Questions to ask when scheduling a beginner course?

exitsanity

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Hi all,

I'm new to the community and am planning on taking a beginner course with my girlfriend. I've found two seemingly reputable nurseries in the area and was wondering if there were any good questions to ask them to determine which we should take the class at?

The two programs are at:
Bonsai West
and
New England Bonsai Gardens

Any suggestions? I'm pretty terrible at keeping things alive and only have experiences as a teenager with bonsai, haven't participated in the hobby for years. My girlfriend participates in a local garden and definitely has a green thumb but is new to the hobby.
 

Mike423

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I cant really speak from personal experience since Ive never visited either of the above mentioned but have heard good things about both as nurseries.

If you are beginners I would recommend holding off on any class and just go to your local library and read as many bonsai books as possible coupled with online research to form a good foundation (which is how I learned all of my fundamentals as a beginner). I would then follow it up with the class the next growing season, to be able to absorb the information given better by being familiar with it and not be as confused as much witch will probably allow you to absorb the info better as well as form a good basis of good questions on both specified information on some trouble areas for you as well as areas you are looking for more refinement in. This is just my opinion though.

The main issue I have been confronted with by beginners (and there #1 cause of bonsai death) is the issue of knowing how often to water, more specifically they water their trees too much. What components the soil mixture contains also plays a huge role in this as it determines how long the soil stays moist. There are a number of posts containing these two long time beginner question and answers on how to go about it correctly on this site, and again can be learned from a good Bonsai beginner book.

hope this helps

-Mike
 

Bonsai Nut

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I'm going to disagree with Mike on this one. Though I don't disagree about reading tons of bonsai books, there are some things (in my opinion) that have to be witnessed first hand to be understood. Additionally, there is a secondary benefit from going to a class - it is fun, it is social, and it tends to get you excited about the hobby :) My advice to someone starting out is to try to take a class and try to join a bonsai society for this very reason.

Both of those bonsai nurseries are very reputable, professional bonsai organizations. I don't think you could go wrong with either - as long as the instructor is a good teacher. Ask:

(1) What is the nature of the class? Is it truly for beginner beginners? What can I expect to know when I leave the class?

(2) What is the tone of the class and instructor - is it formal, or relaxed? Is it large and social, or small and intimate? Is it more of a lecture / demo? Or a hands-on experience?

(3) What do I need to bring? (tools, trees, supplies, etc) What will I take home with me? (i.e. just knowledge? or a styled and pruned tree?)

That should be enough to give you a general idea. Once you have been to at least one class you should be in better shape to evaluate future classes, etc.
 

Bill S

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I'm with Bnut on this one, and would go the next step and say either would be ok, but would recommend starting with NEBGS. For all the reasons mentioned above, and then some. Dav4 and October both members here have used thier workshops quite a bit, and will probably say what I have.

You have good people at both venues that are very capable of teaching you from beginner right out thru the top. Not sure what Mike Levin at bonsai West has these days fo beginner materials, but if he is offering classes then I am sure he has what is needed, New England Bonsai without a doubt has materials from beginner to nice finished bonsai, John Romano, Hitoshi, and others there are fully capable as well.

Either way enjoy and have fun. Both know how to work with beginners.
 

rockm

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I'd have to agree with Bnut on this one.

An introductory class helps to get things straight from the start. There are more than a few things that you can read about, but really don't "get" until you see them in person. Books (and the Internet too) can't really show you how to do things for real. You have to actually do them, or be there seeing it get done. Accept no substitute if you have access to a good solid beginners' class.

Bonsai can be very intimidating starting off. There is much to take in and process in the brain at first, a lot more than books or Internet "classes" or demos can account for.

Take bonsai "soil" for instance. Bonsai soil is not soil, at least not what beginners think of as "soil." Seeing a reputable bonsai grower's soil can be a revelation. It looks and wroks like gravel, but it's not gravel. It's also NOT potting soil...

Observing (or better yet - helping) a tree get root pruned can also help a beginner see what it actually entails, including how much should be taken off...

