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Saturday, August 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Home and garden

Gardening: Careful pruning, shaping an ancient art: Bonsai sale will showcase area hobbyists’ work

Roger Snipes, one of the founders of the Empire Bonsai Society, is one of the organizers of the annual Bonsai Show. He will show some of his bonsais, including this Japanese white pine, left, and Chinese elm, at the show Sunday, July 18, 2019. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Roger Snipes, one of the founders of the Empire Bonsai Society, is one of the organizers of the annual Bonsai Show. He will show some of his bonsais, including this Japanese white pine, left, and Chinese elm, at the show Sunday, July 18, 2019. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

About 30 years ago Roger Snipes was looking for a new hobby when he found a book on bonsai.

The more he read it, the more he got hooked on the idea of shaping containerized trees to resemble living manifestations of ancient forests in the wild.

Today, Snipes’ backyard is home to nearly 100 evergreen and deciduous trees planted in shallow containers that have been meticulously pruned into gnarled representations of windswept and bent trees found on barren mountainsides.

“Creating an ancient tree is a challenge that has become an addiction,” Snipes said.

On Sunday, Snipes and other members of the Inland Empire Bonsai Society will share their creations with the community during the group’s annual show at the Manito Park Meeting Room just east of the Gaiser Conservatory. The group will display a wide variety of trees at different stages in their training to view and plants and containers for sale. Society members will be on hand to answer questions about the bonsai hobby and how they trained their trees.

Bonsai is an ancient art that has its roots in the Chinese art of shaping trees over 2,000 years ago. Called penjing, the art shapes trees into remembrances of ancient trees found in forests and on mountains. With time and the travel of traders and explorers, penjing found its way to Japan where it was further refined into what is known as bonsai today.

“Working with bonsai trees is a long-term commitment,” Snipes said. “They are living plants and some of them are hundreds of years old. The trees live outdoors and require daily watering and seasonal care to maintain their dwarfed form.” Snipes has a couple of ponderosa pines that are over 100 years old. Almost any tree can be trained as a bonsai.

The trees that become bonsai specimens often start life as seedlings, plants pulled from landscaping projects, nursery stock or with the right permits, trees dug in the wild. They are grown for a few years to develop some shape before they begin their training.

Their root systems are then trimmed, and they are transplanted into wide, shallow trays or dishes in a specially designed soil mix. The soil is a blend of lava rock, pumice and akadama, a special clay found in Japan. These materials hold water but drain quickly.

The combination of the container, soil mix and training keeps the trees small. Growers then begin trimming and bending branches using traditional techniques and tools to shape the tree. The goal is to create the shape without any of the cuts and training showing. The process can take years to finish.

If you want to get involved in the bonsai hobby, Snipes suggests you join a group like the Inland Empire Bonsai Society so you learn alongside people who have experience. They can help you get the appropriate plants and over the years can walk you through the steps of training your tree.

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