Bonsai At The Norfolk Botanical Garden

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Bonsai At The Norfolk Botanical Garden

Post  Auballagh on Wed Dec 07, 2016 2:51 am

Hello IBC,
I am Bill McReynolds.  Or, more properly, one half of a husband and wife Bonsai Team that you see represented on this web site as, ‘Auballagh’ (Irish Gaelic:  meaning, ‘Follow Me’).  I now serve as the primary volunteer for the Bonsai collection in the Norfolk Botanical Garden (NBG), in Norfolk, Virginia.  My intention is to start up a kind of online blog, that will honestly detail the adventures (and misadventures) of getting a public Bonsai display off the ground.  I will admit that I am more than influenced by the truly excellent example of Arthur Joura and his IBC posting threads regarding the Bonsai collection at the Asheville Arboretum, in North Carolina.

As shown by my title of NBG ‘Volunteer’, it should be evident that I do have a ‘day job’ (U.S. Navy Government Service Employee) and do not depend on – or receive – any income or other compensation from my service at the Garden as a Bonsai Volunteer.  As crazy as that may sound, my military background of 27 years Navy EOD service (retired) has benefitted from the journey and experiences I have had in the care and feeding of my own Bonsai, as well as those owned by a public Bonsai Display.  Constantly learning how to properly care for these powerful little trees has provided wonderful personal therapy for treating a variety of ailments, that are proving common to many combat veterans.

The beginning of Hampton Roads first public Bonsai display first started in 2009 with an offering that was provided and cared for by a local club, the Virginia Bonsai Society.  Funding the first install of three display benches, and providing almost all of the trees shown as temporary loans from the Society members personal collections, NBG was happy to see if this Bonsai display idea would ‘go the distance’ and survive as an interesting proof of concept.  Many things were learned in those early years.  Some of which were actually good!  But unfortunately, the best and most memorable lessons involved in the care and keeping of a public Bonsai display were learned, well, The Hard Way.

It took four years to belatedly realize the false Bonsai promises of an automatic water irrigation system.  Many trees died.  The Virginia Bonsai Society itself was fissured over sharp disagreements, mostly involving the public Bonsai display.  Valuable, donated trees were lost in custody battles, and ultimately, many of them also died.  But, a bright spot eventually emerged from all of this, when in 2015, NBG formally declared ownership of the Bonsai display, marking the true beginning of the NBG-owned, public Bonsai display.

Currently, many of the trees on display are provided by temporary loan from generous, local Bonsai enthusiasts.  These folks also provide the core cadre of dedicated volunteers invested in supporting this local Bonsai display.  Most of the volunteers originate from my own Bonsai study group, the Tidewater Bonsai Club, though we continue to receive volunteer help from a couple members of the original Virginia Bonsai Society.  And get this folks, There Is No Paid NBG Staff In Direct Support Of The Bonsai Display!  Are the lunatics (Bonsai volunteers) currently in charge of the asylum?

In closing to this overly wordy, rambling little essay, I would like to share with you in posts to follow, the journey this little Bonsai display will be making over the next little while.  Infrastructure is being built, and new ideas and concepts this organization is working up to display these little trees, are just waiting to be tried out.  From my own perspective, it’s been quite a ride so far!

So, whaddya think?  Ready to see together, where this thing goes from here?

Picture?  Of course!  

Here is me proudly demonstrating the Gnome Look on top of a freshly renovated Bonsai display bench, that was originally provided in 2009 by the Virginia Bonsai Society.  Hard use, constant outdoor exposure and the continued attacks of a squadron of Carpenter Bees had reduced these display benches to near dilapidation.  I estimate the recent fall renovation work will extend the life of these benches out to another 3, maybe 4 years.
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Re: Bonsai At The Norfolk Botanical Garden

Post  John Quinn on Wed Dec 07, 2016 3:26 am

Thanks for posting...we look forward to seeing more!

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Re: Bonsai At The Norfolk Botanical Garden

Post  kevin stoeveken on Wed Dec 07, 2016 12:52 pm

thanks for the background on the display...

it is a shame that internal squabbley crap resulted in the demise of some trees... Mad
but glad that is worked out and in the past.

milwaukee is currently also closing in on the opening of the city's (and state's) first public bonsai display.

exciting times.

looking forward !

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Re: Bonsai At The Norfolk Botanical Garden

Post  LanceMac10 on Wed Dec 07, 2016 9:00 pm

Much respect for your previous "life" and here's to your present and future..... cheers

Looking forwards to see where your journey leads you to...... Smile


Now....take it easy on your knee's!!! That "gnome" pose made MY knee's creak!!!! lol! Confused
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Re: Bonsai At The Norfolk Botanical Garden

Post  my nellie on Thu Dec 08, 2016 9:27 pm

Thank you for the announcement!
I wish you the best for your new position and I am looking forward to the next stage of this thread just like Mr. A. Joura's thread that you have mentioned above.


P.S.: I have been always wondering what "Auballagh" means when I was reading your posts here Very Happy
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If you build them.... they will come.

