Alameda bonsai expert on the resurgence of horticultural art
Alameda’s Jonas Dupuich is a giant in the bonsai world – he teaches and lectures and runs the popular blog Bonsai Tonight, and his book, “The Little Book of Bonsai”, was published last year by Ten Speed Press. Podcasts are his new project. As interest in bonsai increased during the pandemic, he branched out into this medium. We spoke with him about the art of growing small and how those who admire bonsai can grow from hobbyist to grower.
Q How would you describe bonsai to someone unfamiliar with this garden art?
A “Bonsai,” which translates to “tray planting” in Japanese, refers to the practice of growing small trees in containers that evoke larger trees in nature.
Q How did you come to bonsai?
A After college I was working in the family business, Encinal Nursery in Alameda, when I met a bonsai teacher from Hayward named Boon Manakitivipart, who over the next few years became one of the most prominent teachers in the country. I studied with Boon for over 20 years.
Q Why are we seeing a resurgence of interest in bonsai today?
A Bonsai is a great alternative to our increasingly digital culture that allows people to embrace their horticultural and artistic side.
Q What qualities do you need to become a good bonsai grower? Let’s say someone has a good eye for design but has never had a green thumb. Would this person be a candidate?
A The most successful bonsai growers care deeply about their trees and are always curious about how they can increase the beauty of a bonsai while maintaining its health. It’s not hard to learn the basics of horticulture, but you can spend years honing your technique or artistic sensibility.
Q How much does it cost to get into bonsai?
A Getting started can be as simple as picking up an inexpensive tree for $20 to $50 at a garden center and pruning it to your liking. Your local state park is one of the best places to study tree growth in your area. Take note of which species thrive, if you are looking for species to train into bonsai. If you have an outdoor space, a juniper is ideal.
Q What kind of time commitment is involved?
A As little as a few minutes a day. Most trees require regular watering and seasonal pruning.
Q Can you keep a bonsai indoors?
A: Yes! Species like ficus or portulacaria grow well indoors and can make convincing bonsai trees.
Q Tell us about your pride and joy.
A A tree that comes to mind is a Korean charm. Shortly after acquiring the tree, I removed most of the branches and replanted them to create the image I had in mind for the tree. I showed it at the US National Bonsai Exhibition in Rochester, New York in 2016. I also have a strong connection to the many pines I have grown from seed over the years. Some are over 25 years old!
DUPUICH’S 5 FAVORITE GARDENS TO VISIT
Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt, Oakland: Spectacular bonsai, including an oak tree that was presented to President Lincoln’s envoy to Japan in 1863.
UC Botanical Garden, Berkeley: One of the best places in the Bay Area to see mature specimens of exotic trees and shrubs from different parts of the world.
Muir Woods National Monument, Marin County: Offers insight into the growth of the tallest trees on Earth. Coast redwood is an excellent species for bonsai training.
Lobo Points: Features some of the most attractive Monterey cypress trees on the California coast. Study the trees here to see how the elements influence the shape the trees take.
Inyo National Forest: Visit the ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest to see the oldest trees on the planet. At over 4,000 years old, these pines display the characteristics most prized in bonsai: great age, character and beauty.