As the sky overcast and a gentle wind cools the Saturday afternoon in Bhur, Gelephu, Birkha Bahadur Gurung and his wife start working in a small shed, full of potted flowers, adjacent to their house.
The couple has a small peepal sapling, its roots growing over a differently shaped stone.
Birkha gently bends the plant, while his wife coils a copper wire on the branches. Soon, the plant looks like it has been blown by a strong wind.
It becomes a windswept bonsai, an artificially dwarfed ornamental tree.
The couple has several pots of bonsai growing in their Bhutan Green Nursery farm in Bhur.
The idea of making bonsai struck Birkha a decade ago when a friend recommended him an article about bonsai. He first laid his hands on it in 2015.
Since then the couple has made around 400 bonsais. They use local species of trees and branches such as peepal, fig and bougainvillea, among others.
Birkha said bonsai making is fairly new in the country.
“It is also not a one man’s task,” he said. “One person can’t make it, you need a helper.”
The couple said bonsai making needs a lot of creativity in shaping and designing the plant.
Along with creativity, knowing the character and details of the plant is what helps make a better bonsai. “A lot of trial and error process is involved,” the couple said. “It is also the composition of soil that makes the difference.”
Birkha has been a schoolteacher for last 17 years.
He said gardening and flowering is his passion. “While my wife takes care of the nursery over the weekdays, we work on bonsai during the weekend. Bonsai making is an art and it is quite addictive.”
What inspired the couple to work further was after His Majesty The King visited their nursery in February 2017.
The latest bonsai they have been working on is a root over rock. It’s a type where the roots of the plant are left to grow over a differently shaped rock, making it look like a tree growing on top of a rock.
The couple says they rely on Youtube for the techniques of making a bonsai. “Without specific tools and training, it is quite difficult but we’re moving on,” Kabita Gurung said.
The market for bonsai in the country is immature, the couple said. Their bonsai and other flowers have been on display in the last two Royal Flower exhibitions in Thimphu and Punakha. That has helped the couple let people know about their art.
They have sold about 15 bonsais until now. The most expensive bonsai they sold is for Nu 13,000, one of the oldest in their stock.
The price depends on its age. They also claim that bonsais that are more than three years old are only sold to ensure its chances of survival.
There are at least 300 bonsais, of which more than 100 are matured in their nursery.
Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang