Ed Trout is a story teller, but instead of putting words on paper, he uses trees to weave his tales. Bonsai trees to be exact.
Through its trunks, roots, branches and foliage, each tree relates a story that the bonsai creator pulls from nature as well as his imagination.
“Just about anything you can think of you can express through bonsai,” says Trout, 67, who lives in Pembroke Pines.
This ancient art is credited to the Chinese and Japanese who developed certain rules and aesthetics that to this day influence its practice.
For example, a plant’s greenery may be artistically weeping, literati (a free-form shape that is said to have originated with monks who did calligraphy) or windswept, to name just a few styles of bonsai. The trunk might stand tall, have a bend or lean over the edge of the shallow pot, forming a cascade of greenery.
Trout’s “garden” is filled with bonsai that include ficus nerifolia, Chinese coolie cap, magnolia, Fukien tea, rain tree, lantana, bald cypress, Japanese black pine, buttonwood and even native live oak. But none measures more than about 3 feet high, and some will fit in the palm of your hand.
He emphasizes that bonsai trees are not dwarf species that just naturally stay small. Instead they are the usual landscape plants that have their foliage and roots lovingly trimmed and tended to maintain their diminutive size.
In fact, if you stop caring for a bonsai tree, it will revert to be like any other plant in your garden, he says.
For Trout, who finds his hobby relaxing, bonsai is a mixture of 50 percent horticulture and 50 percent art. “The most important part of bonsai is the horticulture,” he says. Like any backyard gardener, you need to understand how water, sun, salt, fertilizer, diseases and pests affect your plants.
And you have to know how a plant grows before you can shape it, he explains. It’s a lesson he learned early in his hobby.
He bought his first bonsai tree, a Japanese white five-needle pine, about 40 years ago for $75. “That was a lot of money back then,” he says. But Trout didn’t know it is a temperate-zone tree that doesn’t grow in Florida.
“I proceeded to build a nice display area for it in the backyard and then sat back to watch it die,” says Trout who, when not tending trees, is vice president of operations for Warren Technology, a heating, ventilating, and air conditioning company.
Since then, he has mastered horticulture, joined a number of local bonsai societies to learn from others and worked on thousands of trees.
“It’s one of those hobbies where you always want to do something different with a tree. You can’t work on the same tree every day so you need to maintain them in different stages of growth,” he says.
Before Hurricane Wilma and other storms hit South Florida in 2005, Trout’s collection numbered about 100 bonsai trees. But each time a storm threatened, he had to move his collection indoors for a couple of days, then return it to the backyard. With some of his plants weighing 200 pounds, that wasn’t easy.
Luckily he devised a way to bring them in by himself by slipping them off their 30-inch-high cement-block stands onto the hood of his riding mower and depositing them in his garage.
“After that year, I began to think maybe this wasn’t so good for my back,” he says. He sold many of his trees to a local bonsai nursery as well as to art collectors. Today about 50 specimens remain under his care.