2009 – The Journey of Amy

The Journey of Amy

by Basil Bryant

Wellington Bonsai Club

My introduction to the wonderful world of bonsai commenced in 1960. As a family we had moved to another town in line with my work. We had left behind a home that we had spent several years working hard to develop to another, which as they say, went with the job, a rental house. We were young and missed the hard work that we had become used to, so frankly we were at a loose end. You would not think that this would be the case, caring for four children should have been enough, but I suppose that was nearly fifty years ago, when we were young.

My wife, Val, had nurtured a wish to learn pottery, so it was not very long before she was enrolled at an evening class at the local college where she was lucky enough to have a very good tutor. After a while she went on to develop a considerable skill, she became an accomplished potter. I for my part was lucky to become the recipient of some really outstanding bonsai pots.

I had been reading how people had cultivated small trees in containers to replicate those growing freely outside. This was in that period after the Second World War, when many Eastern cultures surfaced in the West. My thoughts were captured on how these small trees in the process of time matured into something of real beauty. They were known then as “Ming” trees. It was not long before the name “Bonsai” surfaced. I became fascinated with bonsai. I must have conveyed my ideas to our next door neighbour, a really kindly person named Amy. Before long she produced a clump of five maple seedlings that had sprung up in the middle of her garden. I only knew them then as maples later on the botanical name of Acer Palmatum came to light followed by the Japanese name Momiji.

Here I was in 1960 with the start of a bonsai collection made up of five maples and also an acorn which the children had brought home on their return from school.

A myth that should be exposed. That is someone came up with the idea of starting trees off in orange skins. Oranges were cut in half, the insides removed and a seedling was planted in that. It didn’t work for me, it was a myth busted.

The maples were growing strongly, one a little stronger than the rest. I thought it appropriate that this particular tree should be named Amy after, of course, my next door neighbour who had initially given me the trees.
Having obtained some empty baked bean tins, the young seedlings as well as the acorn were introduced to them, their new homes. It was not long before the acorn had sprouted and the maples looked perfectly at ease in their changed environment.

About that time a book on bonsai came to my notice, “Bonsai Made Easy”, I think it was called. One of the many of “The Sunset” series that were on sale then. My journey really started here. There was more to bonsai than just planting a few seedlings in empty cans. The book was full of information and illustrations and showed that I had a lot further to go. It was from this book that I gleaned my early knowledge and my enthusiasm.

A replica of how the first tree would have looked.

Val was making great strides with her pottery, she produced her first bonsai pot and was very proud of her effort. We happily introduced Amy to her new home, the new pot. Val went on to make many fine pots over the following years I was the lucky recipient of many, that I consider to be outstanding works. It was not long until my trees, all six of them, were sitting in locally made containers.

1965 the trees were progressing favourably but I was naive to expect that good bonsais would materialise quickly. While there are many ways to hasten their growth, patience is something you begin to understand and is one of the basic requirements. This was the year we had another work related move, one of many to follow over the next twenty or so years. Amy was going to endure the cold winters of the King Country, the biting southerlies of South Taranaki, variation of the days in Manawatu, four seasons in one day it was aptly coined and then the balmy summers of the Bay of Plenty….Surpringly so we had three good years in Lower Hutt.

It must be admitted, the enthusiasm for bonsai sometimes waned, without the support of other collectors the trees were sometimes neglected, luckily the trees survived. I pay tribute to my ever supporting wife who did what I should have been doing many times over. It was in Lower Hutt in 1981 there appeared in the newspaper an advertisement for the annual general meeting of the Wellington Bonsai Club, their first annual general meeting if I remember correctly. What a thrill after stumbling along by myself for over twenty years to have the opportunity to meet and work with fellow bonsaists. Over the last few years there has been a huge turn over of members in the Wellington Club, but there is still a core remaining that I have known for a very long time.

