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 Post subject: Profile: Lindsay Farr
PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2007 2:41 pm 

Joined: Wed Feb 20, 2008 7:35 pm
Posts: 163
Location: The Art of Bonsai Project
Profile: Lindsay Farr
Lindsay Farr

Lindsay Farr began dabbling in bonsai in early childhood. His first real collection was realized as a 13 year old when he mixed bonsai with Rhododendron collecting. His interest in bonsai diminished briefly when he became voluntary Aussie Motown rep with the duty of persuading Australian Radio to play the Motown hits. By the late sixties he became a saxophone player touring with numerous outfits including Sydney Jazz/Rock fusion pioneers Heart'N'soul and the iconic Australian Rock band Daddy Cool.

In the seventies, he moved to Boston to complete the Jazz Arranging and Composition program At Berklee College of Music. During this time he maintained a rooftop garden at his Beacon street apartment with several small collected pines which he grew in pots made by his future wife Marietta.

On his return to Melbourne in the late 70's he worked a few years in radio, television and recording studios whilst planting trees in the field to prepare for his childhood dream of a Bonsai Farm. The Bonsai Farm began in Lindsay and Marietta's small suburban backyard but soon moved to a larger Nursery at Mt Dandenong around 50 klm from Melbourne.

He began teaching in the early eighties. For a decade, he taught bonsai at numerous campuses including TAFE the Chinese Museum and The Council of Adult Education. He later formed his own school The Bonsai Academy of Australia.

During the early years of Bonsai Farm, they pioneered new bonsai markets including Major retailers, Supermarkets and Hardware Giants. They soon became disillusioned by this mass marketing and restructured to a retail garden by the late eighties. During this period Lindsay published his free tabloid newspaper BONSAI/PENJING NEWS. Hundreds of thousands of copies were distributed with requests received from many foreign countries. Lindsay's first TV bonsai segment was with Aussie television producer Craig Campbell (Rove) for a Karate Kid cross promotion on the Saturday morning Cartoon Company program on the Nine Network. Over the following years he presented bonsai on many TV programs in Australia and was regular Bonsai presenter on The international cable TV show YIN, YANG and YOU.

During the late 90's Lindsay and Marietta moved the Nursery back to larger premises in Hawthorn 4klm from the centre of Melbourne.

In 2000, along with Ugo Mantelli he co-produced and presented his 13 episode "The Way of Bonsai" for Foxtel's Lifestyle channel.

The popular "Lindsay Farr's WorldOfBonsai" is the first online Bonsai video series from his website

The following is an on-line interview with Lindsay Farr.

AoB: Australia is a very unique place, both geographically, and botanically speaking. It is part of a Western culture, although it couldn't be more isolated as far as geography is concerned, and as a consequence, it has an extremely peculiar flora.

How do the above two factors (geographical isolation and unique flora) influence the bonsai scene in your country?

Lindsay: A grasp of the unique flora of this huge continent is beyond my feeble mind. I offer my apologies but will endeavor to answer. Australia is far from most places but I don't consider that we are geographically isolated. The average Aussie earns enough in 2 weeks to fly return from Melbourne to Osaka or Shanghai and it takes a similar amount of time as driving to Sydney. By my involvement with I feel connected to world bonsai every day. If geographical isolation impacts it's by way of the relatively disease free environment that we enjoy, hence the strict quarantine regulations that essentially prohibit the importation of advanced bonsai stock from the traditional suppliers. By contrast this importation obstacle engenders a creativity and ingenuity in aussie bonsai people. Australian flora is both unique and diverse. Native figs are tough and resilient whilst many varieties like eucalyptus are sensitive to root pruning by traditional convention. We have much to learn.

AoB: At the Australia shows the norm for species seems to be elms, junipers, maples and pines. Native plants are the exception, not the rule. In your opinion, why are the wonderful native species of Australia so under utilized?

