The bonsai passion of Rafael Torres
Mallorca is not only the popular holiday island, it also has some amazing bonsai to enjoy. Rafael Torres followed his tru passion and switched from baby products to bonsai
Your professional education?
I studied business management and operated a business in baby products sector for eight years until I discovered that my true passion and calling was bonsai, and I wanted to dedicate myself to it wholeheartedly.
How did it all start?
I purchased my first bonsai in a nursery, and it was almost like a crush – as if something was calling me to buy it, and so I did. Like many people who buy a bonsai without prior knowledge of its care, I made typical mistakes. I placed it in a location with inadequate light, didn’t properly control its watering and neglected other essential care aspects, resulting in a disaster. Eventually, I became interested in seeking information on how to care for it. However, the information I initially found was not very accurate, and my learning curve wasn’t as rapid as I had hoped.
Through a twist of fate, the father of one of my employees happened to be a well-known bonsai enthusiast. He invited me to visit his garden, where I could truly appreciate and be astounded by the specimens he had. Prior to this, I had only encountered the typical bonsai found in department stores. That visit opened my eyes to the world of authentic bonsai. Then, I began visiting him and assisting with his bonsai for approximately three years. This experience ignited a profound passion within me for what has now become my profession.
How did you acquire the skills?
After approximately three years as an amateur, I made the decision to sell my shares in my previous company and embark on a new venture with my wife, a company dedicated to Bonsai called ‘Bonsaisense.’ The beginnings were challenging as we were essentially starting from scratch. Shortly thereafter, I had the privilege of crossing paths with someone I could consider my mentor, Bjorn Bjornholm. I believe my professional journey would have been significantly different had I not met him. I invited him to our inaugural event, which marked the launch of our nursery, and it was a great success.
We established a strong and rapid connection. Ultimately, we decided that he would visit us a minimum of two times a year. We organized our annual event, ‘Inspira Bonsai,’ established an international school, and collaborated on the development of many of Bonsaisense trees. Simultaneously, it presented an invaluable learning opportunity for me. I believe that, in one way or another, it contributed to the growth of our business, and I will always be immensely grateful for that.
Any plans to go to Japan?
That would have been my great dream when I started 13 years ago, but unfortunately, it’s too late now. Bonsaisense is going to turn 10 in 2024. Time flies, and I find it unfeasible to go to Japan under these circumstances. I’m fortunate to have the desire to keep learning day by day and to continue developing myself in many different ways. Devoting oneself 24/7 makes it inevitable to learn, and it’s crucial to stay enthusiastic and passionate.
Your thoughts on bonsai
I believe that bonsai is many things; it’s challenging to summarize it in just a few lines, but I will try to share some thoughts that occur to me from time to time: I think bonsai is of great importance to many people around the world. I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in many different places in Europe and internationally. I like to view it from the perspective that it helps people in various ways. We all know someone who started because tending to that little tree in a pot brought them a special calmness and reduced their stress levels – I am one of them.
Humans are inherently social beings, and bonsai brings together different groups of people, whether through associations, schools, or simply a group of friends who share the same curiosity and passion. It gives us an added purpose in life, something truly meaningful. Without us, bonsai wouldn’t be watered, fertilized, or cared for; it can be frustrating when a tree doesn’t respond as we’d like, but it encourages us to learn and progress, creating something truly special within us.
We need nature in our lives, and bonsai provides a way to have it close to home. It’s a comprehensive art form that relies on our botanical knowledge, both scientifically and traditionally. Without that foundation, we cannot delve into the artistic aspect that captures so much attention. In conclusion, bonsai unites us and gives us a purpose in life. Creating art from a living being is one of the most satisfying feelings one can experience. Those of us who dedicate ourselves to it should be grateful for this opportunity.
Which trees do you most like to work on?
