Pro­fes­sor Juan T. Lim brings na­ture in­side with bon­sai trees

Juan Lim nur­tures living art


A bon­sai’s grace­ful per­se­ver­ance is a mys­tery. The art form rep­re­sents trees that have adapted to ex­tremely rugged moun­tain­ous con­di­tions; their un­com­mon, po­etic forms tak­ing shape over cen­turies of sur­vival. Yet when taken from a high, rocky en­vi­ron­ment and into the low­lands—say, in the gar­den of a sub­ur­ban home—it could die.

In uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor and bon­sai mas­ter Juan Lim’s gar­den, they are nur­tured into dra­matic, award-win­ning fig­ures. Hor­ti­cul­ture is a hobby he picked up 10 years ago from his sis­ters and a brother-in-law who de­velop more so­phis­ti­cated plants. Win­ning at bon­sai com­pe­ti­tions had en­cour­aged Lim to dive fur­ther into the art four years ago.

“The high­est test of bon­sai col­lec­tion is win­ning. I have the most num­ber of tro­phies in the short­est amount of time: al­most 200 in the last two years,” he points out. In 2012, Lim won in the cas­cade cat­e­gory at the Bon­sai and Su­iseki Al­liance of the Philip­pines. His 20-year-old Agoho tree was pro­claimed the best in the show at the 68th mid-year Philip­pine Or­chid So­ci­ety Land­scap­ing Com­pe­ti­tion last year.

“It’s not just hav­ing a plant that’s been stunted in growth. Of all the plants, bon­sai de­mands the most artis­tic considerations,” he clar­i­fies. Its prin­ci­ples, for in­stance, are ex­act: its trunk should be dou­ble the di­am­e­ter of the sec­ondary branch. The sec­ondary branch should grow on the op­po­site side of the pri­mary branch. You trim it, prune it, make the leaves healthy and nice, clean the bark of the plant, and re­root the tree ev­ery five years. You layer it and put fer­til­izer.

But to Lim, fol­low­ing the prin­ci­ples of bon­sai is just 49 per­cent of his win­ning for­mula. “With­out love, grat­i­tude to God, and prais­ing [your bon­sai] to the heav­ens, it will never be wor­thy of win­ning,” he says, liken­ing his show of af­fec­tion to his bon­sai to the find­ings of Ja­panese re­searcher Masaru Emoto on the ef­fect of hu­man con­scious­ness on the molec­u­lar struc­ture of wa­ter.

Here is a man who con­trols and re­spects the bon­sai on a rev­er­en­tial level, but Lim’s most im­por­tant les­son is not some se­cret tech­nique, but the im­por­tance of cre­at­ing har­mony be­tween man and na­ture.

“Peo­ple come up to me and say, ‘I have bad luck, I can’t even make it grow and bloom,’ but in re­al­ity, they are plant­ing in an en­vi­ron­ment that is full of neg­a­tive en­ergy. For ex­am­ple, a fam­ily at home fights a lot,” he ex­plains, adding that he doesn’t al­low peo­ple with neg­a­tive en­ergy to come into his gar­den. “Bon­sai re­flects the state of mind of the owner and the home.”

It boils down to what’s in our minds and hearts. Lim claims, “Peace of mind is the great­est as­set we can have for a happy and healthy living. This is an in­ner victory, which only comes from know­ing God in­ti­mately.”

Pro­fes­sor Juan Lim cul­ti­vates more than 400 bon­sai plants in his home. Ac­cord­ing to Lim, the size of the plant does not as­cer­tain its age, for the small­est bon­sai could be sev­eral hun­dred years old.

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