This June, the Bonsai and Penjing Garden at the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Although they may be little in size, the trees have a long and storied history that can be imagined by viewers. The centenarians found at the Matthaei garden are the products of generations of care, and draw people from around the world to admire and learn more about them.
“I hope that when people come, they come to appreciate the time and effort that it takes to create a quality bonsai,” says Jack Sustic, Bonsai Specialist at the Bonsai and Penjing Garden.
Sustic, who received formal bonsai training in the United States and Japan and previously worked at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum for 20 years, takes care of the bonsai garden. He says that the most unique trees in the collection are the azalea bonsais and notes how rare it is to see this level of quality in a public collection.
“The uniqueness of some of the Michigan species and the people that created them make this collection more unique than other collections in the US.”
Ten years ago, when the bonsai garden first opened, there were only about 70 trees. In 2023, after a recent generous donation from University of Michigan alumnus Melvyn Goldstein, the collection will grow to over 170 trees.
“With almost 11 donations, this collection is as nice as any public collection—any bonsai collection—in the United States,” Sustic says. “This donation is so significant and so rare. I’ve had the privilege of being involved with public bonsai collections for over 25 years and donations like these just don’t come along every day, and it’s a real honor to be a part of this collection at this time.”
Sustic says the collection was at capacity before the donation, so the team built more platforms and displays to showcase the beauty of the new trees, ensuring they receive the care they need to thrive.
Although taking care of bonsai requires dedication and years of practice, Sustic encourages anyone interested in the art to learn more about it and start their own bonsai. Spending time with nature and nurturing a tree is not only an educational experience, he says, it also enhances an appreciation for the natural world.
“There are no big secrets to bonsai. You just have to learn what each species requires and spend the time with the trees, and eventually you’ll develop something that’s very beautiful and something that’s your own creation.”The Bonsai and Penjing Garden at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens invites the community to learn more about bonsai and celebrate the garden’s 10-year anniversary by visiting and participating in the monthlong celebration featuring workshops, demonstrations, and family-friendly activities.