Talk to the Man Who Talks to the Trees

More than 1,000 years old, bonsai — the art of meticulously pruning plants, most often trees, to keep them much smaller than they would be in their natural state — originated in China. It has been described as the perfect melding of art and horticulture in miniature. 

Visitors to the North Carolina Arboretum have long had the unique opportunity to view one of the nation’s most renowned collections of bonsai. And now, through a new adult-education program, people can expand their knowledge of these amazing plants by learning directly from Arthur Joura, curator of the Arboretum’s bonsai.

Joura, who has devoted the last 30 years to caring for and shaping the Arboretum’s collection of more than 100 specimens, is now sharing his knowledge and professional experiences through a 12-month online course titled The Curator’s Journal. His journal entries — which consist mostly of words but occasionally his photographs and artwork, as well — provide a behind-the-scenes look at what’s involved in overseeing this special collection. 

In one installment, for example, Joura offers his view of his life’s work: “Bonsai is a strange business to begin with. It takes a tree, an object that is almost always larger than us, and represents it in a form that is almost always smaller than us.” He continues, “It takes a living entity that is literally rooted in the earth and removes it from that context, placing it instead with the confines of a container.”

And yet, botanically speaking, the local collection is expansive — bonsai that reflects the beauty and biological diversity of the Southern Appalachian region.

Chris Baker, curator of bonsai at the Chicago Botanical Gardens, says of the NC Arboretum’s bonsai, “No collection highlights regional surroundings with such authenticity and originality. Arthur Joura has created one of the most unique and respected collections in the country…”

The Curator’s Journal, a monthly online course, contains regular entries along with supplemental materials, and provides opportunities to interact with the curator. Participants can subscribe any time during the year and have access to a full year’s entries. The subscription is $180 for 12 months and $90 for six months; Arboretum members can subscribe for a 20% discount. For more information, see ncarboretum.org. 

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