If you have never visited Bonsai West in Littleton, now is the time. Located along busy Great Road, the nursery feels like an oasis from the falling temps, the graying skies, and the hustle of everyday life.
I stopped into Bonsai West recently to purchase a gift for my daughter. Unfamiliar with bonsai, aside from first seeing them in the Karate Kid movies of my youth, I did a quick Google search and learned that bonsai is Japanese for tray planting. It’s “a Japanese art form using cultivation techniques to produce, in containers, small trees that mimic the shape and scale of full-size trees.” This art form is found in other cultures, but in Japan it dates back over a thousand years.
Sarah Talaid prunes a Dwarf Jade. (Courtesy photo)
The nursery has been in business for almost 40 years and offers a huge selection of bonsai. Tropical and desert-dwelling bonsai are displayed inside the greenhouses while the cold, hardy evergreens and deciduous trees can be found outside in the expansive bonsai garden. During my visit I spoke with Joe Kapusansky, the nursery manager, who told me some of their trees date back 200 to 300 years. Sadly, their oldest tree, a 700-year-old pine, succumbed to fungal issues this year. The nursery’s oldest trees were imported from Japan, while most of its younger stock comes from Oregon and Florida. The nursery grows its own bonsai from cuttings, not from seed. “We only have a 6-month growing period here. It’s hard to grow in New England,” Kapusansky said.
Even so, Kapusansky said his favorite part of working at the nursery is bearing witness to the changing seasons. “Summer is lush. Winter is stunning. Spring is really exciting with things waking up,” he said. “I’m a sucker for flowers.”
The team at Bonsai West is very knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to selecting a tree. They will guide customers through their collection and explain care. Good starter bonsai include the Jade, Dwarf Jade, and Umbrella. These particular trees require anywhere from two to eight hours of sunlight. The smallest potted bonsai cost $50, while the most expensive in the nursery will run you $10,000. Stock plants are also offered at $20. Kapusansky suggested my daughter come pick out her own tree as he feels it is a personal experience. “Getting into the romance of it, it’s special to choose your own tree,” he said.
For those who already own bonsai, the nursery offers a paid winter boarding service for tropical and cold hardy Bonsai. It’s a popular service and many customers are currently taking advantage of it. Workshops are also offered from February through October, ranging from beginner classes to master classes for those who have been practicing the art of bonsai for decades. Bonsai West has its own team of instructors who run the workshops, as well as featured guest artists from as far away as China, Japan, and Canada.
Browsing through the greenhouse, I felt a real sense of serenity come over me. The beauty of the bonsai is truly captivating, and it’s worth a trip to see it all in person. Staff member Sarah Talaid, who was pruning a Dwarf Jade during my visit, agreed with my assertion. “We take care of trees for customers and it’s a busy time of year, but it’s very calming to work on trees,” she said.
At Bonsai West questions are welcomed, and Talaid explained that pruning is done to keep the shape of the tree and to promote new growth, something a nongardener like me might not know. According to Talaid, it’s not the best time of year to be pruning trees, but in a greenhouse environment it’s OK.
“It’s meditative,” she said.
100 Great Road, Littleton
Thursday-Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
For more information, including a list of 2020 workshops:
Facebook or bonsaiwest.com