Why most UK Bonsai Clubs are struggling for members? + Poll

I started in bonsai over 25 years ago; as with so many it grew out of curiosity, visits to Flower shows and I guess Karate Kid fired my imagination. Back in those early years the only information was from books and if you were lucky a local bonsai club or society.

The majority of clubs were made up of long standing members with a few ‘young bucks’ eager to learn from the wiser and more experienced amongst its members. My first visit to my local club happened to be the Annual General Meeting and one of the items on the Agenda was ‘Membership’ and more importantly how to encourage new members. I was asked “as a new visitor… what should the society do?” My answer though rather naïve was “keep creating beautiful bonsai, just like those brought along tonight by the members”

We had no visiting speakers as many members had years of experience under their belt, we had an annual show that was open to the public and it was a ‘success’ My formative years in that club were happy, happy in ignorance as I adhered to the club adage that all you need to know was right here at your club and the trees you were fashioning were exactly what Bonsai was.

All that changed when in 1991 the BCI World Conference came to Birmingham UK, with guest speakers, workshops, a huge exhibition and many bonsai traders. At the next meeting I proposed that we organise a club trip to the event. After a show of hands NOT ONE PERSON wanted to go as it was considered too far (90 miles) and too expensive (£12.00) this was a defining moment for me, the best in the world were coming to our doorstep and at a stupid cheap price and we were NOT attending?

I made my own way along to the BIG event with fellow club member Terry Foster and one old timer who came along because I was happy to drive and what ‘harm’ could it do. Let’s just say that when I returned home I gave away all the crap in my garden and started again… I had wasted at least 7 years working on material that would NEVER amount to anything and without any style whatsoever!

That was over 20 years ago and I am sad to say that attitude still prevails in some clubs. I attended a ‘club’ show at Capel Manor near London… (ONE of the Few clubs that are actually making a difference to their members) and entered into conversation with a friend from London and enquired as to how many of HIS fellow members were in attendance. “NONE” was his reply! … “Too far… 20 miles too far”

I can count on one hand how many ‘Bonsai’ Clubs in the UK actually do ‘Bonsai’ and NOT simply promote planting trees in pots, keeping them healthy and calling them Bonsai. I understand that the social part of ‘being in a club’ is important, but not at the expense of ‘clipping the wings’ of those wanting more. The attitude of “Our club has been going for xxx years so we know more than that young upstart” And… “Why pay for a teacher when we know it all already” is a case of the blind leading the blind, stifling creativity and holds back those who wish to excel.

There is NO SUBSTITUTE to going to a exhibition of top class trees, no books, web site or video can compare with standing in front of a majestic living bonsai… having the ability to get up close and personal, to discuss with fellow enthusiasts and to delight in the wonder.

The Internet is NOT the answer however it goes a long way to helping understand the fundamentals, share Ideas, and learn techniques. There is NO SUBSTITUTE for working in three dimensions on a living tree, understanding its unique traits, horticultural requirements particular to your location and actually sharing ideas. It’s no wonder that those who wish to excel or simply create good bonsai leave clubs and seek out, like minded individuals, teachers and workshops beyond their locale.