Book Review: ‘Bonsai from the Wild’ by Nick Lenz
American Bonsai Society 1997, Price Unknown (out of print)
For those who have been around the bonsai scene for a while, particularly in the US, Nick Lenz has attained an almost legendary status, as an aficionado of the ancient Chinese and Japanese art of bonsai, and as iconoclastic writer, artist, and bonsai potter.
His vast experience, borne of over 40-odd years of collecting native North American species, and observing and recording their suitability for bonsai, shows through clearly, in this publication. The most telling quote in his book in this regard is as follows: “I write about those few species I have found readily in nature, those that have done well for me. I try to be complete, but not to the point of tedium.”
Mr. Lenz conveys his view of bonsai in his trademark style: witty, colorful and with an easy, conversational style that puts the novice reader at ease, while leaving old bonsai hands with the impression they still have a lot to learn from this master artist.
As with most works on the subject, the book takes the reader through the basics; of design, styling and fundamentals of pot horticulture. However, the real worth of Nick Lenz’s experience shines through in his analysis of three of his trees, showing the stages and development of them. This is a very important part of the educative process of bonsai, as too many enthusiasts tend to follow the “rules”, rather than working to enhance the quality of each, individual tree. Lenz acknowledges, in this section of the book, that “. . . bonsai is an art and much of the forming process remains a mystery, eluding the written word.”
Significantly, Mr. Lenz has included a lengthy primer on many of the native American species suitable for bonsai, including his favorite species, American Larch (Larix laricina), of which he says “Of the species presented, larch is my favorite. The length of the text on these delightful trees should indicate my preference and experience. I would declare that there exists no finer bonsai material in the world than the American larch, but I know that my friends in Seattle, Dallas, Toronto, and Tampa would disagree.”
A chapter on each species presented includes a brief overview of the species, collecting techniques, initial care, pathology, culture, several species-specific categories of information, and a fair number of pictures. In all, the book provides a comprehensive overview of the needs and habits of most of the significant temperate natives.
If you are a collector of wild material for use as bonsai, or you just want to learn about these species and you live in the temperate areas of the United States and Canada, you may well find this book indispensable. Mr. Lenz shares many of the techniques he has learned through trial and error.
Though the book is currently out of print, Stone Lantern Publishing is rumored to be planning to republish this work in the near future. I understand there will also be a greater number of new, and updated, illustrations in the new edition.
Meanwhile, seek it out, if you can, from secondhand bookstores and the like. It is a fascinating and insightful read, from an acknowledged master of his art.
I would suggest, however, that anyone expecting a comprehensive work on bonsai for all climates and species is going to be disappointed. This is a book about horticulture of North American temperate species and their suitability and needs for successful bonsai cultivation.