Workshop highlights the art of bonsai

Jayleen De La Cruz
Staff Writer 

The California Botanic Garden held a workshop for beginners, “Introduction To The Art of Bonsai With California Native Plants,” on Nov. 19. 

Around 30 community members attended.

California Botanic Garden horticulturist Rowan Steffey led the class. As class began, people received pamphlets and guidebooks to help them in the process of choosing which California Native plants to use for their bonsai.

“It doesn’t take long or a lot of money for a plant to look pretty,” Steffey said.

Steffey explained that bonsai plants are a multicultural art form that originated in Southeast Asia. The plants can traditionally be found at the entrances of homes. 

Depending on what part of Asia a person is researching bonsai plants, each country has its own definition of what bonsai means and represents. In Vietnam, it represents where water meets the ocean. In China, it represents the energy, mood and power of landscapes. In Japan, it represents the reflection of one’s self. 

Steffey continued by giving the principles when working with bonsai plants.

It is important to follow strict rules to keep them alive, there is a difference between masculine and feminine trees, and the trees are a reflection of the person who takes care of them, Steffey said. 

“When choosing your plant, make sure that you choose something that interests you,” Steffey said. “Anything woody, you can Bonsai.”

Steffey said that when choosing a plant, know that if a person chooses a tree with smaller leaves, it will be easier to take care of, while the ones with larger leaves will be harder to maintain.

Other tips: Go to smaller nurseries when choosing the plant, stay away from plants that are “all over the place,” research the plant, have the correct tools and let the plant grow in certain ways.

“Let the plant tell you how it wants to grow,” Steffey said. “Don’t force them to look like a certain shape.”

Steffey also emphasized the importance of knowing the plant because that will determine how often it needs to be watered, what fertilizer needs to be used and how to start forming the tree into bonsai.

Throughout the class Steffey went around to show the participants different types of bonsai plants and demonstrated how to repot a plant to start creating a bonsai.

By the end of the presentation, participants expressed how beautiful a bonsai plant could be.

“I didn’t realize how uncomplicated this actually is,” Irvine resident and plant enthusiast Chris Bates said. “It always had that air of an almost unattainable art form but it now seems that it’s just a lot of trial and error and that’s kinda nice.”

Karen Boortz, also of Irvine, said the class was informative. 

“But this is definitely a very niche topic because most of my friends would not be interested in something like this,” Boortz said. 

Claremont Graduate University botany student Peri Lee Pipkin said that the bonsai workshop is a great way to connect to landscape plants for anyone.

“This would be a very rewarding experience for a kid who starts a bonsai with their parent and watches it grow as they got older,” said Pipkin, who also works at the garden. “They would watch all the changes and learn to take care of it.”

The California Botanic Garden is open Tuesday through Sunday. For more information visit,

Jayleen De La Cruz can be reached at

Jayleen De La Cruz is a sophomore communication major with a concentration in public relations and a staff writer at the Campus Times for Fall 2023.


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