50 YEARS OF BONSAI

WORDS Joshua Brosnahan PHOTOS Corentin Esquenet

A crisp night in Cotswold coaxes out a unique community. From teenagers, couples and old friends, they all have one thing in common. The art of bonsai.

The members efficiently move through the hall, all lending a hand to set up for their monthly meet-up. This has obviously been done many a time before. Friendly greetings and regular embraces show this is a society with a strong history.

This year, Christchurch’s Bonsai Society is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

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Over a dozen trees grace the hall in a range of hues; a sunset maple, moody green pines, cool whites and hot pink blooms. All proudly put on display. New Zealand natives such as the kōwhai are trained to reflect these ancient skills. The micro fruit and flowers are absolutely fascinating to see.

Founder member Peter McLay began a life-long interest in bonsai when he spent time in an English hospital during WW1, next to a young Japanese man who whetted his appetite for the art.

July 1968 saw the birth of The Christchurch Bonsai Society when 11 people met in Foresters Hall on Oxford Terrace. In 2018, this current meeting sees the two Canterbury bonsai clubs join together to celebrate. There are close to 50 members in attendance.

One founding member, Beryl, remains active in the society today, with her tree on display nearing 40 years of age.

“As a life-long member I have seen the club grow from growing trees in pots, to creating beautifully styled bonsai we can all be proud of. It is an immense achievement to be celebrating our 50th anniversary,” she says.

The hall is filled with laughter and candid quips – a member lamenting his bonsai’s collision with his daughter’s netball is met with mirth.

The word ‘carving’ is used frequently; this refers to the shaping and pruning of the trees. President Wendy describes the trees as ‘dancing’. This is a captivating world of activity. When asked for tips for budding bonsai enthusiasts, Wendy says you must “treat your bonsai as you would a pet. It needs attention, water and constant care”.

“We like our art to be appreciated, much like any other artist does,” adds society member Karl.

For the last 20 years, the club has run at least one beginners’ course each year. They also have two club members who are on the NZBA list of National Bonsai Demonstrators.

Years of patience, love and art are on display in a celebration of The Christchurch Bonsai Society’s 50th anniversary. Do show your support.

In DetailJoshua Brosnahan