4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

The living art of bonsai is alive and well

Hear from San Diego Bonsai Club president Ignacio De La Torre

Charlie Mosse uses a Dremel on a privet. “We are trying to create age, and age takes time.”
Charlie Mosse uses a Dremel on a privet. “We are trying to create age, and age takes time.”

It is nine in the morning on a Wednesday, and within the confines of Balboa Park’s Japanese Friendship Garden, a few bonsai enthusiasts are moving quietly among the birds and the dew, tending to their trees. They are checking soil moisture, watering, weeding, pruning, and binding branches with wire. Today, they are also taking some time out of their usual activity to speak with me about the San Diego Bonsai Club and about the art of bonsai generally.

Neil Auwarter in his bonsai garden. “If you do something on your own, you’re limited,” he says, praising the club.

The club’s president, Ignacio De La Torre, is here, as is the curator of the Japanese Friendship Garden’s collection, Neil Auwarter. They are joined by Charlie Mosse, retired as both a nurseryman and county employee, who has been happily working in gardens since he was nine years old. All three are highly experienced, with many years of bonsai under their belts. All three have a patient, thoughtful demeanor that I am inclined to see as a side effect of the meditative, down-to-earth activity to which they are so devoted.

According to De La Torre, the SDBC is the largest such club in the United States. “Some have said the largest in the world, which is quite possible. Last year, we ended the year with about 500 paid members. Most clubs around the U.S. probably have 35-50 members.” An average meeting, held at the Casa del Prado, a stone’s throw from where we stand, will generally involve about 70 people representing a wide age range; there are members in their twenties, and others in their nineties. “One of the advantages that we have is the two collections that we maintain. The one here in the Garden and the one in the Safari Park. You go to the Safari Park to see animals, and all of a sudden you come across this beautiful pavilion of miniature trees and you’re fascinated by that, and you want to know more. I think we’re able to generate a lot of membership because of the collections.” In addition to the collections, there are two annual shows — one in the Spring (April 23 and 24 this year at the Casa del Prado), and another in the Fall — which bring in thousands of viewers and also generate a good deal of interest in bonsai.

Sponsored
Sponsored
Foemina juniper forest bonsai. “People like to look at miniatures of large things,” says Auwarter.

Practical teaching is a major emphasis of the club. Explains De La Torre, “We have teachers within the club and teachers who we bring from outside of the club who are experts, and our club members enjoy that aspect of it.” He says that “at any club meeting, we might have a high level instructor from within the club, or from outside of the club coming in to talk to the membership.”

That opportunity for learning is part of the reason for forming a club around the sort of ancient, meditative practice that one might consider best suited to solitary practice. Neil Auwarter compares the beneficial effects of being part of the SDBC to crowdsourcing. “If you do something on your own, you’re limited to the quality of the trees that you can create,” he says. But the club put him in touch with experience, knowledge, and trees far beyond what he could work with individually. He mentions the highlight of getting to work with a “legacy tree” at the Safari Park collection that has been in cultivation for 400 years. “You can’t do that if you’re in a silo, doing your own thing by yourself”.

As most everyone knows, bonsai is an art that involves the growing and shaping of miniature trees. That essential element, De La Torre notes, is what often draws people to it. It is part of what is inherently pleasing about bonsai. “People like to look at miniatures of large things,” Auwarter says. He compares the miniaturized tree to a “reduction of sauce in cooking. It’s the same sauce, but you’ve distilled it down, so it’s a stronger sensory experience.” At this size, the entirety of the tree can be viewed at once: trunk, branches, leaves, soil, pot.

Scrub oak bonsai. At this scale, you can take in the tree in its entirety.

But the carefully managed size of the bonsai is only one of many elements involved in cultivation; there are many other desired formal qualities. Charlie Mosse mentions the plates of bark on you might find rough old trees. “We’re also trying to create age,” he says, “and age takes time.” In addition to the small scale of the trees, the evocation of a sense of age and the passage of time is an essential element of the art. The roots, the tapering of a trunk, the gnarled limbs — all these display the passage of time. So does damage; for instance, there is the inclusion of dead wood on the Bonsai, distinguished from its living counterpart by its ghostly paleness.

Auwarter repeats the notion that “Bonsai is art in four dimensions: the three spatial dimensions plus time”. He says that “a good tree tells the story of its life”, and he relates the expressive features of the tree to a key idea in Japanese aesthetics, that of wabi-sabi, which he summarizes as “embracing the idea of impermanence, incompleteness, and imperfection. Nothing is finished, nothing is perfect, and nothing lasts. And it goes along with an appreciation for things that are old: asymmetry, age, and sometimes, breakdown”.

Mosse adds that “creating bonsai really is a journey. To create real, quality bonsai takes about a minimum of 10 years. The better pieces have been in cultivation for 20, 30, 40 years.” He says that one group member has in fact been working with the same tree for more than 40 years now. Concludes De La Torre, “There is a belief in bonsai that one is never finished with a tree. You’re merely in the process of developing it, and you will hand it off to someone else to be developed. Unlike a piece of art that is finished and you won’t touch again, these continue to grow. You must do something to keep it alive, and it’s going to change over time.”

