Special Topics in Horticulture: Bonsai

Special Topic: The Art of Bonsai - with Jim Morrison

Student Blog Post by Marie Galbraith and Yeemi Tang


Bonsai specimen at the HCP Bonsai garden


Introducing us to our special topic in Bonsai, we had the pleasure of having Jim Morrison, a passionate bonsai enthusiast and a member of the Vancouver Island Bonsai Society. He expressed that he would do the best he can to help us understand the art of bonsai in his own words.

He started us off by talking about a bonsai he had brought in to share with us of his many personal collections. It was an adorable Mountain Willow, about 10-12 years old. It was in a small square shallow pot, and stood only roughly 10 inches tall and wide. “You can pretty much bonsai any woody plant. Get a small Japanese maple, stick it in a pot and if it grows, watch it like a hawk and water it every day.”


Jim's adorable Mountain Willow


Bonsai is the practice of growing a tree in a pot.

It is a well-known art form in Japan, but in actual fact, it originated in China. The Japanese adopted it and developed it into their own version, which added rules and refined it a great deal. Today, the Japanese way is how the world thinks of it.

How did you get involved with bonsai?

“We had a Japanese maple growing in the front of our houses and seedlings of the maple would come out in spring. My wife said I should give Bonsai a try. So I bought a starter bonsai book, or I guess more of a magazine that covered all the essentials and it got me started”.

Bonsai specimen at the HCP Bonsai Garden


Generally, most bonsai are grown outdoors, but you can grow bonsai inside if you have the right plant, or house plant that's sort of “treeish”.

Jim mentions how he likes having them around, as it adds to the scenery. He enjoys just looking at them, and watching them develop as it gives a thrill to creating. Once you've gotten to a point where the creation part has slowed down and you're just maintaining, it's not as interesting. So the obvious thing to do is start a new one.


Jim Morrison, the legend himself


Jim's collection of various bonsai pruning tools


“They can be tricky to keep healthy, especially when starting off, so I thought if I have more than one, the chance of them surviving will be much greater. But then you end up with too many, and it becomes a major obligation on your time.”  He would have to alter his schedule to wake up earlier to have the time to water them. So do be careful with how many you get. Jim describes the care of bonsai is roughly comparable to keeping a tropical fish, as they need to be looked at everyday.



“I'm no expert, I learned the odd thing over the years, mostly from mistakes.” He suggested joining a bonsai club if you were interested, even to just hang out with the group to discuss ideas, and learn through experiences.


Personally, I think I've learned quite a bit from Jim in regards to the “rules of bonsai” and how to properly care for them. He expressed an abundant amount of knowledge in the art of bonsai. He even surprised himself how quickly the time had passed by just sharing about something he loved.


One crisp morning after having our special topic on bonsai with Jim Morrison the other day, I decided to come earlier to school today to walk in our Takata Japanese bonsai garden. Jim shared that the most exciting part of caring for a bonsai tree is the initial stages of planning and training of the miniature plant.  As I walked past each of our long-standing bonsai plants, I had a novel and profound sense of appreciation for the art and craft of the bonsai. The meticulous attention to detail and dedication required to tenderly care for and grow a bonsai tree has sparked a potential new future hobby for me. I can envision myself enjoying the process-oriented craftsmanship of nurturing a bonsai as a personal practice of meditation and cultivation of discipline. I can see how rewarding that can be and that the goal is to create a beautiful journey that reflects different aspects of life and nature.