February 21, 2020

Interview with Bonsaiko - NWFGS 2020

Source material: Feb 2017-2019

     Well, friends, that special time of year is almost here again. Yes, early spring means repotting season to us bonsai artists, however, in Seattle it also means it's time for the largest flower and garden show west of the Mississippi River.  Returning readers may recall that I have already written about the Northwest Flower and Garden Show several times to highlight the display gardens I helped the Elandan Gardens team create every year (see the 2017 garden here and 2018 one here). In preparation for the 2020 Northwest Flower and Garden Show, I wanted to share the work of another local landscaper featured in the show - the current president of the Puget Sound Bonsai Association, owner of Redwood Builders Landscaping, and writer of the bonsai blog Bonsaiko, Tony Fajarillo. I consider Tony to be one of the most skilled bonsai artists in the local club and his wealth of yardadori (landscape-collected specimen) turned into beautiful bonsai gems attest to that. Today we will review his past work at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show and ask him what we can look forward to for this year.


1. 2017 - Mini Garden
2. 2018 - "Pot Party"
3. 2019 - "The Isles of the Blest: Tao Myth
4. 2020 - Interview with Bonsaiko / Tony Fajarillo

Tony calls this his "Flying Dragon" juniper. I was amazed to learn that this is a phoenix graft - a live tree grown between a dead one! The interplay together so beautifully I never would have noticed. This bonsai was featured in his 2019 display garden called "Pot Party".

2017 - Mini Garden

     2017 was the first year I participated in the NWFGS and as luck would have it, this may have also been the first time I met Tony. In this particular year, Tony created a smaller display garden rather than the full-scale ones, but there are still interesting bonsai in it for us to appreciate. Apologies in advance for the low-res photos. It was an earlier era!
Eastern white cedar, Thuja occidentalis. This species is commonly used in tall hedgerows. Tony has creatively used this common material to emulate a Northwestern old-growth tree by carving the dead top. According to Tony, this slab-planted bonsai was in training for one year at the time of photographing but is estimated to be over 40 years old before collection.
This blueberry bonsai by Tony is planted on a piece of driftwood. Surprisingly, Tony said this bonsai has also only been in training for one year, however, its true age as a plant is unknown.
Lastly, we have this Mountain hemlock - Tsuga mertensiana. This bonsai was originally collected by my bonsai teacher, Dan Robinson, on the north end of Vancouver Island, Canada in a coastal bog. Tony purchased it from him when it was still raw material and transformed it into the beauty it is today. Due to the slow-growing environment it came from, the tree is estimated to be 300 years old, however, it has only been in training as a bonsai for 11 years.

2018 - "Pot Party"

     In 2018, Tony was back to creating full-sized display gardens. His zen-inspired garden called "Pot Party" won a silver medal in that year. You can read more about the other gardens displayed that year here. Tony also has a great blog post in which he shows before and after photos of each of the bonsai in this display - it really makes you think about what is possible in bonsai!

Here you get a sense of scale for the large display gardens. To some people, a larger garden also means more opportunity to display more bonsai!
Japanese andromeda, aka Pieris. In-person, this tree is much more massive than you expect! Like many of Tony's trees, this species is common in landscaping but uncommon in bonsai.
Another one of Tony's excellent junipers from garden material.
The multi-centenarian mountain hemlock, now 12 years in training.
I believe this tree is the famous Caitlin Elm root-over-rock created by John Naka. This tree is actually part of the Pacific Bonsai Museum's permanent collection, however as part of their outreach to share bonsai with the world, they agreed to loan the tree to Tony's exhibit.
Another one of Tony's amazing garden juniper to refined bonsai transformations.
Full view of the display garden with fabulous bonsai along the length of both sides.

2019 - "The Isles of the Blest: Tao Myth"

     In 2019, Tony's display garden again prominently featured bonsai including another tree on loan from the Pacific Bonsai Museum. Unfortunately, I was out of town for a family wedding at the time of the show last year, so I was not able to see Tony's finished product myself, however, the photo provided by the Northwest Flower and Garden Show's website offers some insight into Tony's past design trends and clues on what recurring theme we might be able to expect in 2020.

Tony's 2019 garden. Photo provided by the NWFGS website.

2020 - Interview with Bonsaiko / Tony Fajarillo

          Ahead of the 2020 NWFGS, I thought it would be fun to cosplay as a journalist and ask Tony a few questions about his past participation in the Flower Show and what we might lookout for this year from his garden. Here are some excerpts below.

R: "My first exposure to the Flower Show was in 2017 when you had a smaller display area for your bonsai rather than a full display garden. Was this your first time displaying your work at the flower and garden show? If not, how long have you been participating for and how did you get started in the show?"

T: "Actually, the first show I did on my own was all the way back in 2007.  Before that, I was able to help with the garden that PSBA put on for 3 consecutive years when we used to host our Spring Show at this event. Since 2007, this year will be the 8th display garden I have created for this event (including the small one you saw in 2017)."

R: "Where do you typically draw your inspiration from in your landscaping business and display gardens? Do you have a particular style that sets you apart?"

T: "I've studied the principles of Japanese gardening and I use those principles over and over in my designs no matter what style it may be. I tend to lean towards the Japanese or oriental aesthetics but have done different gardens of different styles with various inspirations over the years. Since the show is seen by thousands of people, I look at these shows as a 'concert' for top landscapers. We get to show off what we can do and hopefully inspire the visitors with something that they don't normally see in a typical garden but which also gives them ideas that they can use in their own yard."

R: "What lessons do you hope viewers take home from your display gardens or from the show in general?"

T: "I get a similar comment over and over from people that see my garden.  'This is so calm, peaceful, serene.' That is exactly what I want people to feel and see a soon as they see my garden.  Keeping your design simple, organized, and neat will make a garden peaceful and calming."

R: "What is the biggest challenge you will face in building your garden this year?"

T: "This year will be very unique from my typical gardens.  There are many challenges but some of them are self-imposed.  The first one is the theme as I chose is an unlikely candidate for a zen garden.  I will be integrating a lot of industrial metal (what seems to look like junk for most people) and using that in a zen-like setting.  Again, still making everything look peaceful when it's all done.  The other challenge is creating a water feature out of the metal pieces and making [the water feature] look like it belongs there without having any leaks.  My planting scheme will be more of a dryer, desert feel.  I clearly wanted to do the desert theme this year after a visit to Arizona Desert Botanical Garden in January. The challenge is to bring in plant materials that could work here in the NW all year round, as annuals, or something that can be brought out to supplement the garden.  I am excited to see how this will come together.  The other challenge is bringing all the materials to the show.  We have some heavy pieces and things that take a lot of room.  I got it mostly figured out but this is what is exciting about building a show, you create something that people have never seen before, it challenges their thinking, it looks good after, and people enjoy it!  It's very satisfying for me to create something in my head and physically make it come to life."

          Huge thanks to Tony for taking the time to answer our questions today. I definitely suggest you all come to the 2020 NWFGS next weekend, February 26- March 1st to see Tony's new garden first hand as well as another production from the Elandan Gardens team. Be sure to check out Tony's bonsai blog, www.Bonsaiko.com, or his instagram by the name "TonyBonsaiko" to see more of his work.

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