In our City of Trees, this Sacramento club has nurtured the spirit of bonsai for seven decades and kept alive an urban forest in miniature.
This weekend, the Sacramento Bonsai Club celebrates its 70th annual Bonsai Show and Sale at the Sacramento Buddhist Church on Riverside Boulevard. As always, this interesting show will feature scores of “little trees in pots” – the definition of bonsai – as well as examples of suiseki or “viewing stones.”
Just like the little trees, the club represents a living link to the past.
Home to four bonsai clubs, Sacramento holds a special place for many American enthusiasts. Founded in 1946, the Sacramento Bonsai Club is considered the nation’s oldest active bonsai organization.
“The continued giving and enthusiasm of our longtime members have continued the survival of our club for the past 70 years,” said longtime club member Lucy Sakaishi-Judd, whose mother introduced her to bonsai.
Interest in bonsai bloomed shortly after World War II as Japanese American families returned to the Sacramento area from internment camps. They gravitated to the ancient bonsai art and the local club as a way to renew friendships and cultural pride.
Soon, the bonsai bug spread and many non-Japanese garden hobbyists got hooked on the little trees. Part of the appeal is that these living masterpieces are always evolving.
“You never finish a bonsai,” explained Gary Judd, the Sacramento Bonsai Club’s longtime president and Lucy’s husband, in a 2010 Sacramento Bee story. “Bonsai is a living art. You have to care for it every day. If you have a ‘finished’ bonsai, it’s dead.”
Once again, Judd is chairman of this year’s show, but the event also doubles as his retirement party. After 22 years as the club’s president, Judd is stepping down. Club members dedicated the show to Gary and Lucy Judd. Elections for a new president will be held in the fall.
“For health reasons, Gary feels after many years as president, he needs to reduce his obligations he has continued over the years,” Lucy Judd explained. “He looks forward to supporting a new and refreshing direction for the club.”
The couple has taught bonsai to generations of other enthusiasts as well as grown hundreds of their own little trees at their Rocklin home. Their collection includes centuries-old junipers harvested (by permit) in the wild Sierra and lovingly transformed into bonsai. Many others are at least decades old – grown from volunteer trees pulled from a garden or from cuttings shared by friends.
“Each bonsai tree has a story to tell,” Gary Judd said.
What makes a bonsai special is proportion. A photo of a foot-high oak should look just like a 30-foot giant. Its branches and foliage should resemble a full-size tree, shrunk down to fit a tabletop.
“Maintaining and growing that tree is both rewarding and enjoyable to us,” Lucy Judd added. “A bonsai is a living art piece that goes through training many years before maintenance.”
These trees require almost daily attention: watering, pruning, trimming. Each year, specimens are repotted in volcanic rock after their roots are pruned, too. That helps keep them small.
Bonsai represents a lot more than gardening, said the Judds, who have traveled to Japan and other countries to study bonsai.
“We both enjoy wherever we go in our worldwide bonsai travels,” Lucy Judd said. “The bonsai world is small in that you meet old and new friends and the friendships continue throughout our lives.”
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, 916-321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.