I decided to try bonsai on my 40th birthday. I like to
call it my mid-life crisis. I have always been fascinated by bonsai and even
tried to grow some from seed when I was a kid. But now I figured it was now or
never, meaning if I did not start now I would not have any "good" trees before I
die. I received a few books for my birthday, and trolled the Internet, and
wanted to take a workshop; but did I mention I have a 2-year-old, so that was
out of the question for a while. On the Internet, I discovered that the American
Bonsai Society offers a correspondence course for beginners. This seemed to be
the ticket for me. I signed up, and for a fairly reasonable price received a
video, a course manual, and a lesson-plan book, and was assigned a
If you are like me, you read books and articles, and while you may retain quite a bit, there is no better learning than in a structured course. I picked up a strong basis from this course. It worked me through the basics of bonsai, from styles to soil, from art to agriculture. It also outlined practice sessions with wiring and pruning; and finally it led me step-by-step through both a styling from nursery stock and a repotting. I have to say that even though I probably hacked my first tree quite a bit, I learned a tremendous amount from this course. I have before and after pictures of my tree, which my mentor reviewed and commented on. I have a great course manual that I refer to all the time concerning the trees I am working on, and I go back and watch the video for a confidence boost, before each repotting.
Can this correspondence course take the place of a hands-on workshop? No, and it shouldn't, but it gave me a chance to work at my own pace. And it boosted my confidence enough to work on trees on my own, and to take workshops now that I have a basic knowledge of the science and art of Bonsai.
This article first appeared in PBA Clippings the newsletter of the Potomac Bonsai Association.
It should be noted that Carrie's mentor in the ABS Mentor Program was Harold Johnson of Durham, N.C.