Mid-America Bonsai Show Rooted in Patience

Attendees give exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Garden all-around high marks.

Contestants in the 34th annual Mid-America Bonsai Exhibit not only had their plants on display last weekend, but also their patience in cultivating the exceptional foliage.

The winner of the professional best in show ribbon was displayed through a series of pictures that showed the tree’s growth since 1972. It is proof of the dedication required to nurture Japanese maple, one of the slowest growing and most challenging bonsai plants.

“Seeing one of that caliber is amazing,” said Cat Nelson, president of the Midwest Bonsai Society. “The quality of the trees that came this year made this one of our best shows.”

More than 50 people from five states throughout the Midwest displayed 127 bonsai from Aug. 19-21 at the in Glencoe.

Professionals and amateurs alike brought their best plants to compete for ribbons. Plants were judged on style, the way they fit in their pots, the health and quality of the tree, and their overall effect and appearance.


“It’s an excellent show,” Midwest Bonsai Society member Jack Fried said Sunday. “Some of the finest trees in the country are being shown right now.”

Members of the organization set up an information desk and wandered the exhibit areas, answering questions and chatting with visitors about the trees.

Gerald Knops was proudly discussing his African fig, which won a blue ribbon at the show, to anyone who stopped by. He said he had spent three years tending the plant, which was given to him by a friend who found it growing under a bench.

“It’s the first time I ever teared up; it was so beautiful,” Knops said. “The best trees only God or Mother Nature can do.”

Knops has been working on Bonsai since 1977, and won a blue ribbon his first time attending the Mid-America Bonsai Exhibit in 1982.

“This is the best show they’ve ever had as far as quality of trees,” he said.

Knops said he loves the show because visitors get to see the works from exhibitors and browse the Chicago Botanic Garden’s collection of 185 bonsai. The display features many plants donated by Midwest Bonsai Society members, along with 19 trees from Japanese master Susumu Nakamura.

While attendance was low on Saturday due to thunderstorms that raged throughout the Chicago area, Sunday had a much better turnout as people of all ages came to view the displays, photograph the trees and shop for bonsai plants and supplies from vendors from across the country.

Mike and Mary Thiedman drove four hours from Richmond, a city on the eastern edge of Indiana, just to see the show.

“We’re very interested in bonsai trees,” Mike said. “They’re very beautiful and they show that someone has spent a lot of time, attention and care shaping them.”

A bonsai hobbyist, Mike Thiedman attended the Mid-America show for the first time two years ago. He said he likes taking ideas from the trees on display.

“We come here to see what the really good people do,” he said. “It’s probably one of the finest shows in the country.”


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