Top of the tree: Bonsai artist takes on Europe

(C) Zsolt Sztojka

(C) Zsolt Sztojka

Landscape gardener Gergő Schmidt turns 30 this year and his birthday present is a little unusual – he is to represent Hungary at the European Bonsai [1] Championships in Vilnius, Lithuania, in September. Last week, Schmidt won the honour of representing his country at the Hungarian New Talent Bonsai Competition, held during the four-day CONSTRUMA Garden event at Hungexpo, Budapest (April 15-19). Members of the Hungarian Bonsai Association were on hand, exhibiting 21 different Bonsai trees and giving talks and demonstrations to visitors who were amazed at the skill and talent involved.

Like any other work of creative art, Bonsai gardeners are inspired. Just as a sculptor sees a form in a block of marble or a painter sees a picture on a blank canvas, Bonsai gardeners search carefully for raw materials that have the promise of shaping into something extraordinary.

Schmidt first became interested in Bonsai trees when he was fourteen. It took seven years of patience and perseverance to create one that worked for him. In the early days, many of the saplings he experimented with failed to flourish and never grew into the potential he saw in them.

DSC_0066 (800x531)At his nursery in Zugló, he spends a couple of hours every day tending to the 20 Bonsai he has created and to the hundreds of other plants that might one day become a work of art. ‘I love to find the natural form and beauty in my trees’, he explained.

Schmidt has a preference for deciduous trees. He likes to see the autumnal colours and to appreciate the winter form of naked branches. He only uses imported Japanese ceramic pots, as style is at the essence of Bonsai art.

A member of Corvinus University’s Bonsai Club, Schmidt says that the art of Bonsai is very much a continuous learning process. Here he works alongside other masters of dendrology (the botanical study of trees and other woody plants) to develop his particular style. ’In this art, I find calm’, he said, ’I find my creativity, and the happiness and beauty of life.’

It’s an art that requires patience. Some Bonsai are grown from seed. Others are created from young saplings that are potted in small ceramic bowls, their roots cut to size. Or bigger, older trees are pruned and then let grow, and then pruned again, the process repeated over and over to strengthen the trunk of the tree. It can take hours, or days, or weeks, or years.

(c) Zsolt Sztojka

(c) Zsolt Sztojka

Last week, competitors were given just four hours to fashion a Bonsai from a nursery plant – a Juniper – sponsored by the Oázis Garden Nursery, in cooperation with the Hungarian Bonsai Association. Using elementary Bonsai techniques, the ‘new’ plant had to follow the rules of style and the formal principles of the art. The purpose? To find new talent in this art form.

As he prepares for Vilnius in September, Schmidt will be working with the Marczika Bonsai Studio in Érd to further develop his talent. ‘They have lots of expertise’, he said, ‘and the competition will be tough.’ The European Bonsai Association (EBA) New Talents Contest© was organised for the first time at the 1995 EBA Convention in Monaco. Representatives from the 19 member countries take part and Schmidt is keen to go up against them. He has spent more than half his young life preparing for this.

He doesn’t speak to his plants, or play them music. He enjoys the silence, the calm, the meditative environment. And he’d recommend the art to anyone who wants to create their own little world. ‘It’s another universe’, he said, with an introspective smile, ‘one where stress is non-existent and everything flows in harmony.’

[1] 盆栽, lit. plantings in tray, from bon, a tray or low-sided pot and sai, a planting or plantings


First published in the Budapest Times 1 May 2015

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