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2020 Ben Oki Scholarship Recipient Derek Delisi

2020 Ben Oki Scholarship

I wish to begin by thanking President Robert Pressler and the California Bonsai Society for finding a way to perpetuate Mr. Ben Oki’s spirit and values in a form that has a true and meaningful impact in the world.

Receiving the 2020 Ben Oki scholarship has enabled me to participate in several important learning activities that will aid in the creation of the Nova Scotia Bonsai Society. The scholarship has also raised awareness about Ben Oki’s legacy throughout the Canadian bonsai community.

This scholarship allowed me to travel from Halifax to Montreal to visit Mr. David Easterbrook. I am confident that now, and in retrospect, this will have been one of the most important experiences in my bonsai career. Mr. Easterbrook went into detail about what it was like to create a bonsai community where there was none, and reviewed various promotion and recruitment strategies, as well as different types of education opportunities and contexts. We also looked at the roles and responsibilities of a bonsai association, and at what it should bring to its members, the broader bonsai community, and its city.

Most importantly, I spent a lot of time understanding from Mr. Easterbrook what it is that gets people excited about bonsai, and how to slowly convert that excitement into passion and lifelong commitment. As I was getting into my car to leave, Mr. Easterbrook left me with a quote that summarized our conversation and that I will carry with me forever: “It’s important to cultivate people, not just bonsai”.

The second part of my training was spent with Mr. Eric Auger, curator of the Japanese, native, and tropical bonsai collections at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. We coincidentally met outside on a bench right by a Cercis canadensis, which happened to be one of the many ‘untraditional’ plant varieties—for lack of a better word—that Mr. Auger so generously shared his experiences about. Mr. Auger opened my eyes by sharing his perspective on native and hardy plant varieties. We carefully reviewed topics such as collection and propagation, cultivation, winter care, pruning, aesthetics, and presentation. My memory and note-taking skills were tested that day, but even if I had succeeded in retaining only half of what Mr. Auger shared with me, I left there eager to experiment with native and hardy plant varieties and have not stopped encouraging others to do so since then.

The 2020 Ben Oki Scholarship has allowed me to participate in these two important learning opportunities that have opened doors and shaped my objectives and ambitions. I look forward to officially launching The Nova Scotia Bonsai Society, and to encouraging people to find the same sense satisfaction, curiosity, and passion that I have found.

The website is underway, and I already have and continue to identify key collaborators among the city officials, fine art and horticulture programs at the major universities, important public centers, garden centers, as well as local restaurant owners, with the goal throwing a public ‘food festival’ where bonsai from China, Japan, and yamadori from Nova Scotia will be displayed and discussed on centre stage. At least that’s what I’m aiming towards!

Thank you,

Derek Delisi

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