Bonsai and Penjing, Ambassadors of Peace & Beauty -Book review

I am pleased to announce the publication of a new book (October 11) called “Bonsai and Penjing, Ambassadors of Peace &Beauty”, written by Ann McClellan and published by Tuttle Publishing. I was contacted several months ago by the publisher to write a review (I’m wondering if they’ve read my blog….) and they sent me an advanced copy to peruse (I must add, as per current FTC regulations concerning internet influencers, I must disclose that the book was the only thing I received from the publisher, no monetary recompense, no other product consideration….hell, I can’t even figure out how to get the Amazon link, never mind supplying that thing call an “affiliate link”, mostly because I don’t know how to accomplish the internet wizardry required to get one). 

It’s a beautifullly photographed book….…..the bonsai pictures are clear, the text is well written (unlike this blog…..) and the story is riveting. That’s right, this isn’t a dry text book or a how-to on bonsai. This is a story, The Story, of how the Bonsai Collection at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C came to be. 

Not to give too much away about the book, but the ending is pretty much history; the Japanese donation does make it to the USA and to D.C eventually, some of the Chinese donations were actually donated before the Japanese trees, and the North American collection was dedicated in the Eighties. 

But it was not always a sure thing. The man in charge, Dr. John Creech….

……had his job cut out for him and a whole section in the rear of the book where his first hand report is included is dedicated to that struggle. This is a man who had, as a USDA agent, travelled to Japan in the 50’s and 60’s as an explorer, looking for plants and trees that would benefit the agriculture, both ornamental and food, of the US (did you know that there are only about 4 native North American food crops? Cranberry, blueberry, pecan and sunflower. Amazing!). Dr. Creech is the man responsible for collecting seeds from the Japanese native crape myrtle (lagerstroemia faurei) with which, after hybridization, made the first powdery mildew resistant crapes for the landscape industry (that would be the “Natchez” variety, probably the most planted one). He was also responsible for the introduction of the popular chrysanthemum “Tokyo White”, which, in its heyday, was a $1 million part of the landscape industry. 

I learned some very interesting facts that, even though I wanted to know the stories, I couldn’t find them. The internet isn’t as complete a depository of knowledge as one would like. 

I learned what event caused the USDA  to begin the quarantine of certain plants from certain countries. Back in 1910, two thousand cherry trees from Japan had to be burned (they were planted in the shadow of the Washington Memorial!) because they were so full of bugs (they were shipped with native Japanese soil) that they caused a virtual plague of insects upon the countryside. And that’s why plants can only be shipped bareroot (no soil!) into the USA. 

The next surprise story for me was a history of the famous “kingsville” boxwood. I’d wondered where the name came from, who discovered it, all that. Well, it was a sport from a buxus microphylla found by a man named Sam Appleby in 1913. To give credit to how slow it grows, by 1923, Sam had about ten plants from the original sport that were procured, after Sam’s death (it could be said that he died waiting for the boxwoods to grow….) by a Mr. Henry Hohman from, wait for it, Kingsville, Maryland. He named his nursery, aptly, Kingsville Nursery. Henry didn’t really see the kingsville box woods as a commercial tree, being how slow they grow and the brittleness of their stems, he just truly had a passion for them. And he cultivated them and allowed them to be given to others with the same passion for them he had. In fact, the first tree that Yuji Yoshimira used for a demo at for  National Arboterum, was on one of Mr. Hohman’s kingsvilles. 

The book is full of stories like this.

Here’s a cool footnote:  Did you know that even being the leader of the free world won’t change the nature of trees? President Nixon wanted a bonsai displayed indoors in the Oval Office at all times and the horticulturalist told him no, sorry, not even for you, sir. Indoor bonsai…..smh. Trees go outside…..

There’s dozens of photos that made me say,  “Hey! I’ve heard of that!” Or”I know them!” 

Here’s my friend, Mary Madison’s (who I’ll be visiting this Sunday!) buttonwood on display in the North American Pavillion. 

Here’s a pic of Vaughn Banting, the originator of the bald cypress “flat-top” style: 

And his tree: 

They included some of my beloved tropical trees: 

And I’m pretty sure this is a pic of a bougie that one of the old timers in the Central Florida Bonsai Club donated back when they opened the North American Pavilion: 

Can you tell I like it? This book, like the other recently published book on the National Collection, “In Training”(Stephen Voss) should be on your list of books to buy in 2016. I told you I can’t figure out how to do a link to Amazon, so here’s a screenshot for you:

Look it up, order it, give it as a gift , donate a copy to your local club. Let’s get this book out there on the library bookshelves of bonsai nurseries and schools worldwide. 

About adamaskwhy

Visual artist specializing in bonsai, mostly.
This entry was posted in Art, goings, pictures, rare finds and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Bonsai and Penjing, Ambassadors of Peace & Beauty -Book review

  1. I just pre-order on Amazon !. Could you recommend other books worthwhile? THX!

  2. Elroy Cober says:

    You have something against corn, beans and squash, the North American three sisters, for food!

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