As with most bonsai “forests,” some of the original trees in this planting have been lost and others have been added. The oldest survivors were a 1970 gift Clarence Owens (Jackson Parkside High School Biology teacher) gave Jack Wikle (Hidden Lake Gardens first Education Specialist). Jack’s memory is of a handful of vigorous seedlings, no more than two or three years in age and two to three feet in height with pencil thick trunks at that time.
When eleven trees were first potted as a small forest less than a week later, their heights were lowered considerably by cutting each one back to a strong branch then wiring that branch upward to become the new top of the shortened tree.
In 1993, Howard Wright acquired this forest from Jack and after enjoying it in his personal bonsai collection for seven years, he donated it to Hidden Lake Gardens where it has become a perennial favorite of visitors. Common reactions are, “Can’t you imagine hiking right through there?” and “Wouldn’t that be a nice spot to have a little cabin?”
“Local plantswoman” Betty Blake was nationally known in rock gardening circles. Each year, in late winter, Betty planted seeds, mailed to her from around the world, under fluorescent lights in her basement. Some of the seedlings she grew eventually made their way into Betty’s garden but countless others were passed on to her many plant growing friends.
This maple is remembered as being less than two feet tall and perhaps four years in age, but already well established in a nursery container, when Betty gave it to Jack Wikle in 1976. After letting it mature in his garden for several years, Jack first pruned and potted it as a bonsai in 1979. Over the years that followed, Jack found great pleasure in this tree’s annual cycles of swelling buds, colorful new shoots, lush green leaves of summer, and flame-like variation in fall color. Then, in 1995, fellow bonsai enthusiast Paul Goris acquired this bonsai from Jack. Under Paul’s care, the former “back” became the new “front” and its trunk and branches thickened greatly.
It was late in 2007, that this maple was purchased from Paul as a memorial to the late Stanley G. Robertson, using funds donated by Stanley’s family and friends, to become part of the Hidden Lake Gardens bonsai display.
This old tree is one of several white-cedars from Elsie G. MacCready’s collection of bonsai donated to Hidden Lake Gardens by her family after Elsie passed away in 1987. Elsie and her husband, Doug, had collected this tree in late 1982 or early 1983 somewhere in northern Michigan. It had survived there for years under difficult conditions that kept it from reaching the much larger size it might have attained in a more benign environment.
Conspicuous dead wood relatively unchanging was already a feature of this tree when the MacCreadys found it. Impressed with its ancient look, they guessed it might have been as much as 50 years in age. People working now with this bonsai believe it was probably much older than the MacCreadys thought when they found it, even a hundred years or more at that time.
Today this is one of relatively few bonsai that have two fronts (two “faces”) and can be displayed with almost equal visual impact with either face forward toward the public.