Lindsay: As a community we simply have not learnt how to deal with them effectively. North American, European and Asiatic plants have much in common. Australian plants are unique. People are researching and devoting a great deal of time and effort to overcome these mysteries so all that is changing. A primary influence was the first Aussie bonsai generations decision to follow Japanese teachings and apply them to flora that had little in common with popular Asiatic plants. I have not devoted myself to this pursuit because when I chose a bonsai life my primary aim was to put a roof over our heads, food on the table and provide the family with all their needs and some of their wants. I recognized back in the seventies that with the exception of Figs with their resilience and indoor application, native plants offered little commercial opportunity. This was confirmed a few years ago when I created a small eucalyptus on my Foxtel television series "The Way of Bonsai". The day after the episode aired I had 350 emails from folks wanting to talk about the gum tree bonsai but we didn't sell a single gum tree in that period. An Australian native plant bonsai industry was established in Israel about 20 years ago but the plants were genetically engineered and I understand that the Nursery has finished. During the eighties and nineties I collaborated with Aboriginal artist Warren "Gumarung" Owens to explore indigenous philosophy to dwarf trees. We created a series of "rock landscapes". I captured quite a bit of this on video and hope to make it available at a future date. I was intrigued by the fact that identical totemic motifs were common to ancient Sharmans and Australian Aboriginals. Since Shamanism lead to Taoism, Zen Buddhism and bonsai this seemed like a worthy pursuit. I hope to revisit this project when time permits. I feel that a study of native American culture as it relates to trees would equally serve the American bonsai student.

AoB: Compared to other countries where bonsai is popular, are there any particular challenges to growing bonsai in Australia?

Lindsay: Australia is a large continent and the differences between Tasmania and Darwin are extreme so it's difficult to generalize. Tasmania is the southern most place in Australia. Not too far from the south pole. Larch grow well there but here in Melbourne, just a little to the north we struggle with larch. The heatwaves in summer heat up the pots (even though they are wet) and the larch suffer.

In Sydney the humidity makes maples vulnerable to mildew but the warmer temperatures make for a longer growing season than in Melbourne. The Far North is tropical where the junipers foliage is not as compact as in the south. This Island Nation is experiencing a drought of the kind we have not seen before. Water restrictions are in force in many Australian cities and this influences the varieties we grow. I've ceased growing water guzzlers like wisteria.

The development of a National Bonsai Museum is underway in Canberra. Canberra experiences extreme frosts so Grant Bowie and the steering team have a difficult assignment to reflect the diversity of Australian Bonsai in that environment. We're most fortunate to have this passionate group who have worked so hard to realize this wonderful Museum and I'm sure that they will overcome all obstacles.

AoB: This is a common question, but it is always fascinating to hear the answer: how did you get involved with bonsai?

Lindsay: As a five year old I was introduced to it by a group of ladies looking for bonsai material at the back of my dad's nursery. They showed me a book with pictures and I was hooked. In those post war years bonsai was a real mystery. One of the ladies told me that it was like Chinese foot binding and if I planted a maple seed in a table tennis ball it would restrict the root growth and hence the maple would be dwarfed. These same ladies founded the local bonsai club scene and were regular visitors to our Mt Dandenong Bonsai Nursery. The most terrifying memory of my early childhood was when I saw the film THE WIZARD OF OZ and a tree reached out and grabbed someone. I ran from the picture hall in horror and have long considered that bonsai was a way of overcoming that fear of trees. Maybe I could say "the tree wired me".

AoB: What do you find the most exciting in current bonsai practices today?

Lindsay: Bonsai creation inter-grating living and dead wood excites me more than anything. The extraordinary ancient Australian hardwoods that are available provide us with wonderful possibilities. These deadwood redgums (mallee) and others can survive in wet pots for hundreds of years. This is also a creative way of developing bonsai with the wonderful character of ancient collected trees. I'm also inspired by slow and steady and I'm inspired by the black pines that I planted when I returned from Boston in 1978. I really admire those people who devote a lifetime to a small collection of trees even though I could never walk that path. I'm also excited at the prospect of making my larger bonsai smaller as I grow older.

AoB: Bonsai experienced an amazingly fast development in Europe, and it has a healthy growth and following in North America. How would you assess the evolution of bonsai in Australia, at the present time?