Post  Auballagh on Thu Dec 15, 2016 12:49 am

Hello IBC,
And Thank You Alexandra, for the 'follow me', (auballagh!)  Lance for your military support and Kevin in your (potential) endeavor to start up a public Bonsai display in Wisconsin.  And thank you John Quinn for your quick reply!  It may not be exactly ‘auspicious’ – but, I think its awesome that you were the first responder on both mine, and Arthur Joura’s posting threads.  Yeah….  I’ll own that!  Cool

Since the first install of the original three Bonsai display benches in 2009, really nothing had changed much visibly with the NBG display until 2014.
Here is a photo of ‘The Lads’ in VBS  putting up those first three benches in early spring of 2009.  Heh…  if you build them – they will come?


So, one of the things the Bonsai Volunteers have been working hard at this summer is in building display infrastructure for the Garden.  That is *ahem* installing more display benches.  The number of trees in the NBG-owned collection had increased to a point where it was time to expand the display. So, how to make this happen?  And, without an ambitious Go-Fund-Me campaign raising incredible amounts of money?  Well…  starting back in 2014, the Garden gave the approval for VBS to build and install a single, Monkey Pole Stand.
Like this?  

Ummmm….  Well, no.

Bench expansion was a logical step at this point, because since first install in 2009, the Garden had been getting quite favorable responses from the visiting public to the little 3 bench, proof-of-concept Bonsai Display.  Now, if you do a simple google search of ‘Monkey Pole Bonsai’?  You will find literally ALL KINDS of these things!  Some as simple as basically a piece of plywood tacked down on top of a 4” X 4” piece of timber.  While others, well, can be built with much nicer materials.  We decided for our modest expansion, to build the new Monkey Pole stands for the Garden out of an exterior of rough hewn (fencing type) cedar wood, with an internal frame of pressure treated pine.  A sturdy 4” X 6” inch pressure treated timber (also clad in more cedar wood) would serve as the single upright pole.  A 3 foot long by 2 foot wide platform size would serve to comfortably accommodate the largest single tree in the Garden at the time.  Smooth cut ¾” X 1 ½” cedar boards would serve as the platform slats on top.

Ahhh yes….  Good times.  The garage in late July and the joys of building with pressure treated 2X 4’s!



Until ultimately, one new Monkey Pole Stand was built and installed for review and acceptance by the mysterious NBG organization known only to us as, ‘The Landscape Committee’.

Alrighty then!

Oh yeah….  They liked it.

And immediately, a request was made to build 2 more of those things.  All good?  Well, that is, it actually took until this past summer of 2016 to finally get some drama things in our volunteer organization sorted out and then move forward quite aggressively, with the install of SIX of those new Monkey Pole Stands!

Here is the day when trees first got placed on two of those new stands.


And, for those of you interested in a sort of video tour?  Here is a link to a You Tube video shot of the new Monkey Pole Stands with all trees on display.  (All Hands On Deck?!!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kw-yGPhLv-s
This gives you a good shot of the three original/old benches before they got renovated.  And, in the end shows what a Monkey Pole Stand looks like when set up with Mountain Lace Rock and three Caudiform Succulent Bonsai from Madagascar!
Enjoy. Shocked
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Re: Bonsai At The Norfolk Botanical Garden

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Thu Dec 15, 2016 11:50 am

Ahh Bill,

you have explained what I feared would happen to me down here. I got the Botannical Gardens and the Refinery Wildfowl trust [ North and South Trinidad ] to offer 3 lots of land for a Bonsai museum.
Trouble is I would have been tied to both situations and thus it never came about.
Now the Bonsai Society is almost dead and though a faction broke off and restarted a new Bonsai club, I am cautious.

I wish you all the best.
Laters.
Khaimraj
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Re: Bonsai At The Norfolk Botanical Garden

Post  berobinson82 on Thu Dec 15, 2016 7:48 pm

As a fellow Virginian who has heard a bit about the troubles out there in Norfolk, I'm elated to see this post! Thank you for your hard work and application of knowledge at the NBG. I'll be following this thread with great interest and will hopefully be able to come out once the weather changes in May.

Cheers,

B

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SORROW AND SUBLIMITY

Post  Auballagh on Sat Dec 17, 2016 8:19 am

Hello IBC,
And Thank You 'B', the Virginia Bonsai Community MUST remain strong, if we are to remain relevant.  It will be great to see you if possible, in May?
Ahhh well, Khamiraj…….  You continue to Surprise.  Delight.  Entertain.  And, remain generally 'A Force To Be Reckoned With' on IBC.  You ARE, an artist!  If I, in relating my own experiences on this site with these humble blog entries, have somehow given you something to consider that has influenced your own thoughts?  Then please allow me to say – I Am Deeply Honored.
-
-
Immortality: is eternal life, the ability to live forever.

Yes…..  That is the Webster’s Dictionary entry for ‘Immortality’.
And Immortality, (Or, the reach for it) is something that I have come to experience more and more in this world of Bonsai Art in my Bonsai Volunteer role at the Norfolk Botanical Garden.



