The traditional way a bonsai tree is displayed in a Japanese home is in a small interior alcove that also includes a hanging scroll and an art object or accent plant. This alcove is called a tokonoma. I learned this at the Pacific Bonsai Museum yesterday. I learned today that the word bonsai literally means “planted in a container”. Sometimes I overlook a great attraction despite repeated trips to the area where it is. The 5 Compass Pacific Bonsai Museum is in Federal Way south of Seattle, and I’m afraid it might go away before I get a chance to see it again.
The Pacific Bonsai Museum (PBM) displays a stunning collection of elegant trees in a woodland setting. In other words, most of them are outside and, because it’s near rainy Seattle, the wise will visit on a warm, sunny day. Only a few are in a hothouse environment. At any time PBM features a large number of the more than 100 bonsai trees in its collection, which is extremely diverse containing trees from China, Korea, Canada, etc. It’s free and shares its expansive space with another type of plant. There’s a charge year-round to see the separate Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden. The rhodie collection includes over 10,000 plants, the full range of the genus. I was told that the optimal time to see it is from mid-March through mid-May.
Among the bonsai trees are examples of some being developed and groomed. I had never seen the tools used or them wired and accompanied by info about how these arresting miniature trees get their distinctive look. The bonsai above is a Willow Leaf Fig overseen by artist James Smith of Vero Beach, Florida. At PBM its entire history accompanies it. For example, I learned that Smith used soda straws to artistically direct its roots. The one below is a Kishu Juniper. While I was reading about it and others, Ruth, master gardener, kept coming over to insist that I go with her to view yet another plant she had never seen before, like a purple Beautyberry.
Perhaps things are about to change at these sensational gardens. The Weyerhaeuser Company opened them in 1989, but at the end of 2013 it gifted the entire collection to a newly created non-profit organization. Weyerhaeuser’s corporate offices on the property are for sale. What will happen to these gardens after the sale will be in the hands of the new owner. So if you love bonsai trees and their creators, like Kesuke Miyagi played by Pat Morita and Jackie Chan in the Karate Kid films, plan a visit relatively soon just to be safe.
p.s. Pat Morita died in 2005.