Apparently, Facebook has the capacity to let your friends make requests for recommendations. I was made aware of this useful feature when one of my FB friends asked for a recommendation many of us have probably been pressed with: Where can I buy a Bonsai?
This FB friend was a great guy I had met back in college. Hank was what we actor types call “friendly audience”-he was first to laugh, last to stop and even if he saw your show every night, would react as enthusiastically on closing night as he did on opening. As so often happens, Facebook was a way to reconnect with folks who have lost track of each other. I discovered that Facebook, and the internet in general had become pretty important for Hank, because due to some medical issues, he had lost a leg and had become less mobile.
He was always very appreciative of pictures and posts I made relating to bonsai, and after I shared one particularly spectacular example, he could restrain himself no longer-he asked where he could buy one of those!
First, a bit about the photo that so bewitched him. It was a damn fine example of bonsai art, superb horticultural skill and just plain creativity- two shards of broken pottery, that looked either like drain pipe or a large bonsai pot had been stacked together to form a moon pot. Some great looking, craggy stone had been placed in the pot to make one large and one small peak, then what looked like a twisty boxwood or premna had been planted on the high peak, with small accent plants and a little temple arranged on the lower peak. It was sublime, gorgeous, and for the right audience, botanical porn. No wonder Hank was motivated to desire something like it!
So what to tell this guy? I never want to hold a person back from expressing an interest in the bonsai hobby, but the plain fact is that some people just are not plant people, and every person is not well suited to every hobby. To use the phrase of another actor type friend, there are some people who should not only never be allowed on stage, but prevented from even entering a theater. The bonsai analog are those persons, whom we have all encountered, whose black thumb reaches to their elbow. They need to content themselves with looking at pictures in books.
After some thought, I got together a few questions that would help gauge two important points-level of interest, and level of experience:
What is your level of experience with plants?
Bonsai is a special way of growing ordinary plants, not a special kind of plant. Ability to keep plants alive is important.
Where will you keep the bonsai?
Some cannot take cold temperatures (Tropicals)and must live inside over winter, others cannot take warm winters and must go dormant over winter(Hardy). If you have no access to outdoors, consider a tropical bonsai. Indoor trees will often need supplemental light and humidity
Do you wish to purchase something that already looks like a “finished” bonsai, or do you want some do-it-yourself?
Real bonsai can be expensive-you are paying for someone’s time and expertise. Even commercial grade mass produced “bonsai” are often not cheap. Growing your own can be less expensive and more satisfying.
Are you looking for a living thing to tend and nurture (with all the attendant sadness if that doesn’t work out) or would you simply like a beautiful thing to admire and contemplate?
Faux, simulated or artificial bonsai can be very convincing and never resent it if you forget to water!
As someone who has been growing bonsai for nearly 30 years, I have come to be very passionate about the hobby, and will talk about it at length with anybody who is unlucky enough to be in earshot. I enjoy sharing what I have learned so far in my bonsai journey. The questions seemed like a good way to help a person who thinks they may be interested in growing bonsai judge just interested they might really be.