As I mentioned earlier, if they have the conditions to be a good bonsai, I like all species because each offers different aspects to enjoy. However, I would say the wild olive (Olea europaea var. sylvestris) holds a special place in my heart, especially here in Mallorca, where I’ve had access to it from the beginning. It possesses excellent qualities for bonsai, such as small leaves, distinctive trunk movements, spectacular and robust wood. I’m highly motivated by the challenge of creating a tree from scratch because when we collect them, they typically only have the trunk with no branches or roots. Therefore, they present a design and cultivation challenge.
It’s a very versatile species that can thrive in a wide range of climates, as its wild nature allows it to adapt well to colder climates. I have many clients and students in Northern Europe with significant wild olive projects. Obviously, besides olives, another important native species for me is the Sabina rastrera juniper (Juniperus sabina). We all know the possibilities that junipers bring to the world of bonsai; they can be considered one of the quintessential bonsai species, along with pines. Thanks to my access to collecting excellent Sabina juniper yamadori, I’ve been able to experience the entire process from their mountain origins to becoming advanced bonsai, which has given me valuable knowledge and perspective on the entire process with this species. Another species I equally enjoy working with are pines. In any of its varieties, you can appreciate its beauty.
Do you have a favourite bonsai?
I think I could say that I have many favourites, it’s hard to name just one. For example, the big juniper which stood at the entrance of the World Bonsai Congress in Japan in 2017, could be one, not only for its beauty but also for its history.
Your worst mistake?
My biggest mistake when I started was not learning enough about the most basic aspects of caring for a tree in a pot. I prioritized the desire to create something artistic and aesthetically pleasing over fundamental cultivation. I could say that there are many more mistakes, but this one, in particular, is very common among beginners and even among those who have been practicing bonsai for many years but still don’t delve into the topic.
What is your best achievement?
I believe I could say that it’s my capacity for learning. I enjoy learning, studying, and trying to put it into practice.
Your dream comes true when...
When I see that, after many obstacles, I’ve realized that in September 2024, it will be 10 years since we began this family business project, one that we are passionate about with my wife, it’s a dream come true, and we enjoy it every day.
Any other interests or hobbies besides bonsai?
I turned my hobby into my profession and became orphaned of it. It may sound crazy, but I consider it a hobby when I have more time to work on my personal projects, not just on the trees in the store or for clients. I would also like to learn how to create ceramics and paint. They have something that really captivates me, but for now, I haven’t been able to find the time to start.
Rafael Torres (42)
- Born in: Palma Mallorca, Spain
- Partner: Deyssa Sánchez
- Education: Business Management
- Profession: Bonsai professional, co-owner with my wife of Bonsaisense
- Into bonsai since: 2004
- Favourite species: Junipers, wild olive trees, and pines.
Do you favour the Japanese or Western bonsai style?
I believe it’s important to emphasize that if we define style, we could say it’s the collection of unique characteristics that distinguish an artist, a work, or an artistic period, giving it a distinct and recognizable personality. However, making precise comparisons is challenging, as even in Japan, the bonsai style changes and evolves over time.
I think Japan has had the most significant impact and influence on the world of bonsai. Its most famous species have been imported globally, sparking a great interest in learning and understanding their techniques, whether from afar or by hiring Japanese professionals to teach us their methods. Moreover, we currently have excellent professionals who have completed learning periods in Japan. One could say there will always be a Japanese style influence everywhere.
Nevertheless, I believe it’s crucial to explore the diversity of species available in other regions, such as Europe, for example. We have had access to impressive specimens and have had the opportunity to experiment with them and learn from their growth. I’m not sure to what extent we could call it our own style, but we must definitely work with different growth patterns, taking into account factors like location, fertilization, pruning, etc. This, to a greater or lesser extent, affects the aesthetics. Furthermore, in Europe, we’ve been able to observe how these trees grow in their natural environments, enabling us to create our representative image and apply it to our bonsai. Sometimes this can lead to confusion, and other times, it can be helpful.
In summary, I appreciate all expressions of bonsai that are done with judgment and good taste, regardless of the influence they may have.