It might be an expensive hobby, but bonsai can reap health rewards for its devotees

David Allen has seen a man hand over the keys to his brand new Land Cruiser in exchange for a single bonsai tree.  

The Bendigo Bonsai Club vice president also tells stories of an Italian master who helicopters age-old dwarf trees out of the European alps, and a father who turned a beloved bonsai into his child’s 30,000-euro college fund. 

But despite the immense financial value a bonsai can carry, it is the miniature trees’ healing properties that has kept Mr Allen tending them for more than two decades.

“Just the sheer serenity, you move into another world,” he said when asked about his passion. 

“(It’s) really good therapy for people who have problems, takes them off into the areas where they don’t have to worry about what they usually worry about.”

While a 20-year-old Mr Allen gave up on the art form when his first few trees died, a visit to the Bendigo Easter Festival in 1993 reignited his interest and put him in contact with the city’s club of bonsai enthusiasts.

He now has about 200 trained bonsai at home, some of which have been in his possession for the past 24 years. 

The annual Easter exhibit gave Bendigo Bonsai Club members the opportunity to show off their proud creations.

“Their hobby really comes out to the forefront, instead of being stuck in the backyard,” he said.

The plants might be typically associated with Japanese culture, but they the art of cultivating miniature trees began in China about 1300 years ago.

Species from throughout the world could be pruned into a bonsai shape, Mr Allen said. 

“Japanese material is not always available, and if it is, it might not be suitable for that climate,” he said.

The club included a collection of native Australian plants in their weekend display, as well as dozens of European varieties. 

As many as 600 visitors were expected to pass through the bonsai club show inside the Uniting Church on Forest Street between Good Friday and Easter Monday.

It was also an opportunity to swap bonsai knowledge with other tree trainers. 

“Being in a close-knit group, we get to share all the experiences and help one another.”

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