A class can show a newbie what is possible in bonsai. A lot of beginners start off with crappy mallsai trees that have no potential or real future, but --hey-- they look like those trees in 'Karate Kid.' Believing that level of bonsai is the ultimate, they don't realize until much later that so much more is possible. They will see good, better and excellent bonsai at a reputable bonsai nursery class.

Seeing excellent trees at the National Arboretum during an introductory class about 25 years ago was a revelation for me. I saw what was possible. Bonsai wasn't just crappy mallsai.

Books are terrific, they're great. Read a three or four dozen of them, but NEVER skip an opportunity to see bonsai actually "done." :D
 

mcpesq817

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I'd agree with what was said above, but would follow Mike's advice to start with a good bonsai book or two (or read lots of threads here or other boards), so that you can get the big picture and lingo down, then look into classes. I think doing that would give you a better foundation and more bang for your buck than starting by taking a class with zero knowledge.
 

PaulH

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Another vote for taking a class and joining a club. You'll learn more of value that way than you'll ever find in books.
Also there are a lot of books ( and even more internet sources) that are just plain wrong about bonsai care and techniques. Learn from local people what works in general and in your area in particular
.
Paul
 

Gene Deci

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The error I see new folks in our club making most often is trying to become knowledgeable by observing and reading and asking questions before they ever start with a tree. The learning curve is much faster if you get hands on experience right away. You wil probably make mistakes but it will be worth it in the long run.
 

milehigh_7

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BTW: Welcome to your new life! Bonsai is like the Hotel California, you won't be leaving. :)
 

bonsaiTOM

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EXITSANITY,

You've started a very thought provoking thread here. It appears that you (and your lady) are in the Boston area, a real hotbed of quality bonsai. You both have a basic desire to learn and plan your future 'hobby' experience. As mentioned above the 2 choices for your first classes are both very reputable, and all the responses are pointing you in the direction you desire. Go with your heart.

Yeah read, study the on-line resources, do some hands-on classes/workshops. But take some time to simply experience and soak up some bonsai shows in your area. Find the close-by clubs. They will draw you into a wonderful world.

Enjoy!!! :cool:
 

treebeard55

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... Bonsai is like the Hotel California, you won't be leaving. :)
What Clyde said. ;);) And welcome.

That said, let me add one thing that I feel is necessary but may not be popular. You say of yourself, "I'm pretty terrible at keeping things alive ..." I've seen a number of people get into bonsai who could say the same thing about themselves. Some of them discover a green thumb they didn't know they had, but some struggle with it, never really enjoy it, and finally give up. I'm not trying to talk you out of bonsai, but I do urge you to consider carefully before you make your decision.

My wife loves to look at bonsai and can really appreciate the artistic side of it. But when it comes to the horticulture side, by her own words, she's a brown thumb. So I take care of the plants at our house, and she admires the trees with me when we go to the Chicago show each year!

Of course, there's one other way: do bonsai as a partnership, with each of you contributing your own strengths to a common hobby!
 
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jk_lewis

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Also ask wehther the class is on indoor or "normal" bonsai.
 

exitsanity

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Thanks everyone!

Yeah I get the books/articles suggestion and respect it; trust that I've started a gratuitous amount of research and feel that we're ready to take the first step.

Thanks for the comment stating that I may just be destined for a brown thumb haha, we'll see. My anacharis in my turtle tank seems to be growing fine lately so maybe I've broken my curse!

I scheduled a class at the New England Bonsai Gardens; they were very kind and helpful. Wish us luck!

I'll try and get pics of the before/after if I can find my camera.
 

milehigh_7

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Thanks everyone!

Yeah I get the books/articles suggestion and respect it; trust that I've started a gratuitous amount of research and feel that we're ready to take the first step.

Thanks for the comment stating that I may just be destined for a brown thumb haha, we'll see. My anacharis in my turtle tank seems to be growing fine lately so maybe I've broken my curse!

I scheduled a class at the New England Bonsai Gardens; they were very kind and helpful. Wish us luck!

I'll try and get pics of the before/after if I can find my camera.
Very excited for you!!! I hope you two enjoy it!
 
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