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Garden VAriety: The Right Way to Learn About Pruning Trees By RON SULLIVAN

Friday March 31, 2006

Persistent readers may have noticed, in this and other writings in this and other publications (I refer specifically to my every-other-Tuesday back page column on the trees of Berkeley in the Daily Planet), that I have definite opinions and strong feelings about, of all things, the treatment of trees. 

I come by those honestly, through study and experience. I’ve recommended Plant Amnesty, a funny and accomplished gang based in Seattle, for some pointers on what—and what not—to do to trees in your care, but that’s not where I first learned about caring for them.  

There’s a resource closer to home than Seattle where you can learn about the principles of good pruning, and its people have gone way beyond my skills and knowledge. You can also hire many of these folks to work on your trees; visit the website below. I suggest watching while they work, if you can. There’s much to learn that way. You can learn in other ways from this new school too.  

In the 1980s, I took landscape horticulture classes up at Merritt College. I’ve had a number of brushes with academia, and this was absolutely my best experience of it. One really good part was meeting Dennis Makishima there. 

Already an accomplished professional arborist, he was taking an arboriculture class because he wanted to learn more about productive fruit trees. While he was doing that, he was teaching the rest of us about Japanese-style pruning. I think he couldn’t help it; he’s a born teacher.  

I lucked out and got to spend some time as Dennis’ apprentice. He took several of us on, at various stages and for various times, as he was expanding his own practice and later taking months off to study with a bonsai master in Japan. 

It soon became clear that there were more people eager to learn than he could handle that way, so he and several of his students founded the Merritt College Bonsai and Aesthetic Pruning Club. 

The two branches of the club, with some overlapping membership, meet periodically to learn and discuss trees, but a lot of the teaching goes on in classes that Dennis’ first few tiers of students teach at Merritt, and in their work on trees in local public gardens, communities, and institutions. That started with the refurbishing of the Japanese Friendship Garden at Lake Merritt, and expanded all around the Bay Area.  

One major accomplishment of the group is the bonsai garden, also at Lake Merritt, built and gardened largely through their volunteer work. Every volunteer job they do is also an occasion to pass on their knowledge, via talk and hands-on practice.  

Club members also teach Saturday classes at Merritt, for a modest fee—usually under $30. That’s a good place to start. It’s an investment in your trees, in your land and even property values, in your community. 

The hort department will throw its annual plant fair on Saturday, April 22, and that’s a good place to get acquainted with the pruning club. If you want to hire someone from this powerhouse group, there’s a list on their website.  


Merritt College Bonsai and  

Aesthetic Pruning Club 

Fee class registration, call 436-2413  


Plant Amnesty