A long view of the bonsai garden with Jack Sustic’s Trident Maple in front of white panels


by Jerry Meislik;  Journal Contributing Editor (Whitefish, Montana) 

               Prior to moving to Montana I lived in Ann Arbor Michigan for 25 years and was involved with the Ann Arbor Bonsai Society. For all those years the society had its monthly meetings and annual shows at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The gardens have had a very small bonsai collection starting in 1977 with a donation of trees from the estate of Dr. Maurice Seever. Dr. Seever was a former director of the Department of Pharmacololgy at the University Of Michigan and a passionate bonsai lover.

               Over the years additional trees were donated to the collection from friends and family of the gardens. Included in the collection are trees from bonsai artists including Jack Sustic, Dr. Melvin Goldstein, Howard Wright, Jack Wikle, and Bill Heston. I've been privileged to work on several of the trees in the collection.  For many years the bonsai were out of the public view in the back areas of the gardens and not available for viewing by the public. A few of the collection trees were displayed at the Ann Arbor Bonsai Societies annual show.

              About 15 years back pedestals were installed in the greenhouse of the gardens permitting 3 bonsai to be displayed to the public. It was a small but positive start. Over the last 30 years a bonsai garden has been the dream of many of us who have been involved in the gardens. Many generous individuals have helped to bring this garden to reality. The support of the Ann Arbor Bonsai Society,  Fort Wayne Bonsai Club, and many other local and regional bonsai clubs is making this garden a reality.

            After a several year fund-raising effort the bonsai garden was at last a reality and in May 2013 I was delighted to be at the dedication of the new bonsai and penjing garden. The dedication was extremely well attended with hundreds of visitors, supporters and well-wishers present for the ribbon cutting and the first ever public viewing of the garden. Jack Wikle, one of my bonsai teachers and one of the founding members of the Ann Arbor Bonsai Society, did a superb review of the history of the bonsai collection and the long and winding road leading to the garden. This visit was also my first opportunity to see the garden in the flesh as contrasted to imagining the garden as represented with virtual renderings. I must say the garden is more spectacular in person than as a rendering.

          The current collection of bonsai and penjing numbers about 70 trees; 20 of which are on display at one time. The bonsai are set atop attractive wooden pedestals spaced so the trees are isolated from the other trees nearby.  The feeling that one gets in the garden is one of openness and serenity; conveyed in large part by the generous spaces for the observer to move around and to step back and to view the bonsai. The backdrops for the bonsai are simple white surfaces that allow the trees to stand out and allow critical viewing as well as photography.  As an educator one of my peeves are photos of bonsai taken against poor backdrops that do not allow separation of the bonsai from the background, thus rendering images of these trees useless for study and analysis.

           There is an attached convenient bonsai work and storage area that can be closed off from the public or opened to allow viewing trees that are being worked on. There is ample room for the public to watch and to interact with staff working on the bonsai. We hope that this interaction will be a continuing affair along with the use of the facility as a teaching venue. The education of the public about bonsai and bonsai processes is one of my long time goals.

           Although the garden and display are nearly done some fine touches of ground plantings, rockwork and landscaping need to be done. As these mature the garden will become even more impressive. I invite you to visit and take part in the serenity of the garden and to enjoy the bonsai. The garden is now open to the public. Click here to learn more about hours and directions. Hours & Direction page

           More funds will be raised to ensure that the garden and bonsai are secure in their home for the long future ahead. Contact me if you can help at jerry@bonsaihunk.us or Gayle Steiner at gayles@umich.edu


Dr. Michener-associate curator of the MBG- on the left, Japanese Consul-General Matsuda and his wife

Jack Wikle addressing the group at the dedication            

Jerry and Rhona Meislik (left) and Bob Grese , Director of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Holding area for the bonsai that are not on display

Weeping cherry bonsai

Cotoneaster informal upright

Trident maple by Jack Wikle

Scots Pine

Ficus 'Exotica' of Dr. Melvyn Goldstein

Larch raft style




            One bonsai on display at the dedication was a large Ficus microcarpa. Over the years I've been privileged to work on several bonsai in the collection. This fig was totally re-designed in a manner that required some complex manipulations. The tree as it appeared in 1998 when I started is shown here.

           With the help of bonsai friend Bill Heston and Connie Bailey (a bonsai artist and employee of the of Mattahei Botanical Gardens) we analyzed this bonsai.

(Ficus microcarpa before styling)

         We tried rotating the tree to give a better view of the two trunks. It did not result in any improvement as the two trees were connected below the soil level. After some thought we decided to separate the trunks with a saw, chisels and aggressive cutters!

        Removing a lot of material from the base of the trees allowed them to be placed close together – and perhaps over time to fuse. This achieved a unity of design and the bonsai has matured beautifully!

(Ficus microcarpa after re-styling)

          The pot is still not a good fit but the collection may one day find a more suitable pot.  This final computer image is what the tree could look like in a more pleasing container.

(Virtual image of the fig in a more suitable pot)



               On behalf of all who are associated with Fuku-Bonsai and the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation, we extend a hearty congratulations to all who participated ---  and who will participate on an on-going basis --- to make this public bonsai garden possible:  CONGRATULATIONS!

               Such public bonsai collections are valuable assets not only for the Michigan bonsai community, but also for everyone else.  Bonsai is envisioned to be a bridge to international friendship and peace. In every local region it must begin by preserving the best of the past to move into a better larger future.  It will become magnets to attract the travelling international bonsai community while serving as a catalyst to unite and assist those nearby who are interested in bonsai.

               Public bonsai gardens are difficult to establish and a huge amount of resources are necessary.  It is costly to create a secure facility where bonsai can thrive and receive proper care well after the original owner-trainers have passed on.  The bonsai will serve as laudable memorials, but only if they receive proper care.  Besides strong supporting organizations,  one day a curator must step forward to be fully responsible and to coordinate the resources to support and compliment a growing bonsai community.  So while we congratulate and celebrate the opening, we urge a growing commitment and continuance of the good work.  We encourage all other regions to follow their lead.  We offer our assistance!  ~~~David

*** Return to the July issue of Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
*** Go to the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
*** Go to the Fuku-Bonsai website
      ©  Jerry Meislik,  Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2013