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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Artisans in the business of sculpting, selling live bonsai trees

THONOTOSASSA – An ancient art form that first captured the fancies of Japanese aristocrats centuries ago is highly in fashion today at an establishment on the edge of Tampa.

It’s called Artisans Bonsai and it’s located at 9358 E. Fowler Ave. in Thonotosassa, directly across from the Big Top Flea Market.

It is a specialized nursery where owner and bonsai artisan Joe Cain and apprentice Phil Latina welcome all who are interested in the long admired living art form known as bonsai, properly pronounced “bone-sigh.”

Bonsai is defined as the growing of dwarfed-sized ornamental trees in small shallow pots or trays and selectively shaping the branches, pinching the leaves and pruning the roots so that all parts of the plant are in proportion.

“Our mission is to represent the true tradition of bonsai, not the typical plants you see in the malls that are manufactured,” Cain said.

“Bonsai,” he noted, “is an art of illusion,” in that tree branches are bent and carved to give the appearance of old or dead wood.

Latina pointed out that Bonsai trees created from very old tree branches are quite expensive.

“If you were to purchase one that is 50 or 100 years old it would cost thousands of dollars,” he said.

Bonsai plants at Artisans Bonsai are priced at $50 and up.

Most of the material they collect for their trees is found locally, sometimes along the side of a road.

“It could be as simple as finding stuff in your next door neighbor’s yard or in more unusual places,” Latina said.

Bougainvillea, crepe myrtle, juniper and cypress trees are among the most popular species used in creating Bonsai trees, which, according to Cain, encapsulate in miniature form a beauty all of their own.

“We’re always happy to explain the real story of Bonsais and if you want to buy one we always provide support,” he said.

Introductory classes on the art of creating Bonsai trees are held from 9 a.m. to noon on the first and third Saturday of every month. Intermediate classes will be added soon.

Bonsai pots, aluminum wiring to mold tree branches, and customized soil specifically coined on site for the miniature trees are also for sale.

Wit Ostrenko, president and CEO of the Museum of Science & Industry, admits he’s gotten hooked on growing Bonsai trees since discovering the business during his frequent travels on Fowler Avenue.

He’s even taken the introductory course.

He likens the bonsai tree to “a living sculpture.”

“My daughter came over and saw it and said, ‘I want one,’” Ostrenko said. “To see my 21-year-old daughter get excited about it is really neat.”

He believes the tree he purchased was priced right, especially compared to the prices he’s seen online.

“It’s valuable and it will be even more valuable as time go on,” Ostrenko said.

Ben Predmore, who’d tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to care for bonsai plants he purchased elsewhere, found out about Artisans Bonsai online. Following a visit to the place, he and his wife signed up for the beginners’ class.

Right off the bat Predmore learned the potting soil he’d been using on his bonsai trees was unsuitable. So he purchased the mixture Cain formulated and highly recommends.

During their second class the couple created their own trees, both of which he said “came out fantastic.”

“Joe is really helpful and he’s very, very open to questions,” the Seminole Heights resident said. “And I haven’t killed a tree since I took the class.”

The nursery is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Call (800) 438-9614 or visit www.artisansbonsai.com for more information.

Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]

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