Lindsay: The rapid development of bonsai in Europe might be fuelled by easy access to imported material and a snowballing culture of collecting from the mountain. It is inevitable that individuals and organizations that engage in this collection ( I choose not to use Japanese terminology here as I feel it is often used in an attempt to bring respectability to what in this day must be considered a dubious practice) will become the focus of environmental groups in the near future. I make this assumption on the basis of my belief that bonsai is going mainstream in the coming decades. The pioneers of European bonsai have had the benefit of centuries of natural development of their mountain trees. As well as this they have access to centuries of Japanese and Chinese experience in collecting and styling. Extraordinary creations are realized readily. The likelihood of proliferation of this culture is probable. The assertion that there is and endless supply and they never kill these sentinels of time is ludicrous. The future of European Bonsai will be measured by the creativity rather than the collectivity of European practitioners. I realise that many Americans also engage in this culture but it appears to me that they have a much richer infrastructure of bonsai production/creation whilst Europe is more dependent upon importation and mountain collection. I have European nursery catalogues from the 1930's that feature pages of " Japanese dwarf trees in jardinires" so there is a nursery development industry and this must grow to fill the needs of European bonsai creativity. Aussies are reliant upon their ingenuity and creativity and plain hard work to realise bonsai. I should mention that the only time I spoke to John Naka was to deliver a message from Paul Lesnieswicz in Germany that " finally, one of the Californian Junipers that Naka had sent to Europe had survived". I believe that Australia with it's rich linkages to Asia, awesome ancient hard deadwood and creative spirit will become a global bonsai leader in the future. Some of our most inspired bonsai creators are young and independent. It seems that we are evolving by departing from convention rather than following it.

AoB: What can you tell us of the local and national shows in Australia and do you see changes in the near future?

Lindsay: We regularly exhibit at the Southern hemispheres largest garden show MIFGS in Melbourne. Over 100.000 visitors come to the show each year. I don't consider a bonsai show to be any more relevant to bonsai than a dog show is to dogs. Bonsai shows are only important if you attach yourself to them. Bonsai shows are totally reliant and dependent upon Bonsai. Bonsai is in no manner nor form reliant upon bonsai shows. The last Bonsai show that I attended had some delightful small bonsai that were engaging by way of their carefully cultivated Japanese styling but nothing was befuddling or inspiring in a sculptural sense. I do enjoy these occasions and acknowledge those who contribute to them but do not consider them to be of any great consequence. I know that some of our clients like to go to the shows to purchase inexpensive trees that have been carefully manicured. I know that bonsai present better in an pleasing indoor situation but that inevitably leaves the visitor with the impression that they grow indoors.Of course they don't. It would be great if this vital information was communicated more powerfully to visitors to bonsai shows..

AoB: Do you have favorite forms, shapes, or other specific means of expressing yourself, when working on your own trees?

Lindsay: A bonsai needs to befuddle me and send chills up my spine. An empty mind is the goal that I seek when engaging in creative work. To clear my mind of dross and to consider my work trivial is an ideal state. If only I could always walk in that great way. Too often I find myself constrained by a cooky cutter consciousness. The wind, the sun, the seasons, the tempest are what I seek but the realization of their implication is rare. I really enjoy taking on major projects without documenting them to video from time to time. One of our bread and butter lines is Junipers in an informal upright style. After you've styled a thousand or so of these they can become tedious but I still have days when I gain great enjoyment from this repetitive form. Of course each one is unique and individual and if I remember that it's always fun.

Lindsay Farr

AoB: Your website contains a plethora of bonsai related videos detailing projects and care guidelines and now your "World of Bonsai" series is a great success. Do you feel that new technology and media can raise the art of bonsai to a new level?

Lindsay: Absolutely. This medium is the future. I constantly receive confirmation from users in every corner of the globe. It transcends language and fast tracks the eager participant in a manner to which the old media cannot even aspire. Demonstrators at shows and conventions are placed under enormous pressure when required to create a masterpiece in a few hours. The video medium removes this pressure and a Zen ambiance can be attained. It takes the viewer in really close when required and allows the creator to work silently with focus. The words can be added later. There are no questions or applause at the finale but the communication can be extraordinary. Every serious communicator seeking global community will be doing it soon. There is of course a skill to presenting this medium. I don't claim to be a master of it but my past experience in radio as a producer and my time working with professional film productions and television programs helps me to find a handle on it.

