Bonsai Show

Fair | Clip
Aug 16, 2023 | 3 min

Fairgoers showcase their artistry in the Bonsai Show at the Agriculture Building.


[Aaron] It's often said that gardening is both an art and a science. And we definitely see that here at the Bonsai Show at the Iowa State Fair. 


[Aaron] Scott, what is bonsai, exactly?

[Scott Allen] Bonsai is an art. But the definition just is, a tree in a pot. So any tree can be a bonsai. We put wire on the tree to allow training of branches. We use that wire to set the branches until we actually - the branch lignifies, and hardens off, then we can take the wire off. If you look at this tree really in-depth, you can see a lot of the branches have wire, but some of the branches don't. Because they set, and I can take the wire off of them. We'll do scissor work, and we'll actually come in and prune back at certain times of the year. Now what we do with bonsai to style bonsai varies by variety of tree.

[Aaron] You're judging the bonsai show here today. What are you looking for when you're judging?

[Julian Tsai] Bonsai is a very kind of interesting multifaceted art. On the kind of surface aesthetic, we have this kind of living plant, and we can appreciate how it looks, different shapes and forms. Mainly for the scope of the show, I'm looking at three criteria. One, I like to call just kind of this base quality of the tree. We look at the trunk lines, the dead wood, the movement. It's kind of the intrinsic character of the tree. We can look one step beyond that, and we can see, well, how old is this tree as bonsai? So I look into the branches, which tell the history of how long the owner may have developed it, how many years of training it has underwent. That's another aspect that gives the tree kind of quality and age. Lastly, and because it's a show, we're looking at the composition. So we have like the stand, the pot, the accent pan which pairs with it. I look at these things together. Is the tree displayed well in its presentation? I kind of have a tier list between these three categories, and just with all those together, we can get a basis for how trees are judged.

[Hoodjer Family] It's really amazing to see what kind of detail people put into this type of stuff. Very cool.

[Susan Daufeldt] There's a woman that was in Iowa who was very, very active in rescuing trees when the Japanese were being interred during World War II. So this has been an Iowa art form for a long time. You can take trees that grow in the ground in Iowa, like a mulberry, and make a great bonsai out of it.