Alameda expert pens book on ancient and patient art
In the forests where even the smallest of us stand, Jonas Dupuich is above the head.
For over 25 years, the Alameda resident has been cutting, cable, trimming and practicing a level of patience that would make Job look like a nervous day trader. Now, the bonsai expert has released a book to help the rest of us learn the ancient art of “tray planting.”
Dupuich teaches and lectures on bonsai throughout the Bay Area, as well as across the country. He also has a popular blog, bonsai tonight and just published a book, “The Little Book of Bonsai – An Easy Guide to Caring for Your Bonsai” (Ten Speed Press, $15).
For the uninitiated, bonsai, which translates in Japanese to “tray planting,” is all about keeping normal-sized trees small and shaping them into artistic, pleasing shapes. Japanese bonsai experts have been practicing this art for centuries.
For Dupuich, recognized as one of the leading experts in bonsai, his passion for the art developed shortly after university when, while working in his father’s nursery, he had an encounter fortuitous with a bonsai master.
As Dupuich half-heartedly pruned a small pine tree, a man approached and began offering advice, which Dupuich says he instinctively followed. Later, the man offered to take the neglected, neglected pine home and “stylize” it, a term Dupuich was unfamiliar with.
“I hadn’t even really liked the tree,” says Dupuich, “but when he brought it back, I could see it in a different way and something just clicked.”
As it turned out, Dupuich’s accidental mentor was Boon Manakitivipart, a well-known bonsai artist celebrated for his innovative techniques, unique bonsai style, and creative teaching methods. The two men became close friends.
From this point on, Dupuich’s plans for a career as a teacher of English literature faded. He joined a local bonsai club and started growing some of his own trees.
Bonsai – pronounced “bone-sigh” – has experienced a resurgence in the United States over the past decade. It’s far from scrumptious, but a growing number of people, especially millennials, are taking an interest in it.
The call is easy to understand. We have a fascination with all things miniaturized – and then there’s the idea of having a piece of beautiful nature at your fingertips. Dupuich thinks many people are drawn to bonsai because it gives them something to nurture and nurture.
Dupuich’s collection of trees is breathtaking. Many are pine trees, some grown from seed, others harvested from mountaintops. The collection also includes oaks, redwoods and maples. The age of the trees varies from 10 to 600 years.
It is a hobby with endurance.
Of course, not all trees are suitable for bonsai, but many are. It can take years of work to develop the shape and look, but Dupuich says it’s worth it.
In his classes, Dupuich says he often wishes he could give his students two superpowers. The ability to visualize the trunk of the tree as separate from the branches and leaves would allow students to better see shape and form – and the ability to imagine the future would allow them to see what the tree might look like in years. These powers of imagination would help them make choices about what to prune, what to leave, and what to mold and grow for the tree to achieve that vision in 20 or 30 years.
“Bonsai is definitely about delayed gratification,” he says.
Bonsai grown trees are all full-sized trees, deliberately kept small. Put them in the ground, says Dupuich, and under optimal conditions they will reach their full height, reaching 20 feet and more. But the bonsai artist keeps the tree small using a variety of methods, including pruning and root manipulation with bonsai planting medium. Small, finer roots produce smaller trees.
Flowers and fruits on the trees remain at or near normal size. There are no misleading genetics, says Dupuich.
Of the 200 bonsai clubs nationwide, many are centered in California. The Bay Area alone has more than a dozen. And of the 14 most famous public bonsai gardens in the country, California has three – the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt in Oakland, the Bonsai collection at the Huntington in San Marino, and the Clark Bonsai Collection in Fresno.
Dupuich is working on a Bay Area-centric bonsai show, tentatively slated for fall 2021. He’s smiling broadly — he’s giving potential presenters a few years to get their trees looking their best. Meanwhile, for those wanting to grow their own bonsai, a seedling costs less than $10 and then, says Dupuich, “You have a whole year to keep it alive and think about your vision” before you have to make a single shot. .