How it came to be decided that bonsai might be a pursuit is a longer story. But, we found ourselves one morning Googling bonsai, and given Becky’s previous work with fairy gardens and love of plant life in the miniature, it seemed like a good next step. Community building work is often slow, long haul work. We don’t fully recognize our efforts until after some time when the long view comes into focus. There’s research, trial and error, meeting new people whom we hope will become friends or advocates, and there are small successes, some failures, and some days suspended in what’s next apprehension.
Every once in awhile though, community building is fast, go now work, and those are the days I love. After series of Facebook messages, an email and some texts the week before, and we found ourselves on Wednesday afternoon waiting to meet Lemual outside of the Krohn Conservatory. We agreed to meet at 12:30, to walk and talk together while checking out the bonsai display there. Being Butterfly Show season in Cincinnati, I paid admission for the three of us, and let Lemual lead the way, observing both his and Becky’s fascination for the ingenuity of the landscaping outside, the variations of cacti and the dry air of the greenhouse, the misty coolness and the vibrant colors of the orchid room.
Eventually we meandered into the bonsai room. Lemual’s thoughts on gardening and cultivating trailed like the vines of the bougainvillea: green sprouty fingers folding into colorful flowers, his words tumbling from one idea to the next beautiful reflection and thought on plants and growing.
He thumbed through his Instagram feeds showing us potters who specialize in bonsai containers, boutique bonsai stores in Florida, pictures of pretty plants he’d seen and snapped just because of their colors or something interesting about the way they looked.
The purpose of bonsai, we learned was two-fold: beauty and appreciation of beauty for the viewer of the bonsai, and an exercise in effort, patience, and creative design by the grower. To start, one only needs a bit of material, a shoot, a seed, a small tree or shrub, and lots of patience over time.
It reminded me of community building work. To start, one only needs a bit of source material, an idea, a seedling if you will, a passion or interest. From there, the work continues over time, designing, pruning, growing.
We paused in front of the Texas Ebony. The tag read In Training Since 2008. I asked Lemual what “in training” meant and he explained that the bonsai is never finished. Because it is a living, growing thing, all trees are always in training, making small adjustments, cuts, and crafting a design over its lifetime.
Much like the Texas Ebony, I’ve also been in training since 2008 with much more growing, pruning, patience, and designing to do. Bonsai, like community building, is never a finished piece of work. Even though Becky is employed part-time as a data clerk at SAF-Holland, volunteers at GreenAcres once a week with the garden education team (logging the most volunteer hours of any volunteer in 2015), is on the Dirt Crew at the Civic Garden Center, is getting connected to Hamilton County Parks invasive removal species team, is a reoccurring guest (and potential future member) of the Monfort Heights / White Oak Ladies Garden Club, and considering joining the Greater Cincinnati Bonsai Society, the work of community building is never done.
Because we are living, growing things, we are always in training, making small adjustments, cuts, and crafting our design over our lifetime.