With bonsai – the art of growing dwarfed ornamental trees – old age, or at least the appearance of it, is the gold standard of beauty.
Those interested in the hobby will get the chance to see how that’s achieved during the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo – a two-day event packed with how-to workshops, bonsai vendors and more than 100 bonsai trees on display from amateurs and experts of the art form.
The free show Dec. 5-6 is open to the public and sponsored by the UNC Nutrition Research Institute, the Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the North Carolina Research Campus.
Steven Zeisel, director of the UNC Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute, launched the annual expo in 2013. Always held in December, it’s one of the few shows to take place when most leaves have fallen from the bonsai trees.
“In Japan, where bonsai was refined, their biggest show is in February, in the middle of winter because you really can see the tree and not just leaves,” said Zeisel.“Having a show now shows off the trees when you can’t hide your mistakes.”
This year’s expo will focus on new bonsai hobbyists. World-renowned bonsai artist William Valavanis will offer “Bonsai for the Beginner,” a workshop for novices from 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 5. Vendors will have everything needed to begin the hobby, from pots and plants to fertilizer and soil.
Other guest artists will demonstrate tips and tricks for every level from beginners to those already with firm roots in the hobby.
Bonsai has been around for more than 1,000 years, and it owes its longevity in part to its Zen-like effect on people.
“I can sit in the backyard and spend hours on my plants and the time just melts away,” said Bob Hampel, president of the Bonsai Society of the Carolinas.
At one time Hampel, 73, who lives in Catawba, had around 400 bonsai plants. Bonsai’s slow-growing nature makes it typical for enthusiasts of the hobby to have more than just a couple trees, so they always have a few to work on.
Despite what many people think, said Hampel, creating a presentable bonsai tree is not as difficult as it may look.
“Anything with a woody stem can be dwarfed using bonsai techniques,” said Hampel. “There are all these situations that have been written down and developed over the years. If you can follow a recipe, you can do incredible bonsai.”
Zeisel recommends novices join a local bonsai club, where members are usually eager to offer guidance.
“Start with a Juniper because they’re hardest to kill,” he added.
The goal is to add on the appearance of years, even if that’s just an illusion.
“The biggest question we get at shows is how old is the tree?” he said. “The trick in bonsai is making them look old. The age isn’t the point. It’s how old does it look?”
Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer: email@example.com