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Bluefin still holding out as season turns

Yellowtail missing at Coronados
Charlie Mosse uses a Dremel on a privet. “We are trying to create age, and age takes time.”
Charlie Mosse uses a Dremel on a privet. “We are trying to create age, and age takes time.”

It is nine in the morning on a Wednesday, and within the confines of Balboa Park’s Japanese Friendship Garden, a few bonsai enthusiasts are moving quietly among the birds and the dew, tending to their trees. They are checking soil moisture, watering, weeding, pruning, and binding branches with wire. Today, they are also taking some time out of their usual activity to speak with me about the San Diego Bonsai Club and about the art of bonsai generally.

Neil Auwarter in his bonsai garden. “If you do something on your own, you’re limited,” he says, praising the club.

The club’s president, Ignacio De La Torre, is here, as is the curator of the Japanese Friendship Garden’s collection, Neil Auwarter. They are joined by Charlie Mosse, retired as both a nurseryman and county employee, who has been happily working in gardens since he was nine years old. All three are highly experienced, with many years of bonsai under their belts. All three have a patient, thoughtful demeanor that I am inclined to see as a side effect of the meditative, down-to-earth activity to which they are so devoted.

According to De La Torre, the SDBC is the largest such club in the United States. “Some have said the largest in the world, which is quite possible. Last year, we ended the year with about 500 paid members. Most clubs around the U.S. probably have 35-50 members.” An average meeting, held at the Casa del Prado, a stone’s throw from where we stand, will generally involve about 70 people representing a wide age range; there are members in their twenties, and others in their nineties. “One of the advantages that we have is the two collections that we maintain. The one here in the Garden and the one in the Safari Park. You go to the Safari Park to see animals, and all of a sudden you come across this beautiful pavilion of miniature trees and you’re fascinated by that, and you want to know more. I think we’re able to generate a lot of membership because of the collections.” In addition to the collections, there are two annual shows — one in the Spring (April 23 and 24 this year at the Casa del Prado), and another in the Fall — which bring in thousands of viewers and also generate a good deal of interest in bonsai.

Sponsored
Sponsored
Foemina juniper forest bonsai. “People like to look at miniatures of large things,” says Auwarter.

Practical teaching is a major emphasis of the club. Explains De La Torre, “We have teachers within the club and teachers who we bring from outside of the club who are experts, and our club members enjoy that aspect of it.” He says that “at any club meeting, we might have a high level instructor from within the club, or from outside of the club coming in to talk to the membership.”

That opportunity for learning is part of the reason for forming a club around the sort of ancient, meditative practice that one might consider best suited to solitary practice. Neil Auwarter compares the beneficial effects of being part of the SDBC to crowdsourcing. “If you do something on your own, you’re limited to the quality of the trees that you can create,” he says. But the club put him in touch with experience, knowledge, and trees far beyond what he could work with individually. He mentions the highlight of getting to work with a “legacy tree” at the Safari Park collection that has been in cultivation for 400 years. “You can’t do that if you’re in a silo, doing your own thing by yourself”.

As most everyone knows, bonsai is an art that involves the growing and shaping of miniature trees. That essential element, De La Torre notes, is what often draws people to it. It is part of what is inherently pleasing about bonsai. “People like to look at miniatures of large things,” Auwarter says. He compares the miniaturized tree to a “reduction of sauce in cooking. It’s the same sauce, but you’ve distilled it down, so it’s a stronger sensory experience.” At this size, the entirety of the tree can be viewed at once: trunk, branches, leaves, soil, pot.

Scrub oak bonsai. At this scale, you can take in the tree in its entirety.

But the carefully managed size of the bonsai is only one of many elements involved in cultivation; there are many other desired formal qualities. Charlie Mosse mentions the plates of bark on you might find rough old trees. “We’re also trying to create age,” he says, “and age takes time.” In addition to the small scale of the trees, the evocation of a sense of age and the passage of time is an essential element of the art. The roots, the tapering of a trunk, the gnarled limbs — all these display the passage of time. So does damage; for instance, there is the inclusion of dead wood on the Bonsai, distinguished from its living counterpart by its ghostly paleness.

Auwarter repeats the notion that “Bonsai is art in four dimensions: the three spatial dimensions plus time”. He says that “a good tree tells the story of its life”, and he relates the expressive features of the tree to a key idea in Japanese aesthetics, that of wabi-sabi, which he summarizes as “embracing the idea of impermanence, incompleteness, and imperfection. Nothing is finished, nothing is perfect, and nothing lasts. And it goes along with an appreciation for things that are old: asymmetry, age, and sometimes, breakdown”.

Mosse adds that “creating bonsai really is a journey. To create real, quality bonsai takes about a minimum of 10 years. The better pieces have been in cultivation for 20, 30, 40 years.” He says that one group member has in fact been working with the same tree for more than 40 years now. Concludes De La Torre, “There is a belief in bonsai that one is never finished with a tree. You’re merely in the process of developing it, and you will hand it off to someone else to be developed. Unlike a piece of art that is finished and you won’t touch again, these continue to grow. You must do something to keep it alive, and it’s going to change over time.”

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Festive Community Caroling, Holiday in the Village

Events December 3-December 7, 2022
Next Article

Confessions of a San Diego Amazon Flex driver

Boxbringer
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town The Gonzo Report — Making the musical scene, or at least reporting from it Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Theater — On stage in San Diego this week Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close