AoB: You are professionally involved in bonsai, since you are running a bonsai business, in addition to creating your well-known travel video series, The World of Bonsai. Do you still have time to create and maintain your own bonsai trees?

Lindsay: Yes, travel is a component of WoB but that's incidental. My primary objective with the series was to offer interested users the opportunity to access the sensibilities of bonsai artists in the traditional bonsai lands. I spend about 30 hours each week working on bonsai. I consider that I'm entering my most prolific period. When I planted thousands of trees around 30 years ago I envisioned that I would be free of the demands of raising a family and be able to concentrate on my bonsai dreams at this stage and that dream is being realized. I shoot video about 10 hours a week and I've assembled a considerable back catalogue of creation projects. I travel to Asia a couple of times a year to film and when I have the energy edit at night.

AoB: What can we expect to see from you in the near future and is there any plans for longer, more detailed videos?

Lindsay: Yes. This WOB series has only scratched the surface but it has opened up a whole raft of possibilities for the future. I've never trotted out my best bonsai before in favor of presenting things that are more representative of what most beginners might work with. I'll be introducing some of my favorites with some drastic re-styling in future series. I shoot in a improvisational state and try not to plan too much as this becomes a constraint. The WorldOfBonsai online series has enjoyed a global acceptance but many bonsai devotees (particularly in third world countries) do not have access to High speed internet. There is a demand for high quality DVD's of this series which will be available soon. The DVD will include some wonderful previously unseen content. I've also been involved in a number of pilots for International cable TV. This can be a difficult process as many Television programmers consider bonsai to be a subject that is covered in a 4 minute segment or at best in 1 half hour episode. I'm encouraged by the Australian GARDEN GURU'S series with whom I've been doing multiple short segments for Network TV. Originally I'd intended to offer an online subscription service for high resolution downloads when WorldOfBonsai series 1 was completed. Instead I've chosen to retain the site as a low resolution free download community and offer hard copy DVD's as a means of distributing high quality content. The 3 main bonsai projects that I have completed so far are Yin Yang and You for the Sportsworld network ( I don't own the copyright).The Way of Bonsai for FOXTEL and WorldOfBonsai for The Way of Bonsai spoke to the curious observer and WorldOfBonsai series addresses a more experienced viewer. The next project which includes some truly illuminating insights from Lingnan master Lu Zhi Wei and will inspire all viewers. The primary objective of anyone involved with the new media is to be open to emerging possibilities. I have no idea where this will lead in a decade or so.

AoB: Do you feel that helps your mission or does it dilute what you are currently doing?

Lindsay: It helps me as a bonsai communicator. youtube is fantastic and creates a platform for anyone to be expressed in a moving visual medium. I think the quirky, oddball appetite of youtube users diminishes it's power though. I've posted a few vid's there and others have posted WOB episodes but I think anyone seriously interested in bonsai will find their way to a bonsai specific online community. With the arrival of JOOST I anticipate a bonsai channel will emerge. Full screen, clear definition instantly is coming. I suspect that a kid (and I do mean a Kid) will revolutionize this medium for bonsai.

AoB: Considering that many of your videos are basically filmed demos, how do you feel about the recent complaints about "instant bonsai demos" and do you think such are more educational or more harmful to the beginning enthusiasts?

Lindsay: It depends to which beginner you are referring. Some peoples life will be enriched by instant gratification whilst others will draw more value from slow and steady. The limitation of instant bonsai demo's is that they are a bit one dimensional. I have many video projects in production that begin with an "instant"creation then revisit the creation at appropriate intervals to investigate the long term view of the evolution. I think these will be very useful to interested students. I don't think anything is harmful unless it blocks off creative possibilities. The great emerging bonsai artists will come from left field and are likely to offend the establishment before they change our culture. The wonderful thing about bonsai is that it is unimportant so it is always good to have your ideals offended. Bonsai people who aren't very creative will be comfortable within the "guidelines" whilst creatives will be comfortable outside them. I don't believe that anything's wrong.