The trees we keep in our collections can easily outlive us, mere humans.  I recently discovered that the interesting, baby-sized and tiny little Oak trees that I have been locally harvesting for my own collection were actually, 40 to 60 year old trees!

Confused  Whaaaaa.....?   Confused

This means that most of the trees we keep in our Bonsai collections have the capacity - if kept well - to easily outlive us all.

Recently, I had the rather dubious ‘honor’ of breaking down a recently donated Bonsai to the Garden.  The Norfolk Botanical Garden classifies these sorts of plants, trees and other material with the somewhat clinical title of – ‘De-Accessioned’.
This means, the tree received in their inventory is Transferred.  Sold.  Or, more likely…. Dead.
In this case, the tree was a ‘Western Juniper’ donated to the Garden as a declared Bonsai tree.  Oh my….  The tree was initially received from donation in seriously bad shape.  Seemingly EVERY spider mite in Southeastern Virginia had come to visit this tree!  Juniper Scale was evident in almost every branch.
Yes, when received - this donated Bonsai was literally – CIRCLING THE DRAIN.
This tree was almost certainly going to die.  And, what made it even more tragic….  Was how beautiful it was.  Aged.  
Carefully developed.
Oh, there was concern.  Hands were wrung.  Discussions were held.  

"Please.  Surely, You Can Save – THIS TREE?"

And yes…..  we did our best.  Applied, every known horticultural treatment, trick and guess we had to cure this dying tree in our limited arsenal within the Cadre of Bonsai Volunteers.
And in the end, it wasn’t enough.  Nature, would have its way.  
The tree died.
I will spare you the images of this tree as it slowly died..  It had expanses of lime sulfured deadwood.  Pads of foliage groomed and wired to near perfection.  
Yes, it was all that.  
It was a very good tree.
Why?  How?!!!  Did it come to this?
The bereaved widow, had donated the collection of this Bonsai Artist to the Norfolk Botanical Garden about 6 months after her husband had died.  And unfortunately, without proper care for those trees in his collection?  This period of time, was way too long.  There was almost certainly sporadic watering.  Too little.  Too much.  Massive stress.  
Nothing had been set up for her husband in advance for these trees in his Bonsai collection, to ensure their continued care and survival in the case of his demise…..
-
So, it was time for me to dispose of this now dead tree.  
Now, I hold a dead, potentially world class Juniper Bonsai in my hands.
*sigh* 
I realize that - yes - this dried out, now pathetic corpse, is finally….  a Finished Bonsai.  
The pot it is in, has been declared ‘interesting’ by my peers.  But, does not elicit much interest.  The tree (rightly so) has commanded all of the interest and attention.
I suspect it is a nicer grade of Chinese Ixin pot.  Maybe it is something from the potting world of Japanese Tokaname?
In other words, it’s nice.  But, not too special.
Oh my, was I wrong…..

Side View:


A closer look reveals that the glaze of this (unglazed?) pot is speckled, and non-uniform in overall color.  Hmmmm….  This means,  Hand Made.
Then, we look closer at the feet of this non-production pot and discover something even more remarkable.  Those ‘cloud bands’ feet are actually….  Not Production.  
Those things were applied.  Were very carefully molded.  By Hand.
This Bonsai pot is special?!!!  
Oh my….  Whatizzzitt…..?
A careful look at the base of this pot does not hold back in its rewards.
And we finally see the Chop of this……
 
Craetagus pot


Michael Hagedorn made this pot?!!!  Amazing.
Unexpected.
And, it’s absolutely beautiful!
-
And, is now owned by the Norfolk Botanical Garden.
One day, a tree worthy of this amazing hand made pot will be - once again - placed in it.  Maybe it will be me that makes the decision to pair a promising tree in development at NBG with this pot, that day?

Hmmmm....  I won't live forever.  So we’ll see, I suppose.
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Re: Bonsai At The Norfolk Botanical Garden

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Sat Dec 17, 2016 10:39 am

The expected and calculated lifespan of the Human Being is 140 to 150 years and with health similar to a
a 20 to 30 year old ------------------------ go for it, Bill.

Remember Bonsai / Penjing, is for contemplation / peace of mind [ soul ] and the birth of new ideas.
All of the above extend life, as the body continues to repair itself.

Most folk live in depression, shortens life.

Bonsai / Penjing is the celebration of life and renewed vitality for living.
Laters.
Khaimraj
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Re: Bonsai At The Norfolk Botanical Garden

Post  Robert J. Baran on Sat Dec 17, 2016 11:57 pm

Norfolk Botanical Garden has now been added to our list of Some of the World's Permanent Bonsai/Penjing Collections, http://www.magiminiland.org/BigPicture/PermanentCollections.pdf .
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Re: Bonsai At The Norfolk Botanical Garden

Post  kevin stoeveken on Mon Dec 19, 2016 7:03 pm

and now i know where the term monkey pole originated !

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