National Bonsai & Penjing Collection at NAC
The National Bonsai & Penjing Collection at the Canberra Arboretum officially opened its doors on the 1st February 2013. The collection was initially displayed at Commonwealth Park in 2008 while its permanent home at NAC was being established.
Leigh Taafe, curator of the NBPCA, said he maintains the collection with an assistant curator and around 50 volunteers, who, I might add, contribute an impressive 115 volunteer hours each week. Leigh has been working with bonsai for 32 years – an interest sparked from Karate Kid (not the first professional to have been influenced by this iconic movie apparently), and his mother, an avid gardener who fostered Leigh’s enthusiasm.
There are approximately 120 trees at the site with 70 currently on display. Those behind the scenes include works in progress (some of which have been donated) and display-ready specimens. The plants in the collection are watered twice each day and are also rotated regularly to ensure they receive uniform exposure to sunlight.
NBPCA includes many exotic varieties of plants such as Junipers, Pines, Elms and Maples; there is also a strong Australian Native presence with Angophoras, Banksias, Bottle Brushes (Callistemon) and Tea Trees (Leptospermum), amongst others.
There are several styles of bonsai throughout including Lingnan Penjing style, which is symbolic and is often accompanied with a story such as a relationship between mother and child. Leigh explained that there is always an element of fundamental Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang, in Penjing bonsai.
Pieces which I particularly enjoyed were a 27 year old ‘fat old man’ Banksia boasting a burgeoning base not seen on those growing in nature; a well-known and much photographed Angophora, which Australian bonsai is known for; and, a Chinese elm (Ulmus chinensis) landscape scene, representing serenity, tranquillity and Nirvana of animals.
When I asked Leigh if he had favourite plants as bonsai, he said he did in the early days but now appreciates all plants and styles. Leigh’s passion lays with the stories behind the pieces; stories he enjoys sharing with visitors to the collection.
NBPCA holds popular children’s bonsai workshops in the spring and autumn school holidays. They are also celebrating Discover Bonsai Week 20-26 March 2017, ‘To celebrate the beauty and artistry of bonsai across the world’. There will be daily demonstrations and tours, handmade bonsai pot exhibition, Gala Cocktail Evening, and presentations by reputable bonsai artist, Tony Tickle (recently awarded coveted Noelanders trophy in Belgium for best deciduous bonsai).