The gardening art of bonsai: Gently guiding growth

From the Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai's 2016 exhibition: A live oak by club member Al Nelson.
From the Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai’s 2016 exhibition: A live oak by club member Al Nelson.
(Jason Saito )

Imagine you’re a sculptor with a medium that’s alive, and it’s critical that it thrives as you s-l-o-w-l-y bend it to your will.

No, we are not talking about parenting. This is the exquisitely painstaking world of bonsai, “which just means `tree in a pot,’” says Tom Culton of the Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai (Number One Bonsai Club) in Gardena, one of more than 20 bonsai clubs in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.

Bonsai is both art and gardening. Branches and roots are trimmed or wired into a certain shape, in the hope that the tree will agree to grow in that direction, Culton says.

“You’re sculpting a live tree,” he said. “It may look good today, but it’s always changing.”


Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai (“kai” means “club” in Japanese) offers free demonstrations at its monthly meetings, such as a July 20 presentation by noted instructor Lindsay Shiba, past president of the California Bonsai Society and former owner of the Mt. Fuji Garden Center in Upland.

Can’t get out? Visit the club’s website for Livestream videos of bonsai demonstrations and a list of other clubs in the region.

Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai (Number One Bonsai Club)

What: Monthly bonsai demonstrations and meetings

When: 7 p.m. July 20 for the demo. Club meetings are held at 7 p.m. on the third Friday of every month, except May and December.

Where: Ken Nakaoka Community Center, 1670 W. 162nd St., Gardena

Cost: Free. (Annual membership $25 individuals, $35 families)