AoB: Through your travels abroad into the international bonsai scene, how do you interpret the east/west north/south division and transformation of the art of bonsai?

Lindsay: Now that we have true global community its all mixed up. The Chinese are influenced by the Japanese. The Japanese have always been influenced by the Chinese. The Bulgarians and Colombians are influenced by Australians etc etc etc. Instant communication means that ideas are transmitted instantly. Regional, climatic, economic and supply constraints are the other influences. I regularly receive correspondence and pic's from beginners in every corner of the globe. It's amazing how similar many of their early attempts are. I was in Bali a few weeks ago and was astonished to see how the bonsai culture there has evolved in the past couple of decades. China is also going through a gigantic penjing transformation at present. We're in a constant state of flux.

AoB: You spend a great deal of time on the web, what are you thoughts about Internet bonsai forums, do you believe they are an asset or a liability to bonsai knowledge as a whole?

Lindsay: Never in bonsai's long, rich history has information been so readily available. I think it's extraordinary. Wonderful. More than just information exchange this plethora of forums creates community and a sense of connectedness to bonsai hermits. On the other hand there is no teacher like experience. A loss might be the greatest lesson. Then again, it may be that so much information (often conflicting) could overload eager young minds. I fear for those who think that they must be fully prepared and equipped before they begin if they approach the forums without a healthy skepticism.

Lingnan Master, Lu Zhi Wei (Vice chairman of China Bonsai Artist Association), Master Zeng An Chang, and Lindsay Farr

AoB: What would you like to see more of on the forums? Less of?

Lindsay: I'd like to see environments where a newcomer who has purchased or received a uninspired bonsai creation is encouraged rather than ridiculed. I'd like to see more possibility and less cynicism. It's important to realize how small this community is. Tip of the iceberg stuff. Whilst our brittle bonsai ego's are readily gratified by our ability to air our views to an audience of global proportions it is nevertheless a tiny group. Generally forum contributors are generous in their responses to others. I'm in the front line of bonsai communication. Every day I interact with people wanting bonsai or information in a face to face situation. I often point these people to online forums. I'm astonished how few (probably less than 1%) even knew that such platforms existed. We are pioneers. The golden egg is that there's handful of smart passionate kids watching. They're probably not even registered but they're gaining access to a thousand times more quality information than was available to my generation. Maybe one of these kids will take world bonsai to a place that we haven't even dreamt of.

AoB: There is a common complaint in the Western hemisphere that one can hardly make a living from bonsai, as a business. Based on your experience in running a bonsai business, what is the secret of being successful and profitable in this tough industry?

Lindsay: Marietta and I run a modest bonsai business. Know your market. Listen to your consumers. Be visible.That's what Japanese Bonsai Pro's do. Don't be lulled into thinking you're addressing the Japanese market if you are in Vancouver. It's a different place with a different sensibility. Japanese culture is driven by conforming to the established. In Melbourne we have a different sense of individuality and this will drive sales. Know the popular price points. Use the media shamelessly. Don't waste money on expensive advertising. Be honest. Have a great partner. Commit to an awesome website. Don't seek the advice of clubs or organizations. This is fatal. The most debilitating constraint that you can be placed upon you. Clubs and organizations know about shows but know nothing about real world bonsai. Study. Know the philosophy. Study the Tao Teh Ching. Be sensitive when someone brings a raggedy family heirloom bonsai to you. Ask lots of questions of visitors to your garden. Know what they are seeking. It's probably different to what you perceive. You must have integrity to live a good bonsai life. Have a long term plan. Work long at that plan.

AoB: Bonsai is finally gaining some acceptance as a legitimate art form, what are your thoughts on this?

Lindsay: Bonsai has always been an artform. If people can't see it that's their problem. The question for me is Who is the artist. The grower or the tree?

