Bonsai: More than a tree

Published 7:58 am Saturday, January 30, 2010

SUFFOLK—Most folks probably just think of Bonsai trees as the cute desk decorations that became briefly popular during the latter part of the 20th century.

Bonsai trees, however, have a rich history dating back thousands of years, and to one Suffolk couple, they are much more than a passing fad.

Young Park, who owns Park’s Bonsai Farm with his wife Jung, learned the art of Bonsai from his great-grandfather in Korea, where he was raised.

“When I was 7 or 8, he had trees, he loved the trees,” Young said. “The Bonsai tree is a special tree. It has much history.”

Now, Park who went to veterinary and horticulture school in Seoul, South Korea, has been running a greenhouse in southern Suffolk, off of Route 58 near Franklin, for 20 years.

“We began doing this when no one even knew what Bonsai was,” Jung said. Most of the people who did know about it had seen the movie “Karate Kid” or had been to China or Japan on deployment, she said.

Bonsai is two words “bon,” meaning “tray,” and “sai,” meaning “growing” or “planting.” The two words together give the translation of “tray growing” or “tray planting.”

The Chinese are credited with the art of growing trees, or woody plants shaped as trees, in containers, but it is most popular in Japan.

“Many families in Japan have one or two plants in a home,” Young said. “It is common for trees to date back at least 100 years.”

In fact, one of the Treasures of Japan is a 500-year-old Bonsai that was first trained by monks in 1610.

Depending on the age of a Bonsai, they can cost anywhere from $35 to $500,000.

The oldest tree in the Young’s greenhouse is more than 50 years old.

“The trees cost money because the people raising them have spent every day of many years caring for them,” Jung said.

It takes a great deal of love and care to nurture the plants for so many years.

“You have to take care of it like a human being,” Young said. “You have to give it attention every day. It’s not like a big tree that learns to take care of itself. It is a lifetime of love and care.”

The Youngs emphasize the importance of taking the trees outside for fresh air during the summers, when it’s above 65 degrees. Repotting the trees every few years, trimming their roots to keep them small, pruning their branches and watering them every day or every other day — depending on the weather — are important factors to keeping a Bonsai healthy.

Those who study the art of Bonsai will learn to shape and culture the plant.

“In Bonsai, nature and human harmonize to create beauty,” Jung said. “It is living art.”

Bonsai is often associated with the art of Feng Shui, which represents harmony, peace and prosperity. Bonsai owners who invest in their plants and properly care for them will have them for generations and learn from the trees, Young said.

“People learn from the bonsai plant,” Jung said. “When you love and take care of something else, your stress leaves.”

The patience and dedication it takes to raise a Bonsai are qualities often strengthened while caring for a Bonsai tree, the Parks said.

“Chances are if you continue with this hobby, it will affect your life at some level,” said Andy Rak, who won a Bonsai at a charity raffle and became addicted.

“You will have some bad days, a loss of a tree occasionally, but it’s part of your personal growth. Learn from it and do better next time. It’s fantastic to watch a tree as it’s guided and nurtured for the rest of its life, hopefully for many years.”