Passion for bonsai grows from overseas tour

Expert shares pointers with garden club
By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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It requires close attention to detail and can be labor intensive, but bonsai is a hobby Scott Chadd has pursued for about 40 years. “It’s what I really enjoy,” he said recently. Chadd, who owns Lotus Bonsai Nursery in Lotus, first became acquainted with the process during the Vietnam War. “I saw some of the trees over there. Then, when I returned to the United States — in the early 1970s — I started collecting bonsai,” he said. His hobby really took off in the late ’70s when he started working with George Yamasaki. Yamasaki, who passed away in early 2010 at the age of 105, owned Yamasaki Nursery in Auburn and was very well known for his work with bonsai. Chadd was director of public works for the city of Auburn from 1979 to 1986. He then became El Dorado County’s first director of transportation. He finished up his career as director of public works for the city of San Bruno. He has a doctorate in public administration and currently teaches graduate school at Golden Gate University in San Francisco as well as working as a consultant for local governments. Although he has a demanding career, “I always have time for the trees,” he said. He and his wife first established the nursery on five acres 25 years ago, but Chadd sold all the bonsai when he took the Bay Area job. When he retired in 2000, he started it up again. “We have about 30,000 trees and about 1,000 bonsai,” he said. “We have soils, stones, pots, tools and trees. We are a full service bonsai nursery and everything is for sale.” Chadd shares his expertise in classes, field trips and bonsai demonstrations up and down the West Coast. He explained that there are four major types of bonsai — pines, junipers, Japanese maples and elms — and dozens of other varieties, he said. There are even some subtropical varieties that will survive indoors. He works with hardy outdoor varieties well adapted to the foothills climate. “We have pictures of the nursery with three feet of snow — and no problem,” he said.”(The trees can hold up to temperatures) from about 10 degrees to 110. … George (Yamasaki) said, ‘if the trees can’t live and be happy out there, don’t grow them.’” Although much of the care has become second nature, he still finds working with bonsai to be a constant learning experience. “You have to be willing to devote the time to it,” he said. “The trees are in small containers for their size. They require attention — not so much in winter, but every day in summer. If they dry out, they won’t survive. They need watering and need to be checked for bugs like any plant or fruit tree.” For someone new to working with bonsai, he recommends a pine or trident maple. “They are pretty tough,” he said. The artistry of bonsai comes from trimming the trees and maintaining their miniature shape. Trimming needs depend on the variety and stage of development. “Some we do once a month, others three times a year,” he said. Chadd was the guest speaker at this month’s Auburn Garden Club meeting. For the presentation, he chose a littleleaf linden. “It’s a deciduous, native of the East Coast,” he said. “It’s a very robust piece of material and something I can work on year round without hurting it.” The demonstration included cutting large branches off the linden and explaining why he does each step. “It tends to become more complex as you advance, just like everything,” he said. Over the years at the nursery, he has cultivated friendships with numerous other bonsai enthusiasts. One of his students, who has been visiting the nursery for 10 or 12 years, rooted a bonsai over a rock. “He did it about 10 years ago and the rock weighed about 80 pounds,” Chadd said. “I tried to talk him out of using the stone. He planted a Japanese maple about the size of a thumb. Now it is the size of a Red Bull can and about 3 feet tall.” Chadd visit to the Auburn Garden Club was a hit, according to club President Rick Krach. “He was extremely good. Everyone in the club remarked on how much they enjoyed his presentation,” Krach said in an e-mail. “Bonsai is an art that the average gardener doesn’t have the time to be involved with or have the needed knowledge. Scott shared his knowledge, which he has learned over 40 years of experience and we learned a lot.” Krach said he is an art and science person and that is why he appreciates bonsai so much. “I, like most average gardeners, just cannot devote the time needed to do good bonsai,” he said in an email. “But, that also means that I often trim the trees in my yard in a ‘bonsai’ fashion.” Reach Gloria Young at ------------ Auburn Garden Club The Auburn Garden Club has established a set of objectives to create, promote and further interest in horticulture, gardening, floral and landscape design, awareness of plant and bird life, civic beautification, roadside development and to foster an appreciation of the natural beauties of the area. In furtherance of these objectives, the club assists in non-profit community efforts for education, natural resource conservation and beautification with cash grants to non-profit organizations for projects within Placer County. The grants normally range from $200 to $1,500; however, the Grants Committee will consider and evaluate requests for other amounts. Application forms for the grants are available at The due date for the applications to be submitted is April 1.