Tiny trees

Chuck Coate and Leo Martinez

Photo by Ken Smith

The Chico Bonsai Society has been helping foster an appreciation for the ancient Japanese horticultural art form—and teaching the skills necessary for locals to grow their own bonsai—since 1976. The group’s president, Chuck Coate (pictured on right), and treasurer, Leo Martinez, recently gave a peek at what to expect this weekend at the club’s Spring Bonsai Show during a tour of Coate’s personal collection—a veritable tiny forest of some 200 bonsai of various species in various states of growth. The show takes place 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m.-5 a.m. Sunday (April 29-30) at the Chico Area Recreation District Center (540 Valambrosa Ave.). Regular club meetings are held the second Sunday of each month at the Butte County Library, Chico branch (1108 Sherman Ave.). For more information, go to chicobonsaisociety.com.

How did you start growing bonsai?

When I was dating my wife back in the ’70s, her mom had a Sunset Magazine booklet on bonsai and a few trees. Whenever we went out for a date, I’d always have to wait for her, so I’d go out into the backyard and look around. I got fascinated by the trees, and that’s how I got the bug.

Which tree here is the oldest?

I’m not really sure, because it’s not about actual age, but how old it looks. That’s the whole point of bonsai, taking a plant and putting style to it to make it a scale model of a mature tree out in the woods. That’s the art of it … it’s easy to explain, but hard to get there.

What are some of the challenges?

The biggest thing for beginners is developing patience … learning to let things grow before you start whacking away at them. You should take time to learn about what the plant likes and accommodate those things. It may take years, but part of the appreciation is being able to look at your bonsai and see the plan and where it’s going.

What’s a good way to get started?

We will also have some demonstrations at the show, which is basically a Q&A session while someone is working on a plant. Sometimes [the sessions] get a bit off-track, but that’s OK, because people want to know stuff and we want to provide them with the information.

Is there a lot of trading and sharing within the club?

Absolutely. We’ll also have a plant table sale at the show. The club gets a cut of the sale, so it helps out revenue flow a little, and [members] get a little something back for the time and effort they put into it.

What do you get out of it, personally?

I’m retired, so it gives me something creative to do and helps me stay busy, from day-to-day and season-to-season. It’s very satisfying when you get something that works.