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Exquisite bonsai

DANIELLE STREET
Last updated 05:00 13/02/2013
Bonsai
JASON OXENHAM

TINY OBESSSION: Robert Langholm has been hooked on bonsai since the early 1960s.

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Exploring Bonsaiville it's easy to feel like a great unwieldy giant ambling through a forest of tiny trees.

Owners Robert Langholm and his partner, Simon Misdale, have spent many years cultivating the garden, which they claim holds the country's largest private collection of bonsai.

Beautiful miniature trees grace every corner of the Sandringham section, which will be open to the public for the Heroic Garden Festival later this month.

The festival gives ticket-holders access to 24 of Auckland's most stunning private gardens during two days.

A festival stalwart, Mr Langholm has been taking part in the event since it began 17 years ago as a fundraiser for Herne Bay House, an HIV/Aids respite home which closed in 2009.

Money raised from the ticket sales now supports Mercy Hospice, which provides free care to patients with life-limiting illnesses.

"The organisers are doing a good job of bringing people in. Last year we raised $78,000 for the hospice," Mr Langholm says.

Over the course of the festival the couple get as many as 700 to 800 people coming for a peek at their perennials.

Mr Langholm's interest in bonsai sprouted in 1963 when he borrowed a book on bonsai from his boss at what was then the Auckland City Council.

"At two o'clock in the morning I was still devouring every page of that book. I was hooked."

During the 1970s he trained in bonsai cultivation in Los Angeles under a Japanese master.

"It's the artistic side I like, turning a wild and woolley looking tree into something quite beautiful."

Mr Langholm and Mr Misdale teach the ancient art from their home.

Their collection boasts a bonsai kauri forest, which is "the biggest one in captivity" according to Mr Langholm.

Another special tree is a Japanese red pine estimated to be 95-100 years old that was rescued from certain death in a plastic bag.

The pair has also grown a mini orchard that includes apples, plums and olives.

"Someone with a small courtyard can successfully grow fruit trees. You just have a reduced number of fruit," Mr Misdale says.

He began growing bonsai about 16 years ago, a few years before meeting Mr Langholm.

"And I've been doing it ever since," he says. "It's become a focus for us."

The green-thumbed pair will be on hand during the weekend festival to give tips on how to grow bonsai.

The Heroic Gardens Festival is on February 23 and 24.

Visit heroicgardens.org.nz to buy tickets.

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