The transient nature of perfection in bonsai makes it a floating art. Perfect one day, overgrown 15 days later. A wisteria may be admired for the glorious racemes hanging perfectly against the gnarled trunk one day and cursed for the big thirsty compound leaves on long creeping runners 3 weeks later. Lao Tzu's utterance that " the branch that is to be cut, must first be allowed to grow long" is our best advice and greatest issue if we seek permanent art. I have clients who are Australia's foremost art collectors and they have some superb bonsai but they would never spend on bonsai the way that they spend on paintings even though they could easily engage a full time bonsai carer. I have a long held suspicion that the more someone say's art the less art there actually is so I'll stop there.

AoB: After many years of what seems like blind adherence to traditions of Japanese bonsai traditions, it seems like artists are finding their own means of expression with bonsai. Many artists are turning to native, naturally growing species for inspiration, some like Walter Pall are incorporating nature instead of rules into their trees, and others are innovating in other ways. What is your opinion of this break from the norm?

Lindsay: I have a problem with the question in that it seems to assert that Yoshimura guideline (rules) bonsai is traditional. Yoshimura told me in the most straightforward manner that he was under considerable pressure from the Japanese politburo to complete this English language text post haste. He said that he was a young man then and knew little of the world and the guidelines section was somewhat rushed. Whilst the intrinsic merit of these guidelines deserves acknowledgment, they are hardly traditional. I have never met Walter other than encountering him on other forums. The first time I engaged him I suggested that he was a bonsai fundamentalist. I have taken the time to familiarize myself with his thoughts and work. I must say that I would consider Walter to be a Traditionalist in a world of post war modernists, many of whom might be separated from their bonsai roots. The views expressed by Walter Pall and others indicate to me that their philosophy is sound. The visual narrative in episode 20 of the WorldOfBonsai series 1 will offer confirmation that the naturalistic philosophy held by Walter and others is authentic, enlightened and informed.

AoB: What current artists inspire you? What artists from the past have?

Lindsay: My son's Dorian and Sam. Chandrabanu, Geoffrey Goldie, Miles Davis, Dot Koreshoff, John Coltrane, Bobby Blue Bland, Lenny Bruce, The working Dog company from Melbourne. Masahiko Kimura, John Naka, Bobby Gebert, Bernie Mc Gann, Satchmo, Charlie Banacos, Lobby Lloyde, Leadbelly, Ian Edwards, Taylor Mali, Keith Barr, Masahiro Kurihara, Les Stacpool, Sam Schoenbaum, Graeme Cutts, Dexter Gordon, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Sarah Vaughn, Ken Coldicutt's realist film unit, Grant Bowie, John Holbrook, Aretha Franklin, Colin Lewis, Nick Lenz, Jimi Hendrix. Ambika Doherty.

AoB: In your opinion, who are the people or the organizations that are currently shaping the future of bonsai?

Lindsay: Those who seek beauty.Those who make the complicated simple. Those who stand for the full self expression of others. Those who take risks. Those who are fearless. Those who are not concerned with "making it" in the bonsai world.

The Bonsai Farm in Melbourne web site can be found at ... /Itemid,1/
The World of Bonsai Video Series can be found at

 Post subject: worldofbonsai series 2
PostPosted: Sat Sep 12, 2009 10:18 pm 

Joined: Wed Feb 20, 2008 7:35 pm
Posts: 163
Location: The Art of Bonsai Project
WorldOfBonsai series 2 will begin on October 1 at
There is a intro video here
As well as the content outlined in the video there will be some wonderful episodes from the worlds most sustainable bonsai community on Shikoku island in Japan.
I'm seeking Japanese speaking volunteers who can assist with translation for the english subtitles.
The translation can be carried out wherever the translator may be.

If you have the skills and would like to be a contributor to the worlds most far reaching and sustainable bonsai media please pm me.

 Post subject: Re: Profile: Lindsay Farr
PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2009 7:27 pm 

Joined: Sun Dec 17, 2006 7:18 am
Posts: 17
Location: australia
WorldOfBonsai series 2 episode 1 is now online at

 Post subject: Re: Profile: Lindsay Farr
PostPosted: Mon Dec 07, 2009 9:13 am 

Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2005 2:11 am
Posts: 6469
Location: Michigan USA
This is an excellent interview Lindsay, thanks for doing this. It is always good to see such passion for the art, not to mention inspiring.


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