The emperor of Bonsai

The 21st HWA Bonsai exhibition in Taiwan

Farrand Bloch was invited by Sae Won Kim, Korean bonsai promoter in Asia, to attend the big national bonsai show in Taiwan. It was a full programme with a tour laid on to visit the best bonsai nurseries and the Masters of Taiwan as well as the National Bonsai Show that is held at the Ghanghua Xizhou Gardens near Taichung. The whole event was sponsored by Mr Tsang-Shing Chen, who runs one of Taiwan’s largest nurseries. Here is Farrand’s report on his visit.

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A huge juniper cascade at the entrance to the museum
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Impressive juniper at the show in the Ghanghua Xizhou Gardens

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It was not only the National Taiwan Bonsai Show, but an extra special edition as well. This was because of the Chinese contributions making it the ’11th edition of the Guandong-Hong Kong-Macau and Taiwan Penjing Art exhibition 2016′.
Its title is a mouthful, but that was what it was, a reunion of bonsai lovers from mainland China and Taiwan. Held at the Ghanghua Xizhou Gardens in early November, delegates from the world over were invited to come to see the amazing bonsai of Taiwan. I, too, was invited, to report on this show and then join a tour, which led us around the best nurseries and gardens Taiwan offers. But before we visited the bonsai exhibition we had a stop first at the Wann Ying Art Garden of Mr Tsang-Shing Chen who is one of the major figures in Taiwanese Bonsai and owner of a very large tree nursery. Mr Tsang-Shing Chen is also Chairman of the committee organising the coming BCI and 14th Asia Pacific Bonsai and Suiseki Convention and Exhibition, 2017.

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Showcase
Wann Ying Art Garden is a showcase of Taiwanese bonsai. We were led along broad paths to see amazing bonsai, stones, ponds, bridges, small pavilions. The famous Taiwan junipers, which all have spectacular curling and twisting trunks with deadwood, are very well presented in the collection. Interesting to know that although these junipers have been field grown they have been made to look like old yamadori. Taiwan has a very hot and humid climate, plants and trees just love to grow here and that makes it almost perfect for bonsai. Not only can you find junipers or pines here, but also many other varieties like Hibiscus, Podocarpus, Premna, Ficus can be seen in abundance as well. A whole part of the garden was dedicated to a display of only Ficus bonsai.

Down a winding road there was even more to discover, a kind of temple with a courtyard guarded by two lion statues and a mega-sized cascade juniper. Inside there was a large collection of suiseki and artefacts like Buddhas, scroll paintings and furniture made of old and precious woods.

For me the trip was one big surprise after another. Where would we be going next? Our bus drove to a big hall with life size posters of marrying couples, flowers and pink ribbons. It turned out to be our stop for a typical Taiwanese lunch in a party restaurant. Next it was off to the official opening ceremony

Ghanghua Xizhou Gardens
The opening ceremony of the bonsai show at the Ghanghua Xizhou Gardens was quite a major experience with lots of show elements like lights, music and dance added. It felt like going to the Grammys or Oscars; all the delegates had to dress up in a suit and were welcomed by a team of hostesses and hosts who pinned a flower brooch to your jacket. We were then led to our seats in the front row in the VIP lounge. The show began with a children’s harmonica group followed by a Japanese drum act after which the official opening started. It was a long, long row of officials who were called to the stage to make a speech — in Chinese, which of course I could not understand! The entire event was loud and noisy and presented by a professional team with music and flashing lights.

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Shohin at the big show

Things got a bit chaotic in my opinion, but everybody was happy and the mood was very outgoing. One interesting aspect of the show involves mainland China’s wish to reclaim Taiwan. The Beijing government applies pressure to have Taiwan return to the motherland China, because ‘there is only one China’. So, having guests from mainland China gave this show an extra dimension. There were, however, no signs of hostility and all was very smooth and relaxed as it is in the bonsai community.

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The courtyard of the museum
A very expressive Bougainvillea

Large show
It was already getting rather late when the show came to an end and we almost forgot that there was still a big show to see — namely the bonsai exhibition. And, indeed, this was a big show with an impressive collection of very refined trees. Not a pine and juniper show, rather a great mix of all kinds of varieties, Ficus, Hibiscus, Premna, Podocarpus, etc — the tree varieties that you would normally find in a commercial nursery sold as indoor bonsai here shown as high-quality trees. I was taken by the sheer size of it all, rows and rows of great trees. There was not much time to enjoy all this because the opening party was up next. I would slip away from the party later and arrange an after-hours’ photo shoot at the exhibition hall. I managed to photograph a selection of interesting bonsai which were typically Taiwanese.

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The famous Taiwan juniper and a large collection of mouth-watering shohin
Text and photography: Farrand Bloch © Copyright Bonsai Europe Publications