My first bonsai pot

In the early days there were many visiting tutors from overseas such as Tommy Yamamoto and others, their names escape me at the moment, but from New Zealand there was Bob Langholm. Bob was exactly what a fledgling club needed. He had knowledge and enthusiasm, I found that very stimulating and he certainly assisted with my knowledge of bonsai.

Early club members’ names that come to mind are; Bevan Hussey, Joyce Adams and David Bell. Bevan was our first president and he has served in that roll many times, for his efforts he has been made a life member of the club, Joyce is still a regular at club meetings and always brings along a tree so that she involves herself in discussions, She, with her enthusiasm and her attention to detail. David has moved to Auckland and still receives our newsletters.
It was great to take my tree, to club meetings, for it to be part of the scene. Although the tree had grown a lot it was the overall shape that I was struggling with. It took a little while for me to accept its present style. One thing I have learnt is that it is not always possible to correct imperfections in design but, what is needed is the ability to deal with the challenges you face. That is one of the challenges of bonsai, accepting things that don’t always appear right at the time but you try to fit something into a design as you see it. Can I paraphrase the words of Thomas Aquinas, that is it better to rectify an apparent problem or, accept the situation as it is, therein lies the skill or knowledge to know the difference. That is not always clear cut.

The tree as it appeared in Lower Hutt some twenty five years ago.

1983 was the year for a big change in our lives. I had reached the retirement age in my job so we decided to move back to Feilding the place where I had started work so many years before.

It was when we were transporting our bonsais and associated gear by means of a hired trailer from Lower Hutt to Feilding that one of the freakiest accidents occurred. It was on the road coming in to Otaki. For those who know that particular piece of road, this happened over the bridge and approaching the township. The road has what can be called a reverse camber, that is the level on the road leans the other way to what is normal. Here we were cruising along nicely, when I glanced to my left and to my utter surprise here was the trailer passing us at a good speed before crashing into a power post. It was revealed that the trailer’s a-frame had broken off. My bonsai pots and other miscellaneous gear were spread over the side of the road. This meant obtaining another trailer, gathering up all my gear and continuing on to Feilding. The only damage was to my favourite Maple Amy, was a broken branch. Thank goodness it was not serious and it was easily fixed. Amy bounced back to life. We were lucky to come out of the incident as lightly as we did.

During the early part of the 1980s I attended a seminar conducted by Joy Morton and fortunately, she had spent some time on maples. She recalled that in the early stage of her bonsai journey, she had, under the guidance of her tutor, spent some time doing that tedious job of removing the surplus buds on maples during the winter maintenance. The choice of bud and the direction it takes determines the future shape of the tree. Here lies the proof for dedication and patience. It was a talk that I remember well.

Amy revealing the beautiful colours of autumn that maples produce.

In this, as I reflect nigh on a half century of association with this tree, I ponder on the theme of the essay VISION TO REALITY.

Certainly when I started out dreaming of those beautiful old bonsais, never did I think that in terms of age I would have something approaching those mature trees. That was my dream, that was my vision. Although the tree is relatively young compared with some of those old masterpieces, at least a good start has been made. As for reality, in bonsai there is no end of the road, there is always progress, the tree continues to grow. Each day it grows and changes, a tree that has seemingly peaked today will be ready for a higher level tomorrow. That is the reality, as had been said bonsai is a living art.

I consider myself very fortunate that one of my family, living in the Bay Of Plenty is keen to accept the tree one day. For my part I am overjoyed that someone is going to continue with Amy’s destiny. Amy , I am sure will be pleased to return to those balmy days in that beautiful part of the country.

Now the tree has the shape that I admire, keeping it by a little judicious pruning, wiring, debudding and bamboo shapers.

After being associated for almost fifty years with my maple I reflect on the wonderful time it has been. It has meant obtaining more trees and amassing a collection. While some trees rate equally with my maple there is still a special feeling for my first acquisition, you can say it is like a first born.

Sitting nicely in one of Val’s pots Amy, in her fiftieth year reveals all, splendid in her winter state anticipating another forthcoming Spring.