‘Tree in a Tray’: Peters Township Resident Starts Business for Bonsai Lovers | Special Publications
For those who have wondered why people grow miniature trees, Ian Evans can straighten them out.
The Peters Township resident established Bebop Bonsai Garden as a resource for anyone wishing to pursue an art form that dates back thousands of years.
Its offerings include specialty bonsai supplies, starter trees, and lots of information on how to grow plants effectively. And for those whose knowledge of bonsai is sketchy at best, Evans fills in the blanks on its history, purpose, and artistry.
“It started in China, and it was known as penjing,” he said.
“They would take a mature-looking tree and try to put it in its natural environment. And those elements in addition to the tree would include some type of rock and some type of understory planting.
According to legend, a visiting monk brought the concept back to Japan, where it was reused and renamed for the word meaning “tree in a tray”. The small complementary rocks are called suiseki and the understory plantings, shitakusa.
Bonsai trees are often displayed in Japanese homes with accompanying scrolls depicting seasonal changes.
“The tree is shown in its peak state, whether it’s blooming, fruiting, blooming, depending on what season is going on,” Evans said.
“Because it’s a living thing and it changes over time, there’s kind of a natural wrestling element to it,” he said. “So we sometimes include a broken branch or a torn piece of bark in the design, and that kind of help shows the relentlessness of nature and the forces a tree would encounter in nature.”
As is generally the case with Far Eastern cultivation, Americans knew little about bonsai until World War II, when the Nisei in internment camps were observed continuing the practice and soldiers met the exhibitions in Japan.
“They saw those trees and ‘Wow! It is really awesome. So they kind of brought that idea back,” Evans said.
He had a similar reaction watching director John G. Avildsen’s “The Karate Kid,” featuring culturally significant scenes of Pat Morita’s character, Hideo Miyagi, with his bonsai tree.
Later, Evans came across copies of Bonsai Today magazine and decided to give it a try as an extension of his life of artistic pursuits, including professional drumming.
“I loved drawing and painting and things like that when I was a kid, and I also loved LEGO, the three-dimensional sculptural element,” he recalls. “Music is a little different from that. So I think there were parts that weren’t really fully satisfied with my musical career.
Thanks to bonsai, “I was able to find something that scratched that itch,” he said.
Evans’ path to creating Bebop Bonsai Garden – named after the jazz style, not the “Cowboy Bebop” animated series – began about a year ago, by which time he had amassed a considerable collection of trees.
“I was afraid winter was coming and what am I going to do with all this?” he said.
He expressed his concern to Tim Chapon, co-owner of Chapon’s Greenhouse and Supply in Baldwin Borough, which offers bonsai-related products.
“I said, ‘I would love to entrust some of my bonsai here. Christmas is a few months away and I need a place to put them. He’s like, ‘Great!’ said Evans. “I just started taking trees, and they started selling. I brought more, and kind of used up the little ones I had that were available.
By spring, Evans and his wife, Victoria Kurczyn, had struck similar deals with other businesses, including Shadyside Nursery and Meder’s Home & Garden Showplace in West Mifflin.
“We had trees there on consignment, and people were asking about our soil. So I just got more of the soil components, sifted and mixed it all up, and we started offering that in addition to the trees,” Evans said. “We also started offering our fertilizer, and I started wanting to do a bit more to help people who are interested in bonsai.”
And this is how Bebop Bonsai Garden, with its supplies, educational workshops and related services, aims to ensure the continuity of a millennial activity.
Mr. Miyagi would be proud.