greenfield said. The plants have smaller root systems and are grown in small pots so they need to be watered more often, Greenfield said. You also have to prune the trees to help keep their shape and feed them every once in awhile. Bonsai are also slow growing so if you damage them they will come back to life, but it will take longer than it would for a bigger, established plant to recuperate, he said. Though at times finicky, bonsai trees are worth the trouble, Greenfield said. Theyre quite a conversational piece. They bring joy to people who are into plants, who enjoy working with plants, he said. And more than just gardening, bonsai is an art. You can wrap wire around the trunks and bend the so they grow up or down, back around and make knots on themselves. You can anchor a tree down from one side and itll grow diagonal. Its an art, its like when you go to art class and you ask your teacher how to draw a picture theres no right or wrong way. Its the same thing with cutting and pruning a bonsai you can design and manipulate them into to any shape and style that pleases you.As for the Paxons, the two share some of their bonsai collection but they mostly have their own plants.Its very personal how you trim them and shape them, its just better to do your own, Liz said, chuckling.High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at

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