A Tour of the Bonsai Court at the Huntington Gardens
The Japanese Garden at the Huntington is only one of the jewels in the crown at this special place. Attached to the Japanese Garden are a Zen Garden and two Bonsai Courts. My friend and I strolled through the Zen Garden, very serene (but also very hot! ) which opens onto a an even more unique experience: The Bonsai Court.
Bonsai is a Japanese art form in which special cultivation techniques produce small trees in containers that resemble the shape and scale of full size trees. The Japanese art form of Bonsai has been in existence for over a 1,000 years. There is so much to know about Bonsai art, and I don’t pretend to know even half of it– but I do appreciate the art form. And I was delighted by our viewing at the Huntington. I also know that the Huntington has a large collection of bonsai trees (400+), so many trees, in fact, that each time you visit, you will probably see a different set of trees, because they are rotated based on season, bloom, & leaf color. The Huntington has a partnership with the Golden State Bonsai Federation, whose collection is also housed at the gardens, making it a world class Bonsai destination.
The Lower Bonsai Court at the Huntington is a hollow rectangle, with Bonsai trees gracing the perimeter about every 4 to 5 feet. The trees sit in containers on benches just below eye level, against a weathered vertical paneled fence. They are displayed this way because they are each considered works of art in their own right, and are to be reflected on individually, in a natural environment. Like works of art in a museum, they each have their own space, and they also each have an identified artist, like paintings in a gallery. Some of the artists displayed at the Huntington are world renowned. I love thinking about the men and women who have tenderly cared for the trees, peering at each leaf, pruning the smallest pieces, as they create these architectural works of art.
Once when my family and I were at the Huntington, we watched a Bonsai exhibition, where several expert Bonsai artists created a multi-tree display. Bonsai are rarely created from seed. They are generally made from cuttings or already grown trees that can be modified as bonsai. The exhibition was fascinating, but more fascinating was the deference paid to the master gardener/artist who was in charge of the creation. He had the last word on every cutting, on the placement of every tree, and stone. The primacy of the artist in the formation of the bonsai display, is a unique feature of this garden art.
I guess the thing that I liked best about the bonsai garden, is that it felt like a sacred space. A place to stop and gaze, to reflect on beauty, and to enjoy the experience of silent contemplation on something made possible by nature, but expertly crafted by human hands.